This article introduces a special section on voluntary work and labour history which was timed to coincide with the United Nations International Year of the Volunteer (2001). Voluntary work has only recently been considered a relevant topic for labour history. Its past neglect reflects the widely held view that voluntary work is unproductive. Voluntary work challenges traditional labour history and directly confronts the changing nature of work in our society. By positioning voluntary work as the central category of analysis, this thematic section further extends the boundaries of labour history, and, it is argued, provides an improved framework of analysis. Focusing attention away from the labour movement and labour processes and towards the social and cultural processes of everyday life gives a refreshingly new perspective on labour history.