Between Charity and Protest. The Politicisation of Refugee Support Volunteers

Pierre Monforte*, Gaja Maestri

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines how refugee support volunteers based in Britain and in France negotiate the boundaries between charity (or humanitarian) action and social activism since the 2015 ‘refugee crisis’. Scholarly literature has often separated charity and humanitarian action from social activism, as the former is seen as lacking the goal of social and political change that characterises the latter. The set of 147 in-depth interviews we conducted in different British and French refugee support charities and networks reveals the complex relationship between charity and protest. Through the focus on the moral dilemmas that participants encounter throughout their experience in the field, this article aims to highlight the ambivalences of their engagement as well as its transformative potential. Our analysis shows how participants develop new cognitive frames, emotions and interpersonal relations that transform their engagement and lead them to link charity/humanitarian action with broader objectives of social and political change. More generally, our analysis highlights the processes through which participants construct political narratives that aim to challenge state-driven policies and discourses of “migration management”. This article aims to contribute to the reflection about the informal character of the forms of participation analysed in this special issue, through the focus on the moral dilemmas and the “quiet” and “unexceptional” politics of volunteering.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Politics, Culture and Society
Early online date19 Mar 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit

Funding Information:
The research leading to these results received funding from ESRC under Grant Agreement No ES/N015274/1.


  • Charity
  • Humanitarianism
  • Politicisation
  • Refugees Welcome
  • Volunteering


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