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Keywords:

  • international youth volunteering;
  • globalisation;
  • work;
  • transnational firms;
  • gap year;
  • global business class

Ongoing globalisation poses a distinct challenge to how we understand what work ‘is’ in the contemporary world. Theoretical distinctions between the spatialities and temporalities of work as a practice have become blurred, along with understandings of work purely as an economic rather than a socio-cultural phenomenon. Building on theoretical approaches within geography and the ‘new sociology of work’, this paper argues that the transformation of work produced by contemporary globalisation requires a more sophisticated and geographically informed understanding of the spatiality of work as a practice. It develops this contention by presenting research into a specific kind of (unconventional) work – international youth volunteering. It argues that this form of work has a complex spatiality, whose constitution and impacts exceed the specific material location of workers in both space and time. Furthermore, it examines how this ‘multiplex mode’ of work practice destabilises the relationship between work and non-work, and facilitates the development of cultural capital, self-identity and skills in young people. It also contends that this form of voluntary work is embedded in the emerging needs of global labour markets. These arguments are elaborated through the presentation of research from a longitudinal project on the impacts of international youth volunteering. This research consists of data from interviews and focus groups with young people who undertook a range of different types of overseas voluntary work placement, and interviews with corporate recruiters in leading transnational firms concerning their understanding of the value (or otherwise) of international volunteering.