Constructions of Rural Women's Voluntary Work
ABSTRACT This article examines the nature and circumstances of women's voluntary work in rural communities. Drawing on original research conducted in two villages in Avon, England, it focuses on three main themes. Firstly, it considers theoretical debates on the conceptualisation of rural women's labour, arguing that traditional divisions between public and private forms of work provide an inadequate basis for understanding either women's labour participation or their domestic lives. The notion of voluntary work as a third sphere is discussed as it relates specifically to the rural labour market and community. Secondly, the article examines voluntary work in terms of the empowerment of women. It addresses issues of women's role and status in the rural community, questioning whether the state's use or reliance on voluntary work in rural areas represents an exploitation of women's position or an opportunity for women to gain influence and power. Thirdly the article evaluates the contribution of women's voluntary work to the conceptualisation and representation of rurality. The focus here is on the way in which voluntary activity supports a particular form and image of the rural community and, in turn, the implications this has for gender divisions and women's identity in contemporary rural England.