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Social and economic value of the social identities of the Civil Protection volunteers


Social identity, volunteer members identity, civil disposition groups, values, scales of value, social capital, gift of assistance, interactive rituals, threats, new types of security, transformation of security systems, sociology of dispositional groups.

In recent years, volunteer organizations have increasingly been the subject of scientific reserches. In addition to research striving to understand the economic value of volunteering and the social capital created through it, researchers are trying to identify the motivations of people joining the ranks of volunteer associations. In the works devoted to this subject, altruistic stimuli are generally pointed out, but also various personal motivations accompanying these motives, such as raising one’s own specializations and qualifications, gaining experience needed in future professional work, as well as benefits resulting from expanding social relations and social capital[2].

The concept of capital in the economic area includes two quite different economic phenomena, i.e. physical capital and money capital[3] necessary for the creation of goods, services and capital growth. In sociology, capital is understood as a set of means creating a network of relations lasting over time, which an individual and society can use to achieve various goals and goods, both intangible and tangible.

The concept of social capital first appeared in an article from 1916 and was adopted in 1920 by the American author Lyd Judson Hanifan, who explains its essence: namely: goodwill, belonging to an organization, solidarity and such social relations between individuals and families that make up a social unit[4], is therefore a complex concept embracing cultural, social and also economic values.

The American sociologist James Coleman used the concept of social capital to create a general social theory based on the assumption that man is deliberately opposed to an individualistic thesis, typical of classical and neoclassical economics[5]. The author, explaining the definition of “social capital”, specifies that the term capital is a resource that enables production, but is not used in the production process, in which people can rationally invest in order to achieve goals that would otherwise not be achievable or would be too expensive. On the other hand, the term social refers to the combined action of several people, to the formal and informal aspects of a social organization that are mainly established for non-economic purposes, but also have economic consequences[6]. Social capital is an important resource influencing the ability of individuals to act and the perceived quality of life, and because it enables all participants of the social structure to use it, it is a public good[7]. Referring to various elements of the social structure, various forms of social capital can be mentioned, such as networks, norms, obligations, which can be used to achieve a specific goal in a given (but not otherwise) situation. The research of the American sociologist covers “features of social relations that can constitute a resource of capital useful to individuals”[8].

Among the forms of social capital, Coleman lists: duties and expectations, effective rules and sanctions, information channels and power relations.

The term social capital as a set of norms and principles prevailing in the network of mutual trust, loyalty and solidarity, facilitating spontaneous cooperation[9] was spread by Robert Putnam, representing the James Coleman school. The definition formulated in this way emphasizes the factors important in social capital, starting from the ties of individuals, in particular by referring to the informal principles of cohabitation. These principles, although implicitly based on the values ​​and the normative nature of cultural models, become the basis for spontaneous cooperation between individuals, referring to the altruistic dimension, subordinating personal profit to the public interest, following the rules in the belief that others will act similarly, independently. from the pursuit of personal gain. Social networks created in this way refer to the individual and collective nature of individuals, that is, to their contacts and tendencies to establish new ones outside. The value of these networks is physical capital and human capital increasing productivity, while their feature is the civic virtue of individuals participating on the basis of reciprocity, and respect for private and public goods. Social networks imply “mutual obligations”, that is, the exchange of gifts and favors of “equivalent” (specific) and “generalized”. Equivalent exchange occurs simultaneously, e.g. in mutual bestowal, while generalized exchange relates to the continuity of the relationship and implies the hope that the gift or favor will be reciprocated. The principle of generalized exchange is one of the highly productive components of social capital[10] which, as a consequence of multiple relationships marked by loyalty, trust and solidarity, has an impact on the development of economic capital.

Regardless of the various reasons for undertaking voluntary service, it is important to emphasize its importance in the development of specific areas of social life and the support that volunteers offer to various institutions and citizens in the sphere of security.

Taking account of mentioned issues, it is necessary to analyze the processes in which units to build social identity before joining volunteer groups and after joining them, with particular emphasis on volunteers of Civil Protection dispositional groups  in Italy. Members of these groups, taking care of the security of territories and inhabitants, not only in many ways contribute to the growth of economic and social goods, but often, regardless of the difficult and even extreme conditions of duty, rush to help to save lives and possessions, joining the increase in security and its perception.

Concern for security is one of the important factors motivating individuals to act to maintain it as a necessary value in the development of each person and society. It should be noted, however, that commitment to maintaining security through cooperation in groups of volunteers depends not only on caring for its condition. The decision on a voluntary service consists primarily in developing knowledge and belonging to a social group, identifying with it, sense responsible for it, recognition of own capabilities, relational abilities and the readiness of giving up winning for the general good.

In studies on the phenomenon of volunteering, the attention of researchers and sociologists focuses on theories of social capital and gift as the basis of participatory society, thus affecting social reality, creating social facts capable of influencing individuals in their choices regarding participation in social life and deciding about what it will be like. Selections concerning participation in social life implie values and patterns taken from primary groups, educated in various interactive rituals, recorded and transferred to successive relationships. Returning to these patterns by sharing them in social life is a chance for human to “return” to the family home from which they were obtained and with which human, through them, is associated throughout his or her life.

For those who have decided to volunteer, these values include the virtues of altruism, the need to help others, reciprocity and solidarity. Certainly, in each case there are additional, individual experiences awakening the “need to be needed”, motivating to support volunteer groups in the sphere of security, arousing interest and provoking reflection: “Why is it that, in so many societies, at so many periods and in such different contexts, individuals and/or groups feel obliged not only to give, or when someone gives to them to receive, but also feel obliged, when they have received, to reciprocate what has been given and to reciprocate either the same things (or its equivalent), or something more or better?”[11]

The “need to be needed” is not the sole prerogative of volunteers, it is in everyone, and it can be met in a variety of ways. Implementing it in an organized way, in cooperation with others, requires the individual to impose discipline and a certain dose of humility, adherence to established rules, norms and recommendations, especially with regard to volunteers dispositional groups.

When analyzing the attitudes and motivations of people entering the ranks of volunteers dispositional groups, it is therefore necessary to take into account the variety of factors that compose their identities, ranging from how they identify with their communities and adopted values and patterns, through experiences in the field of security or lack thereof, to personality traits enabling unit of interaction with the group[12]. Upon joining volunteering, the sum of these factors, as well as additional experience and interactions occurring during the service and exercise, influence the formation of a new identity, voluntary identity, affecting, from that moment, on the whole of human life. Volunteer service influences the consolidation of acquired values, but also the reclassification of others, giving meaning to those situations and contexts that have not been taken into account so far, and contaminating the overall identity of a person.

Volunteer identity studies take into account interactive rituals that occur both in a volunteer group and when interacting with people who need help. Therefore, they imply theories of social capital: trust, solidarity, reciprocity and altruism. Without these values, neither collaboration in the group nor voluntary service would be effective and would not have the right to exist. Offering help to another person, regardless of whether it is a colleague volunteer or injured in a catastrophe, is conditioned by the presence of these values in the life of the bestowal and is considered in terms of the theory of free[13]gift and exchange of gifts[14]. The “free gift” is the basis for volunteer activity, regardless of the area and range of their activities and individual motivations, as an important element of the authentic love relationship that characterizes volunteer service. It is necessary in initiating successive interpersonal relationships. However, if the “free gift” is a condition of “authentic” relationship, its continuation requires reciprocity and care for its dissemination. In fact, the sense of the moral obligation to reciprocate the gift of help by the recipient means that this gift is not stopped, but transferred to subsequent networks of relationships, arousing the need to be needed, implemented in the ranks of volunteering.

Social groups are built from many identities developed in different social situations and formed in the varied interpersonal relationships, for this reason the research on volunteering cannot fail to take into account these identities, in particular in the research on volunteering groups in the field of security. It is important in this regard to emphasize the research of the modification of the roles and social statuses of individuals since joining the ranks of volunteering affecting the modification of self-perception and experiencing oneself in society, in building social identity.

Considering the multifaceted factors participating in the processes of individual and social self development, research into the identity of volunteer dispositional groups required taking into account the various conditions in which they are constructed, implying a multitude of approaches and sociological research perspectives.

(A cura di Jolanta Grębowiec-Baffoni[1])


[1] Dott. Jolanta Grębowiec-Baffoni, Ph.D.,  Università di Wrocław, Polonia.

[2] Cfr. R. Putnam, The prosperous community. Social capital and public life, “The American Prospect” nr 13/1993; F. Fukuyama, Trust. The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, Free Press, New York 1995; P. Bourdieu, Le capital social. Notes provisoires, “Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales”, nr 31/1980.

[3] T. Łuczka: Kapitał jako przedmiot gospodarki finansowej małego i średniego przedsiębiorstwa prywatnego. Wprowadzenie do finansów przedsiębiorstwa, Wydawnictwo Politechniki Poznańskiej, Poznań 1997, p. 45.

[4] E. Gerardini, L’esperienza AIM: educazione non formale, mentoring, valorizzazione del capitale sociale [w:] G. Spagnuolo (red.), Intercultura e internazionalizzazione. Pratiche per il successo per la formazione, Franco Angeli, Milano 2012, p. 275.

[5] S. Bertolini, G. Bravo, Dimensioni del capitale sociale, “Quaderni di Sociologia”, nr 25/2001, p. 39.

[6] Ibidem, p. 464.

[7] J. S. Coleman, Fondamenti di teoria sociale, il Mulino, Bologna 2005, p. 480.

[8] Ibidem, p. 306.

[9] R. Putnam, The prosperous community. Social capital and public life, “The American Prospect”, n. 13/ 1993, p. 196;  Putnam, R. Leonardi, R. Y Nanetti, Demokracja w działaniu. Tradycje obywatelskie we współczesnych Włoszech, Społeczny Komitet Wydawniczy ZNAK, Kraków, Fundacja im. Stefana Batorego, Warszawa 1995, p. 258.

[10] R. Putnam, The prosperous community… op. cit., p. 202.

[11] M. Godelier, The Enigma of the Gift, Polity, Press, Chicago 1999

[12] M. Stochmal, J. Grębowiec-Baffoni, “Rhetoric” of the Help-Giving Theory in the Service of the Italian Civil Protection Volunteers. Culture e Studi del Sociale, 3(2), 177-191, 2018. Retrieved from

[13] Cfr. P. Donati, Il dono in famiglia e nelle altre sfere sociali [in] Scabini E., Rossi G. (red.) Dono e perdono nelle relazioni familiari e sociali, Vita e Pensiero, Milano 2000.

[14] Cfr. M. Mauss, Szkic o darze. Forma i podstawa wymiany w społeczeństwach archaicznych, [in] Socjologia i antropologia, PWN, Warszawa 1973.

Rivista scientifica digitale mensile (e-magazine) pubblicata in Legnano dal 2013 – Direttore: Claudio Melillo – Direttore Responsabile: Serena Giglio – Coordinatore: Pierpaolo Grignani – Responsabile di Redazione: Marco Schiariti
a cura del Centro Studi di Economia e Diritto – Ce.S.E.D. Via Padova, 5 – 20025 Legnano (MI) – C.F. 92044830153 – ISSN 2282-3964 Testata registrata presso il Tribunale di Milano al n. 92 del 26 marzo 2013
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