The Myth of Apolitical Volunteering for Refugees: German Welcome Culture and a New Dispositif of Helping

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

The Myth of Apolitical Volunteering for Refugees: German Welcome Culture and a New Dispositif of Helping


  • Larissa Fleischmann Department for Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Konstanz, Germany
  • Elias Steinhilper Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, Scuola Normale Superiore, Italy


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Abstract:  During the so-called “refugee crisis”, the notion of an unparalleled German hospitality toward asylum seekers circulated within the (inter)national public sphere, often encapsulated by the blurry buzzword “Welcome Culture”. In this article, we scrutinize these developments and suggest that the image of the so-called “crisis” has activated an unprecedented number of German citizens to engage in practices of “apolitical” helping. We argue that this trend has contributed to the emergence of what we term a new dispositif of helping, which embeds refugee solidarity in humanitarian parameters and often avoids an explicit political, spatial, and historical contextualization. This shift has activated individuals from the socio-political centre of society, well beyond the previously committed radical-left, antiracist, and faith-based groups. However, we aim to unmask forms of “apolitical” volunteering for refugees as a powerful myth: the new dispositif of helping comes with ambivalent and contradictory effects that range from forms of antipolitics to transformative political possibilities within the European border regime.

Keywords:  civil society; Germany; humanitarianism; migration regime; refugee crisis; solidarity; volunteering

Published:   19 September 2017


DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/si.v5i3.945


© Larissa Fleischmann, Elias Steinhilper. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.