Monthly Archives: March 2017

Registration Open: Research Methods for Digital Work Event 25-26 May 2017

Research Methods for Digital Work: Innovative Methods for Studying Distributed and Multi-modal Working Practices

University of Surrey, Guildford, UK, 25-26 May 2017


As digital technologies have matured, various forms of distributed working have become commonplace and work has become both spatially and temporally complex. This complexity provides many challenges for the researcher aiming to capture and understand these practices, requiring tracking activities – and their meanings for participants – across multiple formats connected in an unpredictable fashion. This meeting therefore focuses on a key question for studies of contemporary work across disciplines: how can we combine methods or devise new methods to capitalise on diverse forms of data to build rich and theoretically-fruitful understandings of digitally-suffused working life?

Participation at the meeting is limited to 50 attendees so please do sign up quickly to reserve your place. Registration fees are £60 (£40 for students/unwaged). Attendees are responsible for their own travel and accommodation.  Links to possible local accommodation can also be found on the registration page.

Keynote Speakers

Diane E. Bailey Associate Professor in School of Information at the University of Texas at Austin: Wrestling with Digital Objects and Technologies in Observations of Work

Monika Büscher Professor of Sociology, Director of the Centre for Mobilities Research and Associate Director for the Institute for Social Futures at Lancaster University: Is IT Ethical? Mobile Work, Mobile Data, Mobile Methods in Crises

Richard Rogers Professor in New Media and Digital Culture, University of Amsterdam: Social Media Engagement: Beyond Vanity Metrics

The aim of the meeting is to promote cross-fertilization of approaches across disciplines and to instigate conversations on the theoretical purchase offered by different ways of studying work. During the two-day programme, speakers from a range of disciplines will present examples of current projects that have developed new methods or applied known methods to capture and understand both traditional work as it has moved on-line and emerging forms of digitally-mediated work. Additionally, there will be an ‘open session’ during which attendees can briefly introduce their own ongoing projects or those in development, providing an opportunity to discuss any design issues, challenges and potential solutions arising from these with other meeting members.

The meeting is being organized by Christine Hine (University of Surrey), Katrina Pritchard (University of Swansea) and Gillian Symon (Royal Holloway, University of London) in association with the Digital World Research Centre at the University of Surrey. The meeting has received funding from the Institute of Advanced Studies at the University of Surrey and the RCUK-funded NEMODE Network Plus.


Can we still distinguish voluntary work from other forms of work?

One of the issues facing many researchers and policy-makers is how to differentiate between various kinds of volunteering in order to understand different kinds of experiences. Consequently a typology of volunteering seems like it would be a very helpful tool for the sector.  This week we see such a typology – based on differences in motivations and activities – published in the journal ‘Sociology’.

From interviews with 30 volunteers, Mihaela Kelemen, Anita Mangan and Susan Moffat distinguished four categories of types of volunteering

  • Altruistic: Perhaps most readily associated with voluntary work, volunteering as activities that help the local community
  • Instrumental: Possibly on the rise in the current economic context, volunteering as activities that enable individuals to improve their CVS
  • Militant: also possibly on the increase as social services face increasing cuts, volunteering as activitism
  • Voluntolds: encompassing corporate volunteering schemes and political policies that ‘encourage’ benefit claimants into volunteering

However what is particularly interesting about this typology is that the authors argue the boundaries between categories are very permeable.  For example, while some volunteers seemed to be ‘voluntolds’, this also involved the altruism of ‘giving something back to the community’.   The recognition that we can construct typologies but that they will always be inter-related reveals the complex nature of volunteering and is an argument for not setting up false dichotomies between volunteering groups.  More fundamentally, Kelemen et al argue that it calls into question any very firm distinction between volunteering and paid work.  Indeed they suggest that given the activities volunteering encompasses – planned work that delivers a service and is not necessarily a matter of personal choice – it should be considered as ‘work’.

In the 21st Century, digital technologies are also implicated in a narrative of increasingly permeable boundaries between life and work.  While Kelemen et al’s research does not consider the role of technologies in volunteering, there are clearly points of contact.  Our research assumes fluidity between using digital technologies for different kinds of (paid or unpaid) activities and adopts a generally dynamic construction of digital volunteering.

What will charities look like in 2045?

Cordery, Smith and Berger publish an intriguing examination of future scenarios for the charity sector in latest issue of Public Money and Management journal. To arrive at these scenarios the authors identify some key drivers of change apparent within the sector at present, and play out the possible interactions between these drivers. The analysis draws on familiar themes of population change, technological innovation and austerity as they pose challenges for the activities of charities in terms of the services that are required of them, the source of their funding and their relations with volunteers and clients. The drivers that specifically affect the charity sector are, the authors argue, fourfold: demographic shifts towards an ageing population beset by inequalities producing both an increase in potential volunteers to be managed and an increase in those who need voluntary assistance; technological changes that allow for crowd-sourcing and a global stage for campaigning but disrupt established networks; a constrained funding climate that may require charities to forge close alliances with government or corporate funders and in turn impact on charities’ missions and brands; and changing forms of volunteer engagement, with the rise in corporate volunteering and also virtual, or micro-volunteering enabled by digital technologies, each of which pose challenges for volunteer management. Mapping the four drivers together across two dimensions (from marketized to compassionate, and from local to global) leads to four thought-provoking extreme charity sector scenarios for 2045 in the “government-funded elite”, “corporate co-operation”, “home-grown” and “crowd-sourced” models. Within these models some potentially troubling risks emerge for the sector’s ability to recognise and respond to social need, depending on the path taken. Current charities will do well to use these scenarios to reflect on their long term future trajectory even as they strive to respond to immediate challenges on the horizon.