Working Paper 111

Between Technology of Self and Technology of Power: the volunteer phenomenon in Guangzhou, China

Friederike Fleischer

Department ‘Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia’

Year of publication

Number of pages

Working Paper 111

Based on interviews and survey data with young people in Guangzhou, in this article I explore the recent popularity of volunteer work in China. I delineate several factors that play into the phenomenon, such as students' desire to break out of their strict routines, to engage in meaningful activities, to meet and interact with more people, and to contribute to China's development. By linking these issues to the socio-political, economic, and ideological transformations in China, I show that we cannot meaningfully distinguish between altruistic and self-interested motivations to volunteer. For the students, whom my research focused on, I suggest that volunteering is a means to transform themselves into modern, entrepreneurial, and responsible selves, necessary to meet the challenges of urban life in China today. At the same time, volunteering, encouraged and framed by the government, is a "technology of power" in the Foucaultdian sense, that is, a means to nurture self-reliant and socially responsible individuals, necessary for the functioning of the reformed state. In effect, volunteerism is a locus where technologies of the self and 'governmentality' converge.

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