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Att hjälpa andra: gåvans, rättvisans och medkänslans aporier i frivilligarbete
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Umeå Centre for Gender Studies (UCGS).ORCID iD: 0000-0002-2098-871X
2020 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)Alternative title
Helping others : the aporias of gift-giving, justice, and compassion in voluntary work (English)
Abstract [en]

The thesis addresses the issue of social work in Swedish civil society, focusing on the ambition and practice of helping others as an existential as well as a social, political and cultural phenomenon. The aim is to study the ambiguities and aporetic conflicts that imbue helping activities and the desire to help others, using ethnographic as well as philosophical method. An interview study comprising of 12 volunteers and activists, all working with begging EU-citizens in Sweden, was carried out between 2015 and 2016. The interviews aimed to gather context specific experiences of helping others from a vulnerable group, especially concerning questions of power asymmetry and moral and political dilemmas. Subsequently, a reading of the participants’ narratives informed by Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction was performed. Following Derrida’s understanding of deconstruction as a bipartite process, focusing on genealogy and representation as well as the logico-formal paradoxes, aporias or ‘undecidables’, that characterise certain phenomena, two strands of research questions guided the analysis: Firstly, how do the participants understand and create meaning regarding their helping activities? And secondly, what seemingly impossible paradoxes, aporias, emerge in the constituting ideas and practices of helping, as they are expressed in the participants' narratives?

Resulting from this reading and a parallel literature study, three main areas of conflict were identified: altruistic gift-giving vs. reciprocity and exchange, objective and structural justice vs. personal relations and exceptions, and lastly, the meaning of empathy as well as the difficulty of representing the suffering of others. The main theoretical sources are Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas, Hélène Cixous and Jessica Benjamin, whose writings on economy, gifts, responsibility, desire and intersubjectivity respectively, are employed to understand and theoretically develop the participants' experiences.

Connecting the difficulty of doing a good deed to feminist ethical elaborations on care and justice, I conclusively argue for a deconstructive ethics of care, that takes the aporetic character of helping others into account, while not relinquishing the responsibility towards the other and the possibility of solidarity.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Bokförlaget h:ström - Text & Kultur, 2020. , p. 381
Keywords [en]
civil society, critical social work, empathy, ethics of care, feminist ethics, gifts, gift-giving, moral perception, poststructuralist ethics, solidarity, street-begging, voluntary social work
Keywords [sv]
civilsamhälle, kritiskt socialt arbete, empati, omsorgsetik, feministisk etik, gåvor, moralisk perception, poststrukturalistisk etik, solidaritet, tiggeri, frivilligt socialt arbete
National Category
Gender Studies Social Work Social Anthropology
Research subject
gender studies
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-170304ISBN: 978-91-7879-004-3 (electronic)ISBN: 978-91-7327-273-5 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-170304DiVA, id: diva2:1427718
Public defence
2020-05-29, Hörsal E, Humanisthuset, Umeå, 13:15 (Swedish)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2020-05-08 Created: 2020-04-30 Last updated: 2020-05-20Bibliographically approved

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Bäckström, Hanna

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