Exploring the frames of altruistic action. A comparative analysis of volunteers' engagement in British and French pro-asylum charities

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leicester
Department Name: Sociology

Abstract

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 altruistic 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 explore questions which remain underexplored in the literature on collective action.
This research project seeks to analyse what motivates volunteers to engage with charities that support asylum seekers and refugees, as well as how they define their engagement and reflect upon their experience. In particular, the study wants to analyse whether and how these actors distinguish between altruistic action and social or political protest. In doing so, it seeks to explore how the frontiers between different forms of engagement in society are constructed and negotiated. Looking at immigration and asylum politics 'from below', it also aims to analyse how public debates and policies on these issues are reflected in the forms of engagement in support of asylum seekers and refugees.
The project is based on a comparative approach and on qualitative research methods: we will interview 140 volunteers with different profiles and who are active in two contrasted contexts (Britain and France). We will also interview key representatives of the main pro-asylum charities active in these two countries, and we will analyse press reports and charities' archives. We will undertake this empirical research in the cities of London, Birmingham, Sheffield, Paris, Lyon, and in the region of Lille-Calais. This will allow us to develop an in-depth analysis of why and how people engage in altruistic action in support of asylum seekers and refugees. This will also enable us to analyse whether differences in terms of the life trajectories and personal values of volunteers, of organisational cultures of pro-asylum charities, of national cultures of volunteering, of relations between civil society actors and public authorities, as well as of immigration and asylum politics lead individuals to define their engagement in different ways.
This approach and these methods will give us new data and perspectives on the ways ideas that relate to altruism, solidarity, humanity, care, or compassion are constructed and experienced. They will also enable us to develop original perspectives on the consequences in civil society of policies and public debates in the field of immigration and asylum. This research is timely in a context of intense debates and rapid policy changes on immigration and asylum, both at the national and EU levels. It is also timely in a context of funding shortages to civil society organisations.

Planned Impact

This study aims for impact in three areas:
- Improve the experience of volunteers working for the support of vulnerable groups such as asylum seekers and refugees
It has been raised in our discussions with representatives of pro-asylum charities that many volunteers find their experience difficult in emotional terms, due in particular to their feeling of disempowerment in relation to the living conditions of asylum seekers and refugees. This issue has been also raised in the literature and in the ESRC funded research project on the strategies of asylum advocacy in the UK and US (see Case for Support). Our study will collect first-hand data on the difficulties expressed by volunteers and make concrete proposals to improve their overall experience, in particular through the reflection on the trainings offered to volunteers and through the exchange of best practices.
- Increase the effectiveness of charities and facilitate the dialogue between different organisations
We aim to provide charities with in-depth analysis on the contribution of volunteers in the pro-asylum sector. We also aim to better connect the needs of organisations and volunteers. Objectives identified during our discussions with charity representatives include: identify the needs of volunteers; learn why people choose to volunteer; think about ways to include volunteers more effectively in the structure of the charities in the long-term. These objectives are particularly timely as charities are increasingly dependent on the work of volunteers, in a context of funding shortages. Our study could increase the effectiveness of charities by providing evidence on volunteers' motivations and inclusion in the organisational structure of charities, and by encouraging a reflection on mechanisms to involve volunteers more effectively in the strategic orientations of charities. Also, the international comparison could serve as a platform to exchange best practices and to reinforce the construction of international networks in the pro-asylum movements. This objective is particularly important in the context of EU harmonisation of immigration and asylum policies.
- Improve social cohesion and increase active citizenship
The project will contribute to an evidence base on the daily activities of charities and individuals engaged in the support of asylum seekers and refugees. This new data could prove influential in shaping policy debates about the role of charities, and in increasing the social and political recognition of these actors. We expect to contribute to policy debates on the funding of the Third Sector, and we expect more generally to challenge preconceptions in the public space about the role of charities. In doing so, the study should contribute to debates and initiatives that aim to promote active citizenship and a sustainable and inclusive civil society.
The following groups will benefit from this research:
- Charities and the volunteers who are involved in them
The project will engage directly with ten pro-asylum charities, and we have discussed our research design and strategy with key representatives of these organisations: Refugee Council, Refugee Action, Migrant Help, British Red Cross, and City of Sanctuary in the UK; France Terre d'Asile, Forum Réfugiés, Secours Catholique, Croix Rouge Française, and Cimade in France. We will involve key charity actors in the advisory group as well as in the end-of-project symposium in order to discuss our findings and their implications, as well as to encourage reflexivity.
- Policy-makers and the public at large
The project will engage with groups and actors beyond those participating directly in the study. Our interim and final reports will outline the findings of the study as well as its policy implications. Our impact plan is based on a diversity of dissemination strategies that aim to inform at large and to foster discussion between different groups and actors in society.
 
Description The ESRC project 'Exploring the Frames of Altruistic Action' aims to shed light on the logics of collective action based on values of compassion, hospitality, solidarity and humanitarianism in contemporary societies. The research is based on 147 in-depth interviews with volunteers involved in different charities and networks active in this field in Britain and France. The interviews were complemented with the observation of charity activities, informal discussions with volunteers and charity representatives, and a period of participant observation in Calais.
Five main findings can be highlighted:
• In the context of the 2015 'refugee crisis'1, participants joining the refugee support sector were motivated by personal feelings of distress, outrage (and sometimes shame) as well as by feelings of proximity towards asylum seekers and refugees. For the majority of the participants, these motivations translated into an active engagement in the movement because of their time availability, often due to life changes;
• Although the majority of participants did not engage in the 'Refugees Welcome' movement for direct political reasons, many volunteers started to relate their involvement in the movement to broader objectives of political and social change once they gained experience in the field;
• The relations between volunteers and refugees are shaped by complex power relation processes about the role of each subject. These processes are often directly related to the ways volunteers construct, negotiate or subvert boundaries that are drawn between those who are perceived as 'deserving' refugees and those that are seen as 'undeserving' or 'less deserving' Others;
• Cross-national and local differences can be observed in terms of how participants justify their engagement. Overall, these differences show the impact of national and local contexts that relate to the laws on immigration and asylum (in particular on the criminalisation of solidarity), the visibility of the 'refugee crisis', and more generally the cultures of volunteering and civic participation in the two countries. One notable difference is that British volunteers tend to present their engagement as a community building practice, while French participants connect their engagement more directly to debates about public policies;
• Charities and individuals active in the refugee support sector face significant challenges due in particular to the scarcity of public funding and to the laws that make some of their activities illegal. Volunteers also face difficulties due to the emotional challenges of being involved in this field and sometimes a need for more guidance.
Exploitation Route The project has generated considerable interest among different groups. We have presented the work to academic colleagues across disciplines: political science, sociology, citizenship and migration studies, human geography. We continue to regularly be invited to present at national and international academic events. Publications are currently under review in high-profile journals and we anticipate that the published work will be widely cited. The research team is also working on other academic publications (journal articles, book chapters and a monograph proposal). Non-academic users include refugee support charities in the UK and in France, as well as members of the public. Our non-specialist final project report and executive summary have been widely shared and were launched at a public event in London. We will also organise practitioner workshops in the charities in which we conducted our fieldwork (both in the UK and in France). These workshops will allow us to share the more practical findings emerging from our research and make concrete recommendations to charities.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL https://altruism.hypotheses.org
 
Description The project has generated considerable interest among different groups. Non-academic users include refugee support charities and members of the public. Our non-specialist final project report and executive summary have been widely shared and were launched at a public event at the Overseas Development Institute in London. We undertook significant public engagement and dissemination activities in the UK and in France. Participants in these events have noted the ways in which project findings will inform their work supporting refugees and promoting public awareness on the role of volunteers in the sector. This engagement and dissemination will continue throughout 2020 with talks by Monforte and with practitioner workshops in the charities in which we conducted our fieldwork. Also, our project has been cited in the Secours Catholique 2019 Annual Report.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Other
Impact Types Societal

 
Description Citation in the Secours Catholique Annual Report
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
 
Description CAPED (Collectif de recherche Action Politique et Démocratie), University of Montreal 
Organisation University of Montreal
Country Canada 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Pierre Monforte is an Associate Collaborator in the research network CAPED (Collectif de recherche Action Politique et Démocratie), University of Montreal (2019-2023). He will contribute to research seminars and workshops organised by the network.
Collaborator Contribution The collaborators at the CAPED will comment and contribute to the research outputs emerging from our ESRC project.
Impact Research seminar organised at the University of Montreal in October 2019; workshop organised at the University of Montreal in March 2020.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Conference on 'The Power of Courage & Altruism: Reflections from Rwanda to the present day', University of Geneva and ICRC, May 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I was invited to give a keynote on the theme of altruism and volunteering at the University of Geneva and the International Committee of the Red Cross. About 70 people attended the event, which sparked questions and discussion afterwards. The event was filmed and my presentation is available online.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Creation and maintenance of an engagement focused bilingual website/blog 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We created and maintained our project website which contains entries about the progress of our research, links to related projects, and general information on topics that relate to our study. The website provides a space in which to share opinions, experiences and knowledge on volunteering in the field of asylum. It can be accessed here: https://altruism.hypotheses.org/related-press. This website is shared with project participants (charities and volunteers) as well as through our research networks. It can enable further collaboration with interested colleagues, provide an avenue for possible new participants to contact us, and generate further public awareness of our research. This website can provide a public source of information on volunteering in the field of asylum in an easily accessible format. It therefore can promote public awareness of the issues we are investigating. The website is bilingual (English/French). Available statistics show that it has received more than 1,000 unique visits since its launch in February 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
URL https://altruism.hypotheses.org/related-press
 
Description End of project conference on the 'Refugees Welcome' movement, Overseas Development Institute, London, November 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact More than 30 people attended our end of project conference at the Overseas Development Institute in London. We presented our research findings and organised a roundtable with charity representatives who participated in the project. We also screened a movie on the Refugee Welcome movement and had a debate with the film-maker. The event sparked questions and discussions afterwards. We also sent our end-of-project report to all participants. This event will be followed up by workshop in partner charities in London, Sheffield and Birmingham.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Film screening and disucssion 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Gaja Maestri participated in a roundtable about the documentary 'Calais Children'. The film is directed by Prof. Su Clayton (Goldsmith University). The screening of the movie and the discussion took place at the University of Leicester, Monday 21 May 2018, 6pm.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Roundtable on the Refugee Crisis - Leicester Cathedral 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Gaja Maestri and Pierre Monforte participated in a roundtable on "The Migration and Refugee Crisis: Artistic and Civil Society Responses", Leicester Cathedral, 13 July 2018, 6.30-8pm. The event was public. Academics and charity representatives participated in the roundtable.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018