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A Survey of Voluntaristics: Research on the Growth of the Global, Interdisciplinary, Socio-behavioral Science Field and Emergent Inter-discipline

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The author founded the organized, global, interdisciplinary, socio-behavioral science field of voluntaristics (a 2013 neologism by the author) in 1971, with his formation and establishment of the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA;; Smith 1999a, 2003). Both ARNOVA, and its outstanding, interdisciplinary academic journal, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly ( NVSQ ), have served as initial models for the global diffusion of this interdisciplinary field, now present in all inhabited continents and with upwards of 20,000 academic participants in at least 130 nations and territories, and likely more (Smith 2013; Smith and Sundblom 2014).Voluntaristics, although clearly a young discipline, has developed out of nonprofit and voluntary sector studies, philanthropy studies, civil society studies, third sector studies, nonprofit management studies, social and solidarity economy studies, social movement studies, cooperatives research, self-help/mutual aid group studies, and related fields that have emerged since 1970. After more than four decades of expansion, voluntaristics now qualifies as a new, global, integrative academic discipline in the socio-behavioral sciences and related social professions, not just as one of many interdisciplinary fields of research, according to six defining criteria for a discipline. However, the author prefers to label voluntaristics as an inter-discipline (another neologism), since its hallmark is the interdisciplinary study of all, voluntary nonprofit sector (VNPS) phenomena. Such VNPS phenomena range from individual voluntary actions and roles, through all kinds of nonprofit groups and organizations (including voluntary associations, nonprofit or voluntary agencies, philanthropic foundations, volunteer service programs), to social movements, revolutions, and the entire VNPS and its relationships to the government, business, and household/family sectors.For the first time, this survey article summarizes research on the development and institutionalization of voluntaristics, using the latter as one word to refer to the global, interdisciplinary field and emerging academic discipline focused on the study of voluntary action, the VNPS, third sector, charitable/charity sector, philanthropy and giving, civil society, civil society sector, nonprofit organizations (NPOs), nongovernmental organizations (NGO), nonprofit agencies, associations, volunteer service programs, foundations, social enterprises, social entrepreneurship, altruism, morality, mutual aid and self-help, cooperatives, social movements, social protest and dissent, social solidarity, the solidarity economy, and the social economy. Various journal articles regarding such growth have been published recently, and this article draws on these and other, original data gathered by the author and colleagues.Issues/topics examined in Part One of this article include the following:The founding and growth of ARNOVA, as the first, international, interdisciplinary association of individual voluntaristics researchers;The founding and growth of world region, national, and regional/local voluntaristics interdisciplinary researcher associations;The founding and growth of other global, interdisciplinary, associations of individual voluntaristics researchers (including ISTR);The formation and growth of relevant formal sections on voluntaristics topics of national or international associations for specific academic disciplines or professions;The founding and activities of the International Council of Voluntarism, Civil Society, and Social Economy Researcher Associations (ICSERA; in 2010 by the author—a new, global, voluntaristics, infrastructure organization, umbrella association, and research institute;The founding and worldwide establishment of relevant voluntaristics academic journals, of voluntaristics research-information centers, of voluntaristics college- and university-based courses, of voluntaristics undergraduate majors and undergraduate and graduate degree programs, and of voluntaristics university departments and schools;The fast-growing research on voluntaristics since 1999 as evidenced by the publication of relevant conference papers, journal articles, Master’s theses, doctoral dissertations, and books.Part Two of the article discusses application of voluntaristics knowledge by practitioners and policy-makers, trends in research and theory, the formation of an ARNOVA Common Interest Group on Voluntaristics, 46 hypotheses about the causes of the recent exponential growth of voluntaristics, other needed research, and the possible futures of voluntaristics as a global, academic discipline or inter-discipline. In an insightful and influential book entitled Chaos of Disciplines, Abbott (2001) argues that it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for any new academic discipline to emerge and enter into the canonical set of current socio-behavioral sciences, as existent now for about the past 100 years in the USA and to a lesser extent elsewhere.In this article, by contrast, I contend that one or more powerful, validated, and integrative, multi-disciplinary theories of behavior may bring about such inclusion of voluntaristics as an accepted, new, integrative, socio-behavioral science, academic discipline or inter-discipline. My new S-Theory (Synanthrometics; Smith 2014b, 2015a, 2016b) is one such theory. An additional, integrative theory of voluntaristics organizations, groups, collectivities, and networks would further assist this process.Two Appendices present valuable, auxiliary information:Appendix 1: Identification by the author of a set of relevant voluntaristics keywords or descriptive terms, which help delineate in great detail the intellectual content boundaries of voluntaristics. Nearly all of these terms and concepts were defined in Smith, Stebbins, and Dover (2006).Appendix 2: Identification by the author of a set of recent key books (roughly from the year 2000 to the present) on aspects of voluntaristics.

Affiliations: 1: Boston CollegeUSA


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