Beyond Images and Perceptions: Conceptualizing and Measuring Volunteerism in Buenos Aires

Mario Roitter


Volunteering is a complex social phenomenon. As such, authors have emphasized the need to adapt this concept to the context of local realities in Latin America.

Despite the large body of research on volunteerism, knowledge of its dimension and specificity in the region is still partial. Additionally, academics have debated on how to measure volunteering. Quantitative studies illustrate a wide range of social participation but yield very different numbers.

There are conceptual and methodological issues that are put to the test when social actors answer a survey on their perception of volunteerism and the activities that they perform. In these surveys that are carried on worldwide, the interviewees answer questions about devoting time for others without pay. In Latin America, the problem lies in the fact that a certain number of these types of actions performed are considered merely good manners. Such actions rarely evoke the notion of volun- teerism, as they do in the context of developed countries. Therefore, a voluntary act differs from one cultural context to another.

In order to clarify cultural disparities, let us analyze the variation of perceptions in the following scenarios:

  • (a) Helping a person cross the street or fill out a form.
  • (b) Exercising forms of community reciprocity in a certain neighborhood (“one good turn deserves another,” or “I will scratch your back if you scratch mine”).
  • (c) Taking part in a political rally in a public space.
  • (d) Participating with no remuneration, in or through a nonprofit entity.

M. Roitter (*)

Centro de Estudios de Estado y Sociedad, Buenos Aires, Argentina e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

J. Butcher, C.J. Einolf (eds.), Perspectives on Volunteering, Nonprofit and Civil Society Studies, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-39899-0_9

These activities exemplify questions on a survey that might seek to quantify volunteerism in a given area. However, in most cases, for interviewees in Argentina only the last point (d) of the above list is systematically considered volunteerism.

In the region, spontaneous and circumstantial engagement in the public’s interest is rarely perceived as volunteerism. Instead, such an action is a display of political identity, a demonstration of convictions about an issue, the rejection of a governmental measure, or an assertion of rights of some sort (gender, payment of taxes, police abuse, public insecurity, and salary claims). In fact, most of the social actors performing these deeds do not consider themselves volunteers. Consequently, comparative studies at the international level could generate distorted images of Latin American’s generosity and/or willingness to participate in the public sphere.

The most disseminated and recurring figures on volunteering in the region are produced by public opinion consultancies that calculate estimates through the so- called omnibus surveys.1 These surveys should be carefully scrutinized, balancing its valuable contributions on the one hand, and the debatable instruments used to gather the information and measure such a complex social phenomenon on the other. However, they have proved to be very useful in the evaluation of this subject in international comparative terms and in the understanding of its evolution through time.

This chapter consists of two sections. The first one briefly runs through the ways volunteering is represented in Latin America, not only from the regional researcher's point of view but also from other extra regional scholars that may lay out alternative visions to those that predominate in academic environments of developed countries.

We will not try to embrace all the theoretical issues in general, nor carry out a “state-of-the-art” analysis of the differentiating elements between the region and the rest of the world. Instead, we try to highlight the importance of conceptual debates necessary to achieve measurement strategies that effectively capture what they are meant to estimate and analyze.

The second part introduces a new measuring methodology, at least in the Argentine context, which came into practice in the city of Buenos Aires following the International Labor Organization recommendations and the methodology set by the United Nations Handbook on nonprofit institutions. The main innovation in the Argentine and Latin American[1] [2] context of our research is to present the first estimation of voluntary work using the Household Surveys as a data source. This source allows us to depict the relationship of this phenomenon with many variables and dimensions, such as gender, age, employment, type of organization where volunteers perform, and area of residence, among others.

  • [1] Survey Analytics or Omnibus Survey is a method of quantitative marketing research where dataon a wide variety of subjects is collected during the same interview. Usually, multiple researchclients will provide proprietary content for the survey (paying to get on the omnibus), while sharing the common demographic data collected from each respondent. See Accessed February 17, 2015.
  • [2] It should be highlighted that Mexico is the country that counts with the most solid and most systematic academic and statistical production on volunteering in Latin America. In the case of theMexican Nonprofit Institutions Satellite Account, home surveys were resorted to in order to establish the value of voluntary work in the different subsectors of activity (health, education, socialservices, etc.). To this purpose, the National Statistics and Geography Institute (INEGI) take thedata generated by National Survey of the Nonprofit Institutions (Encuesta Nacional de Institucionessin Fines de Lucro—ENISFL) 2009, implemented by the Mexican Center for Philanthropy(CEMEFI). However, Household Surveys were used just for complementing the data about laborforce. See Salamon et al. (2012).
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >