Ambivalent compassion: volunteering in refugee spaces in the UK and Germany
(University of Southampton)
Paper short abstract:
I explore accounts of citizen volunteers who support Syrian refugees in Germany and the UK. The discussion revolves around affective relationalities which negotiate boundaries of culture and power, normative discourses about immigration, and critical public moods that have shifted to the right.
Paper long abstract:
This paper addresses practices of citizen volunteering that emerged around the 'refugee crisis' in Germany and the UK. While policies of refugee admission in 2015 differed markedly in both countries, there was a comparable surge in solidarity among ordinary citizens, giving rise to forms of voluntarism which became known as 'welcome culture' in Germany and assumed a vital role in the UK's resettlement programme for Syrian refugees. Based on research among volunteers in rural regions in the UK and Germany the paper examines volunteering as expressions of care and sympathy, and their respective political underpinnings. Anthropologists have argued that new moralities of charity and 'compassion' have become central to neoliberal state craft, informing the management of both, immigration policy and post-welfare social environments. Against the backdrop of some of these arguments I focus on volunteer accounts and the ways in which they construct relationships of care with refugees. In exploring these narrative acts of charity and compassion I show how actors reproduce cultural normativity on the one hand, yet also create vehicles for anti-racist (albeit politically passive) introspection on the other.
The radical politics of alterity: towards a unified analysis of 'crisis', migration and the workings of power.