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The Volunteer Citizen, Health Services and Agency: The Identity Work of Australian and New Zealand Ambulance Volunteers

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Stirling, CM (2007) The Volunteer Citizen, Health Services and Agency: The Identity Work of Australian and New Zealand Ambulance Volunteers. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

This thesis is an investigation of the interface between service volunteers in
Australia and New Zealand and ambulance service organisations using a
framework that situates them in a changing cultural and structural environment.
This topic is particularly important in a political context where volunteers are
viewed as a policy solution to a diversity of social ills, and where recent neoliberal
policies and managerial cultural shifts have changed the service
environment. Specifically this study focuses on how control and agency are
evident within volunteer identity work and how this can inform our understanding
of the problems experienced in the integration of volunteers into services.
Empirical data was gathered in the form of texts that reflected volunteer identity
work at the political level (political speeches of key Australian and New Zealand
politicians), the ambulance service management level (ambulance documents and
interviews with managers) and ambulance service volunteers (interviews with
volunteers and secondary data from open-ended survey questions). A critical
discourse analysis (Fairclough 1992, 2003) of the data involved firstly generating
broad identity themes from the data. Key texts that strongly reflected identity
work were then selected for an in-depth textual analysis.
This study found four key identities for ambulance volunteers in use within
ambulance services: the Moral Volunteer, the Professional Volunteer, the Staff
Volunteer, and the Self-interested Volunteer. These identities reflected a diverse
range of volunteer and managerial interests. Volunteer interests were shown to
include material and emotional concerns, at a personal and collective level.
However, ambulance volunteers were found to lack collective agency, which led
to inequitable treatment within ambulance services. Ambulance volunteers were
generally under-resourced and under-managed, and the effects of this flowed to
rural populations which consequently received a lower standard of service.
Based on the empirical findings and drawing on governmentality theory (Foucault
1991a) and critical realist theory (Archer 2000; Bhaskar 1975), an explanatory
theory of volunteering is constructed. The concepts of identity and agency allow
the complexity of the volunteer/service organisation interface in a cultural and
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structural context to be incorporated into empirical studies. Service volunteers are
conceptualised as collectives of individuals with diverse interests and local level
concerns. Implications for practice include understanding how the
volunteer/service interface is likely to experience ongoing difficulties without
changes to organisational structures and changes to ‘thinking’ about volunteers.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: agency, health services, identity, volunteer, critical realism
Date Deposited: 26 Aug 2008 05:34
Last Modified: 11 Mar 2016 05:54
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