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Work Without Wages: The Motivation for Volunteer Labor, by Alexander M. Thompson III (Dec. 1991)

This is a theoretical and empirical exploration into the motivation of volunteer firefighters. After a brief discussion of methodology, the activities in which these volunteers engage are described and a theoretical model of volunteer motivation is presented. The central hypothesis is that individuals engage in voluntary activities to struggle against the pervasive alienating nature of productive activity in capitalist economies in an effort to achieve a greater degree of self-actualization. This theoretical model is illustrated using data from a survey administered to 354 volunteer firefighters in Ulster County, New York. Lastly, the relationships between volunteer firefighting, alienation, and self-actualization are empirically explored, focusing upon comparisons between individuals’ firefighting and career endeavors.

Published: with Barbara A. Bono, The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, July 1993, 52(3): 323(21).