1 Nonprofit & Voluntary Sector Q. 6 (1972)

handle is hein.journals/npvolsq1 and id is 1 raw text is: 






MAJOR ANALYTICAL TOPICS OF VOLUNTARY ACTION THEORY AND RESEARCH: VERSION 2


David Horton Smith and the Participants of the
Interdisciplinary Voluntary Action Task Force
Planning Conference 1


It has become increasingly clear over the past
few years that the field of voluntary action--2
if indeed it can yet be called a field in its
own right--desperately needs an interdiscip-
linary overview and synthesis of available
knowledge.  More than most matters, voluntary
action phenomena clearly demand an interdiscip-
linary, multi-faceted approach if they are to
be adequately understood.  Yet the current
organization of academic disciplines militates
against such an approach in numerous ways.
Therefore, some special arrangements - cutting
across traditional disciplines - must be made if
we are to achieve an adequate overview of this
field.  Without such an overview, further
progress in the field must be less than optimal
as gaps in knowledge go unnoticed and well
established facts receive unnecessary additional
research attention.  Further, without such an
overview the optimal use and application of
available knowledge is not possible.

It is our belief, therefore, that the time is
ripe for a broad scale and intensive review
of voluntary action theory and research from
the standpoint of many academic disciplines.
To avoid any premature closure or narrowness of
approaches considered, no particular theoretical
model or viewpoint will be seized upon as a
central intellectual guiding force.  Instead,
an attempt has been made to develop a reasonably
comprehensive set of analytical or conceptual
categories toward which attention may be
directed by scholars from various disciplines.
We have attempted to make these foci
collectively exhaustive though not mutually
exclusive.  They are offered in a sense as
a preliminary ''shopping list of the major
kinds of intellectual foci that may guide our
endeavor.  Having been discussed and in part
suggested by an interdisciplinary conference
of scholars, the present set of topics does
attempt to provide scholars from any relevant
discipline with an opportunity to bring their
knowledge and unique disciplinary perspectives
to bear on some major aspect(s) of voluntary
action.

Another way of describing the present set of
analytical areas of voluntary action is to say
that they are an attempt to provide a


disciplinarily neutral'' intellectual map of a
field of mutual  interest to scholars from a
variety of disciplines.  Since agreement on common
definitions of the field  is hard to come by, some
such mapping of the field  is necessary if real
substantive progress  is to be made while
definitional, conceptual and theoretical  issues
continue to occupy many of us.  Thus, the present
scheme attempts to impose just enough  intellectual
order to permit interdisciplinary collaboration
and scholarly progress, without going so  far as
to assert the primacy of one or another
discipline, theoretical perspective, or substan-
tive issue in the field of voluntary action.  And
above all, the scheme is meant to be a tentative,
working, useful heuristic device - not the final
word.  Following are the major topics included,
with a brief description of each and representa-
tive questions that may be raised under each
analytical category.

  1 Definitions, theory and conceptual  issues in
    voluntary action.

This topic raises the basic definitional
conceptual, and theoretical issues, such as:
What is included and what is excluded by the term
voluntary action?  What is the role in defining
voluntary action of such dimensions as the degree
of remuneration involved in an activity,
(including reimbursement for expenses or
subsistence), the degree of coercion  involved,
the degree of selfishness or self-orientation
(vs. altruism or other-orientation),  the degree
of aggregation of  individuals (i.e., is voluntary
action first and foremost a characteristic of
individuals or of groups?), the degree of
formalization of the social context  (i.e., are
socially unstructured and  informal actions of
individuals or groups to be considered voluntary
action under appropriate circumstances, or
must voluntary action be  formally organized?),
the degree of  involvement of meaning-ideology-
values, the degree of social change orientation,
etc.? What makes an act, organization,  group or
society  really voluntary?  How restrictive or
broad do we want  to make this latter term?  What
are the consequences of various  definitional
stances or approaches?

Several distinct  system levels of voluntary action
can be distinguished  - individual acts,

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