Responding to a Moral Imperative to Act: The Mobilization of Compassion and Solidarity for the Plight of Refugees in Germany

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
Larissa FLEISCHMANN, University of Konstanz, Germany
In this proposed contribution, I will offer a glimpse on the forms of practical solidarity that emerged within local communities in response to the increased arrival of asylum seekers in Germany around the so-called ‘refugee crisis’. I ask for the techniques of mobilization that generated compassion and feelings of responsibility among citizens and led to an unprecedented willingness to engage in acts of humanitarian assistance and support for refugees. This development gained momentum in the national and international media through the narrative of a German ‘Welcome Culture’, which presented the society as being characterized by an extraordinary level of open-mindedness, hospitality and compassion towards the newcomers. In my paper, I will demonstrate how the notion of a ‘Welcome Culture’ came with a moral imperative to act that mobilized German citizens to support refugees in localized contexts. It triggered a diverse range of immediate helping practices, among them, for instance, the collection of donations, the organization of joint leisure time activities, language courses, or the support in bureaucratic procedures. My paper will reflect on two techniques of mobilization in more detail. On the one hand, feelings of a humanitarian duty were produced that generated responsibility for the plight of refugees. On the other hand, a need to help triggered the notion of being obligated to act. Yet, as I will show, these moralized techniques of mobilization were not free of power relations. To the contrary, they were employed in order to further certain (political) strategies by, for instance, governmental actors or leftist activists. I will draw on striking examples of my qualitative and ethnographic fieldwork throughout Germany between late 2014 and mid-2016, around the so-called ‘refugee crisis’, in order to highlight these points.