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Volunteering and political engagement: an empirical investigation -PhD thesis-


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Falling levels of political enagagement have attracted attention from politicians, think tanks and researchers alike, and considerable column inches have been devoted to possible solutions. The purpose of this three paper thesis is to investigate and contribute to the empirical evidence for just one of these possible solutions: volunteering. There is a rich and varied literature on the contribution of volunteering and voluntary associations to civic life and in Chapter One this literature is given a novel classification, by causal mechanism.
Volunteering is often considered to be a formative experience, important in setting up a lifetime civic and political habit. Chapter Two (Paper One) uses longitudinal data from the 1958 British birth cohort study to assess whether volunteering as a young adult can promote political engagement in middle age. Data from the early waves of the study is used to account for potential confounders, particularly social class.
Volunteers are more likely to be engaged with politics than non-volunteers: but volunteers are also more likely to be well-educated people, with professional jobs who come from middle-class homes with parents who socialised them to engage in this way. Chapter Three (Paper Two) addresses the question of whether volunteering can be said to affect political engagement by using fixed effects modelling to account for these and other time-invariant effects. The data are drawn from the British Household Panel Survey, and enable an examination of relatively short term effects.
In Chapter Four (Paper Three), the structural equation modelling framework, and cross-sectional data from the Citizenship Survey, is used to analyse the role of trust as a mediator between volunteering and political engagement. Trust is a key component in the social capital literature. Finally, Chapter Five presents a summary of key findings, important limitations and suggestions for further work in this area.


Politics, Social Capital, Life Course Analysis, and Social Behaviour


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