Pro-Social Practice amongst the Akamba of Eastern Kenya: An Alternative Volunteering Paradigm?

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As part of a wider PhD project, this paper explores the possibility of applying a western construct of volunteering, to a localised non-western context. In using an ethnographic approach, the study sought to move away from the tradition of large scale volunteering surveys which emphasise quantification. In essence therefore, the study brings out aspects of volunteering and pro-social behaviours that would otherwise have been “missed” in using traditional approaches to studying volunteering and related practices. Further, the study endeavored to test-out the usefulness of new technologies in researching volunteering and cognate practices. Participant photography, for instance, was included in the research methods of this study.
The application of volunteering as a possible analytical frame for apprehending the nature of pro-social behaviour allowed the emergence of different forms of pro-social practice in the community, practices that are seen to be contra-distinct from volunteering. For example, the forms of pro-social behaviour conditioned by and channeled though the clan system are predicated upon compulsion. In addition, some other forms of pro-social behaviour are regulated by reciprocity and instrumentality, rather than by an over-riding concern for the welfare of the person/people to whom such actions target. Further, the initial findings point to the largely collective organisation of such practice, through the work-party (mwethya) tradition and clan-based systems. The findings suggest that the practices evident amongst the Akamba are not, by and large, easily defined by hegemonic conceptualisations of volunteering. As such, the paper argues for the development of intermediate typologies of volunteering and helping behavior in order to account for practices that do not fall within current descriptions.


Keywords: Volunteering, Helping Behaviour, Pro-Social Practice, Non-Western Context
Stream: Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Studies, Humanities
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Dr Michael Munavu

PhD Research Candidate, School of Social Sciences, Media and Cultural Studies, University of East London
London, UK

I am a PhD candidate at the University of East London, where I am currently completing a PhD focusing on volunteering in non-western contexts. My background prior to undertaking my research was working with international development organisations in Africa and to a lesser extent in the United Kingdom. Additionally, I continue to undertake limited external consulting work relating to social development. My work experience has always involved an element of strengthening Volunteer Management systems, hence my academic interest in volunteering in both my Masters and PhD research. I am originally from Eastern Kenya, which also explains my interest in linking the indigenous cultural practice of this group of people, with wider notions of voluntary action. I am currently in the process of writing up my thesis.

Ref: I08P0888