“Voluntary work as a resource in contemporary capitalism” Show content
„Freiwilligkeit als Ressource im Gegenwartskapitalismus“ „Freiwilligkeit als Ressource im Gegenwartskapitalismus“ Image: Arbeitsbereich Politische Soziologie

Sociological project within the DFG funded interdisciplinary research group on “Voluntary work” (Erfurt, Oldenburg, Jena)

Duration: October 2020 to September 2023

Directors: Prof. Dr. Silke van Dyk, PD Dr. Stefanie Graefe




As a result of fundamental changes to the welfare state, the flexibilization of the labour market and the digital revolution, demand is emerging for occupations and activities that are (expected to be) carried out more or less unpaid, informally and on a voluntary basis, from involvement in a care support centre and unpaid (overtime) work in companies to the value-added activity of consumers in the digital economy. Our basic assumption is that voluntary work is becoming the lynchpin of a newly emerging mixed-activity economy. The project explores this assumption in the following areas of study: a) forms of unpaid or low-paid work on digital platforms (prosuming, clickworking, sharing); b) voluntary involvement of dependent employees in companies in the digital economy, and c) civil society activities organized in analogue contexts.

The project’s aim in selecting these areas for study is to examine portfolios of voluntary work that are typical of contemporary society, beyond workplace-based paid and regulated work and classical domestic work. Our research interest is directed in particular at activities that are gaining greater significance in the context of the currently emerging and expanding digital economy. The aim is to explore comparatively the way these activities are organized and combined in Germany and the US, in order to discover more about the influence of different welfare-state path dependencies.



“DIY society? Informal Economies and social participation in poor rural areas” (Gesema) Show content
Grafik: Tine Haubner Grafik: Tine Haubner Graphic: Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung


BMBF research project within the topic area “Participation and the Common Good”

Duration: January 2020 to December 2023

Directors: Dr. Tine Haubner and Prof. Dr. Silke van Dyk

Research assistants: Dr. Mike Laufenberg and Laura Boemke M.A.

Student assistant: Wanda Gehrt

Contact:  / Tel.: +49 3641 9-45550 (Secretariat)


Given the pressure on municipal finances and the challenges posed by demographic change, academia, politicians and the media are increasingly focusing their attention on rural areas with particular regard to processes of peripherization and shrinkage. While social and political crises in rural areas often take centre stage, these same rural areas are seeing a period of renaissance as spaces of political experimentation for civil society-based self-determination, in which gaps in infrastructure and welfare provision are being filled independently of the market and the state. The watchword “do-it-yourself society” alludes to a trend towards a “new community ethic” (Frech et al. 2017: 15), in the course of which neighbourhood projects, self-help, civic engagement and the cooperative subsistence economy are becoming more prominent (once again). At the same time, these developments are being encouraged through social policy measures: the “activating” social state places growing emphasis on supporting the local engagement and informal support offered by “caring communities”. The socially integrative potential and impact upon the common good of local self-help, activist and support networks is acknowledged and appreciated almost univocally in the political domain. But what is the actual situation regarding the enhanced status of rural structures by old as well as new forms of informal activities? What potential as well as limitations exist in a (re)vitalization of the community ethic? And how in this way can local funding pressures be offset and growing social and regional inequalities be addressed?

On the one hand the research project explores the question of how informal economies and informal self-help and support structures in structurally weak rural areas are organized, where and how they replace previously public provision and what significance they acquire in conditions of rural flight and shrinkage, social inequality and municipal funding shortfalls. Equally, it seeks to examine the conditions under which these informal structures have a participatory impact and enhance the common good, and when by contrast they (may) risk establishing an exclusive kind of solidarity, furthering processes of social polarization, revitalizing traditional gender roles and undermining professional standards.


The project asks specifically:

1) whether processes of informalization affecting social welfare provision that was once publicly regulated can be observed in rural areas affected by poverty;

2) how the (traditional) informal economy is structured at the local level and which activities and forms of self-sufficiency and exchange, civic engagement, support and cooperation exist;

3) to what extent informal and civil society self-help and support structures offer robust responses to local resource shortfalls in rural areas affected by poverty and may be able to contribute toward the common good and social participation, and finally

4) how local actors interpret activities and forms of self-sufficiency and cooperation, and which views or expectations they have in relation to the social welfare state, the labour market, democracy and civil society. Alongside the institutional setting, the project also examines practices and socio-economic consequences of informal self-help and support networks, subjective patterns of interpretation and the images of society held by rural actors – after all, these are what make it possible to understand social action and ideas about social participation and the common good in the first place. Using a mix of methods consisting of expert interviews, problem-centred interviews, intergenerational group discussions, ethnographic household studies and documentary and data analyses, the project looks at four rural regions affected by poverty in a comparison between eastern and western Germany.


"New Culture of Helping Others or Shadow Economy? Civic engagement and voluntary work amidst structural transformation in the welfare state" Show content
Engage Engage Image: AB Politische Soziologie

Research project funded by the Hans Böckler Foundation

Duration: April 2017 to September 2020

Project directors: Prof. Dr. Silke van Dyk and Dr. Tine Haubner

Research co-worker: Laura Boemke

Student co-workers: Manuel Jaeschke, Franziska Wiest


The state financial crisis along with a crisis in social reproduction has prompted a process of restructuring in which the welfare state delegates certain tasks to (or “activates”) its citizens. In this context, the caring potential of unpaid work – including that undertaken outside family contexts – acquires political significance. At a time when fewer and fewer women are available all day to act as a "secret resource of social policy" (Beck-Gernsheim 1991: 66), the moral obligation of all citizens of the welfare state to engage in activities that serve the common good is increasingly being proclaimed. In view of the empirically confirmed political support for civic engagement and voluntary work as a new productivity resource, we are interested in the extent to which specific activities are utilized by the state as a subsidiary form of welfare provision and how this situation is experienced, interpreted and co-shaped by engaged citizens and those receiving assistance alike.
While there is no lack of overarching analyses or case studies of individual domains of civic engagement, there are few empirical analyses grounded firmly in welfare state theory which examine the appropriation of unpaid or low-waged work in different domains and explore their material and symbolic function in the “welfare state mix” from a comparative perspective. Starting by reconstructing the broader institutional and discursive conditions of civic engagement and voluntary work within the “activating” welfare state, a set of exploratory case studies will be conducted in Baden-Württemberg and Berlin/Brandenburg in relation to the three empirical pillars ‘help for refugees’, ‘care’ and ‘municipal infrastructure’, the aim being – by means of comparison – to facilitate a more precise analysis of mechanisms and use(r) practices in the difference domains of engagement.
The project is characterized by its interlinking of three analytical levels which, in previous research, have generally existed alongside one another in an unconnected way: the macrosociological analysis of political support in specific contexts, political institutions and political policies (level 1), i.e. an analysis of the "governance of voluntariness" (Regierung der Freiwilligkeit, Neumann 2016: 23) is complemented by a study involving qualitative interviews with engaged citizens and those receiving assistance, looking particularly at the micropolitics of voluntary work (e.g. in terms of meaning-making, being overwhelmed or the experience of dependency) in the three empirical pillars (level 2). The key question here concerns the intrinsic meaning – and thus not least the potential for critique and resistance – of voluntary civic engagement in the “activating” welfare state. The third analytical level addresses the political and economic as well as professional implications of appropriating civic engagement and voluntary work. That is, it explores – in addition to the micropolitics of voluntary work from the point of view of those doing it – its material and professional consequences for the future of social welfare provision and paid work. Looking at all three analytical levels together addresses the overarching question of to what extent the act of promoting, demanding and appropriating civic engagement and voluntary work in the “activating” state becomes a vehicle for processes of informalization and de-professionalization. A New Culture of Helping Others or Shadow Economy? Volunteer Labour and Welfare State Transformation in Germany

Interview about the research

Über Community-Kapitalismus, helfende Hände und einen Arbeitsmarkt unterhalb des Mindestlohns“ – Emma Dowling und Silke van Dyk im Gespräch mit Friederike Bahl, Online-Beitrag auf: Soziopolis. Gesellschaft beobachten, 14.11.2018.


Tine Haubner, Silke van Dyk & Laura Boemke (2020): „Im Westen nichts Neues, im Osten noch selten? Freiwilliges Engagement im Spannungsfeld von Nachwende-Erbe und neuen Herausforderungen“, in: Voluntaris, 8 (1), S. 57-72.

Silke van Dyk (2019): „Von der Nothilfe zur politischen Ökonomie des Helfens. Flüchtlingshilfe in der Freiwilligengesellschaft“, in Kristina Binner & Karin Scherschel (Hg.), Fluchtmigration und Gesellschaft. Von Nutzenkalkülen, Solidarität und Exklusion, Weinheim/Basel: Beltz Juventa, S. 32-49.

Silke van Dyk & Tine Haubner (2019): „Gemeinschaft als Ressource? Engagement und Freiwilligenarbeit im Strukturwandel des Wohlfahrtsstaats“, in: A. Doris Baumgartner & Beat Fux (Hg.), Sozialstaat unter Zugzwang? Zwischen Reform und radikaler Neuorientierung, Wiesbaden: Springer VS, S. 259-280.

Tine Haubner (2019): "Das soziale Band neu knüpfen? Bürgerschaftliche Sorge-Dienstleistungen im Schatten von Arbeitsmarkt und Sozialstaat",in: Klaus Dörre & Hartmut Rosa (Hg.), Große Transformation? Zur Zukunft moderner Gesellschaften. Sonderband des Berliner Journals für Soziologie, S. 197-210.

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