Europe Trouble: Welcome Culture and the Disruption of the European Border Regime

Foto: Katrine Hoop

This conference explores and problematizes volunteer work in which people of everyday life Europe have chosen to ‘give a helping hand’ in support of refugees coming to Europe after the 2015 migratory movements. Such initiatives and activities from concerned citizens tend to indicate that formal political action and decision-making are felt to be insufficient, and their actions stimulate further questions such as where and how are borders working in practice, and for whom does the border work?

By ethnographically investigating rationales, aspirations and experiences of volunteer  initiatives the conference aims at enhancing our understanding of how everyday aiding practices enact and thereby also disrupt the trope of ‘the European citizen’ (Rygiel et al. 2015).

To fully grasp how such everyday Europeanisation troubles Europe, we find it necessary to re-think Europe through current de- and rebordering processes. Borders are negotiated and challenged among a multiplicity of actors in different settings, and as we suggest: in the everyday reception of refugees among European citizens’ volunteer initiatives.

By focusing on the volunteers’ practices as border work and on the question how everyday life Europeanisation trouble Europe and potentially challenge the European border regime, we contend that another Europe is possible – a multiple Europe.

To grasp volunteer refugee reception in its complexity we will pay attention to questions like:

  • What does it imply to be ‘helping out’ and what are the challenges of ‘doing good’?
  • Where and how are borders working in practice, and for whom does the border work?
  • Which relations and new roles are mobilised in the process of doing volunteer refugee reception work and how are usual divisions between researchers and interlocutors, refugees and volunteers, guests and hosts, as well as academic, activist and humanitarian interventions, renegotiated?
  • Which methodological and analytical implications do these interchanging relations have for ethnographic research? How can ‘help’ be researched without reducing volunteer practices to unambiguous acts of ‘doing good’ or easy altruism?

The programme consists of keynotes, presentations on fieldwork based insights from Helping Hands Research Network and a round-table discussion followed by a reception.

Everyone is welcome!


10:15 - 10:30  Welcome by Marie Sandberg and Dorte J. Andersen

10:30 - 12:00  Keynote: Katerina Rozakou (Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences): Solidarians and humanitarians in the land of Xenios Zeus: Responses to the “(European) migration crisis”

The emergence of a vast and diverse landscape of humanitarian actors as response to the “(European) migration crisis” has been described as newsolidarityvolunteer or amateur humanitarianism. Scholars have felt the need to coin these new terms in an attempt to describe a humanitarian milieu that is exemplified by informal and often ad hoc groups, and what has come to be known as “independent volunteers”. Especially since 2015, Greece has become the epicentre not only of the “(European) migration crisis” but also of such forms of humanitarianism. But why did Greece attract all these volunteers? What was the fertile ground that enabled the growth of these humanitarianisms? Apart from addressing these questions, in this talk, I will reflect on how solidarity became the main trope with regard to the reception of the refugees/migrants in Greece, replacing hospitality as the par excellence model and Greek national attribute. Solidarity and the emic term allileggyos (solidarian) specifically, has a particular historical genealogy reflecting an antagonistic relationship with the state in Greece. Thus (and quite differently to the volunteer), the solidarian is interrelated to the formation of subversive citizenships and it is deeply informed by Greek political history. During the “(European) migration crisis” the solidarian –and solidarity humanitarianism– has gained international currency and has become a self-identification concept for international volunteers.  

Katerina Rozakou received her PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Aegean in Greece and she has spent a year as a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University, has been affiliated as postdoc researcher at the University of Amsterdam. Rozakou has done extensive fieldwork on voluntary associations assisting refugees, as well as on Afghan refugees in austerity Athens, and her work has been published in international academic journals as well as in her monograph: Out of "love" and "solidarity": Voluntary work with refugees in early 21st century Greece has appeared in Greek (English translation in preparation).

Discussant: Cetta Mainwairing

12:00 - 13:00  Lunch

13:00 - 15:00  Ethnography et al. - on doing situated collaborative fieldwork
                          with informal networks supporting refugees on arrival in Europe

Presentation of insights from the Helping Hands Research Network

Refugee reception initiatives in a European perspective - A collaborative fieldwork experience: Marie Sandberg & Dorte J. Andersen 

  • Fieldworkshop Nijmegen: Kolar Aparna, Olivier Kramsch, Joris Schapendonk – co-reflections by Daniela deBono
  • Fieldworkshop Glasgow: Teresa Piacentini, Gareth Mulway, Cetta Mainwaring – co-reflections Synnøve Bendixsen
  • Fieldworkshop Hamburg: Dorte J. Andersen & Marie Sandberg – co-reflections Kolar Aparna

Questions and Discussion

15:00 - 15:30  Coffee, tea and cakes

15:30 - 17:00  Round-table: Helping out – how and why?

Refugee Welcome Flensburg (DE): Katrine Hopp
Bedsteforældre for Asyl, Copenhagen (DK): Mette Roerup
Gramnet, Glasgow (SCT): Gareth Mulway

Moderator: Teresa Piacentini

17:00 – 18:00  Reception – Special issue launch
                          Presentation of special issue of Social Kritik on Solidaritetsarbejdets

About the network 

The Helping Hands Research Network has explored volunteer projects in countries of the Western part of Northern Europe, which have become central destinations of refugees arriving to Europe. Ethnographic fieldwork among volunteer network initiators and their projects have been conducted in The Netherlands (Nijmegen), and the UK (Glasgow), in Copenhagen, Denmark, and in the Schleswig-Holstein/Hamburg region and Berlin, Germany with comparative outlooks to the Mediterranean region of Europe (Malta and Greece). In each of the chosen research sites refugee aid projects are taking place. In focus are informal networks or so-called ’pop-up’ networks rather than established organisations, since these types of volunteering mushroomed especially in the wake of the humanitarian crisis in Europe during the summer and fall of 2015. Further, this type of low-level organisation appears to be particularly appealing to and thus a strong motivation force among the volunteers.

Helping Hands. Research Network on the Everyday Border Work of European Citizens is funded by the Danish Research Council for Independent Research 2017-2019 (DFF/6107-00111).

Read more on the Helping Hands Research Network here