Welcome Culture and Democracy in Germany: Refugee Support Initiatives As Site of Active Citizenship and Democratic Learning

Friday, 20 July 2018: 17:50
Oral Presentation
Katherine BRAUN, University of Osnabrück, Germany
Nikolai HUKE, University of Tübingen, Germany
Since the "long summer of 2015" (Kasparek/Speer 2015) a new way of dealing with refugees has emerged in Germany. Labeled as Welcome Culture, this new way of dealing is characterized by a marked increase in new volunteer, political activists and associations dedicated to assisting refugees. Due to the large numbers of refugees arriving in a relatively short time period, the existing state infrastructures became overloaded (van Dyk & Misbach, 2016) and volunteers began to show up to help. This outpouring of volunteerism was largely spontaneous, building on neighborly commitment and involvement in Refugee Support Initiatives. Although the euphoria in welcoming refugees has since then faded and we are experiencing now an increase in racist assaults and a strengthening of extreme right political parties, studies concerned with refugee support and activism in Germany ( Karkayali & Kleist, 2016 Braun, 2017) show that most of the Refugee Support Initiatives are still committed. Furthermore, they have become important actors both in the material and political support of refugees.

Departing from first insights of a research project in Hamburg, Tübingen and Kassel we will discuss Welcome Culture 1) as a response to and effect of a crisis of state governance, which is connected to a neoliberalization of the welfare state measures, as well as to the crisis of restrictive forms of migration management; 2) as a moment of erosion of democratic consensus, which is constituted by xenofobic attitudes and brutalised discourses, that question the grounds of German democratic values; 3) as a crisis of political representation, in which refugees lack of political rights and where Refugee Support Initiatives claim human rights to be applied, as well as democratic consensus to be defended. In this regard, Refugee Support Initiatives are sites of active citizenship where negotiations of conflicts and processes of democratic learning take place.