Accepted Paper:

Volunteering among refugees in Vienna and Bavaria as an ethnographic encounter: exploring borderlands between civic engagement and academia   

Author:

Sabine Bauer-Amin (Austrian Academy of Sciences)

Paper short abstract:

Based on personal ethnographic encounters as an activist and a volunteer with the so-called “refugee crises“ in Vienna and Bavaria in summer 2015 I reflect on the difficulties of combining engagement with academia.

Paper long abstract:

In 2015, more than one million refugees made their way through Europe. For many, Vienna was the first stop after a hostile passage though Hungary and served as a "bottleneck" in the journey northwards. For this group, the remote area of the Austrian-Bavarian border became a compulsory stop of initial registration and were requested to stay in camps. During this journey, local and national authorities, activists and volunteers shaped the refuge experience, often acting upon their own agendas and changing in composition and political alignment.

I engaged this scenario as a political activist involved in charity work in Vienna and the Bavarian border region. To begin with, I found impossible to tackle academically my activities such as circumventing European border controls, political discussion with local politicians, and emotionally challenging volunteer work among traumatised children in Vienna and as a translator for Syrian women in a Bavarian refugee camp. My engagement through the network of volunteers made it difficult to address hierarchies, conflicting agendas and power struggles in which this network was embedded. Finally, exploring the misery of the people I tried to help and the trust they put on me to foster my own academic career brought me into an ethical dilemma. In this communication, I seek to discuss the possibilities and limitations of readdressing this encounter anthropologically. I therefore intend to use my ethnographic notes to reflect on the difficulties of combining charity and activism with academic work as an anthropologist and further interrogate how experiences such as mine could be best translated into meaningful work on refugees.

Panel P003
Anthropologists between the Middle East and Europe: war, crises, refugees, migration and Islamophobia [AMCE]