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Presentation at the X ESPAnet-Italia Conference

In the X ESPAnet-Italia Conference, Forlì, 21-23th September 2017, Nicola De Luigi and Valeria Piro presented a paper titled Volontariato e attivismo. Due logiche a confronto nelle esperienze di mutualismo all’interno degli spazi sociali auto-gestiti (Volunteering and activism. Comparing two logics in the mutualistic experiences inside self-organized social centers).

 Find out the abstract below:

Since 2011, under the pressure of the economic crisis and the new global trends, anti-austerity movements have emerged throughout Western countries. While on the one hand they have been working towards the creation of international solidarity linkages, on the other hand they have been also very active in the local communities, promoting practices of mutual and self-help aimed at providing an answer to the emerging material and immaterial needs of a growing share of population. Beyond conveying a strong antagonistic potential, these practices (provision of shelters, food, income opportunities, etc.) have extended the possibilities of involvement into social movements to other actors “traditionally” engaged in the “galaxy” of the organized civil society: the volunteers. 

The aim of the presentation is to reflect on the interconnections between activism and volunteering, starting from data collected through an ethnographic research (project Partispace Horizon 2020 – Excellent Science) realized among the young people participating to the activities of an Italian self-managed occupied social center where – in the last few years – different practices of solidarity, mutual and self-help (shelter for migrants, kindergarten, collective gardening, etc.) have been developed.  

In mainstream discourses, as well as in a large part of the academic debate, volunteering and activism are often depicted as opposed and mutually exclusive modes of engagement. While activism is associated with a change-oriented attitude aimed at challenging the status quo, volunteering is too often embedded in a discourse on neutral altruism, that risks to underestimate and “sterilize” its political and critical potential. Our investigation, instead, aims at highlighting the similarities and the overlapping between the two categories, showing how they are used, shaped and re-appropriated by young individuals, who often move from one pattern to another, according to the situation in which they find themselves to act and decide.