A new study into collective actions in support of vulnerable groups -- including asylum seekers and refugees -- is being led by the University of Leicester, in collaboration with the Université de Nantes.
Led by Dr Pierre Monforte at Leicester and Estelle d'Halluin-Mabillot at Nantes, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)-funded research project will run from January 2017 to December 2019. The overall goal of the research is to analyse and compare how and why volunteers get involved in charities and networks that support asylum seekers and refugees in Britain and in France.
Dr Monforte, of the University of Leicester School of Media, Communication and Sociology, said: "Over the last decades, in a context in which the living conditions of asylum seekers and refugees are becoming increasingly difficult, many charities have dedicated themselves to the support of these groups across Europe. A large part of the activities of these organisations depends on the involvement of volunteers who participate in collective actions such as legal aid, advice and support in terms of access to services (housing, schools, welfare, etc.), language or educational support (in particular children's support), fundraising, therapeutic or moral support.
"This study focuses on the case of the volunteers engaged in the support of asylum seekers and refugees in order to analyse questions which remain underexplored in the literature on collective action. Little is known about how volunteers involved in this field construct their engagement with altruistic action and define their role in society. The comparison between the French and British case will allow for an original and well-needed approach on these questions. This study is very topical, in the context of the refugee crisis and the emergence of new forms of solidarity such as the 'Refugees Welcome' movements.
"We hope to learn how volunteers make sense of their involvement in charities and networks of solidarities, and how the socio-political context in which they are situated shapes the way they define altruistic action. At a more general level, we hope to learn how altruism is socially constructed and how groups such as asylum seekers and refugees are defined as being in need of support.
"In doing so, we also want to increase the recognition in society of the movements of solidarity with asylum seekers and refugees, and explore possible ways to resolve the challenges faced by volunteers and charities in the pro-asylum sector."
The project will explore in detail how the collective actions in support of asylum seekers and refugees are constructed and how the boundaries with other forms of collective actions -- in particular social and political protest -- are debated.
Also, from a cross-national comparative perspective, the project will explore how life trajectories, organisational features, and contextual factors such as policy changes or media coverage shape the ways in which volunteers define their engagement with altruistic action.
Dr Monforte added: "We are excited to be doing this work. In a context in which debates and policies on immigration and border controls are increasingly divisive, we believe that research on these issues is absolutely necessary."
The project is based on a comparative approach and on qualitative research methods: the researchers will interview a large sample of volunteers with different profiles and who are active in two contrasted contexts (Britain and France). They will also interview key representatives of the main pro-asylum charities active in these two countries, and will analyse press reports and charities' archives. This will allow researchers to develop an in-depth analysis of why and how people engage with collective actions in support of asylum seekers and refugees.
More information about the project can be found here: http://gtr.rcuk.ac.uk/projects?ref=ES%2FN015274%2F1
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