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‘When the saints go marching in’: constructions of senior volunteering in Norwegian government white papers, and in Norwegian senior volunteers’ and health-care professionals’ stories

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Document pages: 30 pages

Abstract: This study explores policy makers’, health-care professionals’ and senior volunteers’ perceptions of senior volunteers. Two Norwegian government white papers regarding older adult care and welfare services, which were published over a period of 19 years, were selected for close examination. Furthermore, focus group interviews with a purposeful sample of five senior volunteers and 15 health-care professionals were conducted. The study explores the discursive formations of senior volunteers in the government white papers and how they are negotiated in the senior volunteers’ and the health-care professionals’ narratives. Two dominant discourses were presented in the white papers: a prevention discourse (in which volunteering was presented primarily as a means to prevent volunteers’ loneliness and need for care services) and a sustainability discourse (in which the volunteers were presented as instrumental in future sustainable care services). Both discourses echo a common overarching discourse about a capacity crisis due to the ageing population. The senior volunteers were positioned as partners and active agents in both their own narratives and the health-care professionals’ narratives. Their position as independent and as spokespersons for the less empowered were evident only in the senior volunteers’ own narratives. Only the health-care professionals referenced the prevention discourse and capacity issues. The senior volunteers presented themselves as competent, efficient political actors, and they resisted both the prevention and sustainability discourses. In the senior volunteers’ narratives, social and political participation were interrelated. The study demonstrates that new discursive landscapes must be created to capture the diversity among senior volunteers and their efforts. While senior volunteers must be meaningfully involved in decision making, planning and design, their positions as independent and active agents must also be ensured. Authentic partnerships between senior volunteers and public care services involve a balance between involvement and independence.

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