performing the common good

Kirsch, Thomas G. 2017. Performing the common good: volunteering and ethics in non-state crime prevention in South Africa. Africa 87 (3): 496-512.

 "Using fieldwork data from South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, this article highlights ambiguities of volunteering as idea and practice by exploring discursive strategies used by volunteers in the field of civic crime prevention when the ethical honesty and selflessness of their commitment to volunteering is questioned by others. These ambiguities relate to asymmetries in the relationship between donors and recipients of volunteering, as well as, most importantly, the challenge to determine what constitutes the ‘common good’. This article demonstrates that these strategies entail the accommodation of contentions about: (1) the social identity of the volunteer by stressing the volunteer’s commitment to abstract causes and objectives; (2) powerful asymmetries between donors and recipients of volunteering by invoking an encompassing sociality; and/or (3) the (alleged) self-interest of volunteers by defining the personal benefits achieved by volunteering not as an end in themselves but as ‘private means’ to ‘public ends’. All three strategies have in common that volunteers as ‘ethical subjects’ can here be shown to be co-produced with South African ‘communities of ethics’ on different social scales."