Student volunteering at business events in China: Motivations and conceptualization
With the continuous growth of the global event industry, the importance of event volunteering has been widely acknowledged, while the understanding beyond sports events is overlooked. Moreover, the current literature on event volunteering is very Western-centric, and volunteering in different cultural contexts needs to be further explored. China is undergoing substantial economic and social changes and scholarly attention has been given to its tourism development. However, little is known about volunteering in the Chinese context. This thesis examines student volunteering at business events in China by studying students’ motivations for getting involved in volunteer activities at business events and conceptualization of this phenomenon. An adapted constructivist grounded theory approach was applied. This qualitative study started with the researcher’s auto-ethnography, demonstrating the emersion of the researcher in the explored field to gain a richness of data. This was followed by in-depth interviews with data triangulation from three groups: students, business event organisers, and education institution administrators. The combination of different methods reflected the holistic and critical research approach within the research paradigm, with a relativistic ontology, a subjectivist epistemology, and a naturalistic method. In the first stage of auto-ethnography, the researcher became an ‘insider’ at two business events in China and used personal experience to gain a fuller understanding of volunteering in this context. In the second stage, semi-structured interviews captured the perspectives of 20 students, 10 organisers, and 9 education institution administrators. Data were then analysed by a two-stage coding process using NVivo. Five themes and two frameworks of motivations and conceptualization emerged from the analysis. The identified motivations were complex, with students driven by instrumental and self-centred motives, demonstrating the characteristics of reflexive volunteers. Volunteering was a tool to construct distinctive personal identities and achieve self-realization. Regarding the concept of student volunteering at business events, participants had a broad understanding relating to this phenomenon. The voluntary exchange nature was prominent with symbolic, productive, and economic elements. Monetary remunerations were accepted and the behaviours were not purely students’ free choice, however, the voluntary spirit formed a distinctive line between volunteering at business events and other social activities. The results illustrated the complexity of the concept by encapsulating notions of reflexive volunteering, personal benefits, payment, exchange nature, voluntary spirit, and independent choice. Based on the exploration of motivation and conceptualization, it was identified that the phenomenon under research was a Chinese culturally specific construction of volunteering with the concepts of zhi yuan (volunteering) and zhi yuan zhe (volunteer(s)) demonstrating the culturally-situated understanding. Students’ zhi yuan service at business events was multi-dimensional and paradoxical, which transcended altruism/solidarity explanations for volunteer motivation and the dichotomy of paid employment/unpaid work. The findings contribute to the cultural understanding of volunteering and suggests further debate about the understanding of volunteering in different countries to capture the complexities of the embedded sociality residing in volunteering practices. The results of this research have important implications for scholars and practitioners in terms of volunteering research, volunteer management, and volunteer programme establishment.