Understanding the dualities of film festivals’ volunteer: a review of Peaslee’s article (Part 1)

Volunteering has always been a crucial part of film festivals. In order to organise a successful film festival without paying too much, organisers need to understand how volunteers work in the current media industry. Considering this issue, in Week 6’s reading, Peaslee and his team propose three dualities volunteers are facing in media events, including “social capital and civic engagement”, “fan labor and volunteerism”, and “online and on-ground spaces” (2). In this blog, these dualities will be analysed the work of today’s film festivals.

Social capital and Civic engagement

The term “social capital” is derived from Bourdieu, who is well-known for his “habitus” theory.     He defines “social capital” as “the aggregate of actual or potential resources” which connects individuals with the capital from organisations (248). In the context of “social capital” environment, individuals can gain economic or other benefits via a special “social network”.

In film festivals, volunteers can use their “social capital”. For example, some volunteers in the cinemas obtain the opportunities of watching films for free. And some of them can also join the Q&A without admission. Hence, Peaslee et al. argue that “social capital” is the main reason motivates volunteers to participate (2).

Besides “social capital”, “civic engagement” is the other component based on volunteers’ social network. It means when volunteers sharing their similar interests, they are also sharing citizenships. So even they are strangers, reciprocity will motivate them to establish relationships and engage them in their common interests, such as film festivals. It could be another reason why there are always some volunteers are so enthusiastic about the film festivals.

As we can see from the cases of film festivals, the volunteers of film festivals are encouraged by both “social capital” and “civic engagement”. When they are doing the volunteering, they are not only taking advantages of “social capital” to obtain economic benefits but also developing their social network.

This duality suggests that in the process of recruiting volunteers, organisers can focus on fan communities which are related to the theme of film festivals. The potential audience who seeking the groups with common interests can also be the target. Economic benefits, such as free admission, and mental pleasure, such as meeting the people having similar interests, can be awards for being the volunteers.

Fan labor and Volunteerism

As mentioned before, fan communities can be helpful in terms of recruiting volunteers. Fan labor may be motivated by the “object of their fandom” (4). The object could be, for example, the guest the film festival invites, or the film the festival is going to show. So, fan labor is easy to drive.

However, “fan labor” also means they are not 100% “volunteers” in a traditional way. Fan labor is encouraged by their own interests and needs. Comparing with these people, volunteerism suggests that volunteers should support organisations which will help others. So traditional volunteers are doing their work as charity, not personal interests.

In my view, it does not matter that whether the volunteers of film festivals are fan labor or with traditional volunteerism. Because film festivals are industrial events, which differ from those non-profit organisations. To some extent, film festivals have to be commercial to lower costs and maintain the running of themselves. That is why film festivals need a lot of volunteers rather than paid staff.

To be continue…


Bourdieu, Pierre. “The Forms of Capital.” Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, edited by John G. Richardson, Greenwood, 1986, pp. 241–258.

Peaslee, Robert Moses, et al. “The Media Festival Volunteer: Connecting Online and On-ground Fan Labor”. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 15. 2014, pp. 1-13. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2014.0502.

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