| Faculty of Philosophy, Forschung

DFG funds new research group "Voluntariness" at the University of Erfurt

Over the next three years, the German Research Foundation (DFG) will be supporting a new research group under the title "Voluntariness". In addition to researchers from the University of Erfurt, colleagues from Jena and Oldenburg will also be involved. The researchers will examine the concept of voluntariness from historical, sociological and philosophical perspectives. The central question is how Western pre-modern and modern, but also non-European societies govern their members through the principle of voluntariness. This includes, for example, religiously motivated voluntariness in medieval martyrdom as well as voluntary "participation" in dictatorships. Ultimately, it should be possible to define voluntariness as a core aspect of governmental governance more precisely than has been the case to date.

Prof. Dr. Walter Bauer-Wabnegg, the President of the University of Erfurt, congratulated us: "We are very pleased with the DFG's funding and it is once again proof of the quality and breadth of our research at the university."

The topic of voluntariness is very topical: Over the past four decades, western societies have profiled voluntariness as a central movement in political and social action. A policy of motivating and empowering citizens to take voluntary responsibility has increasingly displaced the willingness of the welfare state to take responsibility. However, voluntariness is not only an important resource in the social and health care system, but also in the world of work. Even today, class differences and coercive relationships are still very present, especially in the low-wage sector. At the same time, however, flat hierarchies and flexibility have replaced the "normal employment relationship" in many fields of work and are very well suited to encourage employees to voluntary (extra) commitment, even to self-exploitation.

 "Voluntariness is often first and foremost associated with voluntary work. However, our research is intended to go beyond this and show how voluntariness has fed and continues to feed political and social participation in a variety of ways and in different historical formations - from the struggle for freedom to 'participation' in dictatorships, from privatized welfare policies to debt practices, from migration to martyrdom," explains Professor Dr. Jürgen Martschukat, spokesperson of the group "Voluntariness".

The central assumption of the interdisciplinary project is, firstly, that voluntariness must not be understood as the opposite of coercion. Rather, it always operates within diverse (political, economic, social, cultural, etc.) conditions, which make certain modes of action appear meaningful and appropriate and thus make them possible and sometimes even necessary. Secondly, the research group will show how practices of voluntary action can coagulate into a political and social pattern due to their omnipresence and indispensability, albeit in varying density and type depending on the historical configuration.

Jürgen Martschukat: "Our interest in knowledge is primarily directed at voluntary action and how it can become the ideal type and modus operandi of political and social order, which expects certain - historically and culturally variable - modes of action and is also normative. Thus, our research project aims at the dimensions of voluntary action in the relationship between man and society, which we will pursue from contemporary analytical and diverse historical perspectives.

A further goal of the research group is to engage in a dialogue about its work with a non-specialist public and thus reflect its research in public debates. Martschukat: "This seems all the more appropriate and important to us here, since voluntariness is a central civil society issue that affects people in their everyday lives and is also the subject of constant critical public debate in the age of flexible capitalism. We would like to contribute to this discussion and in doing so also highlight the many facets of voluntariness that are the subject of our research.

Further information / contact:
Prof. Dr. Jürgen Martschukat
e-mail: juergen.martschukat@uni-erfurt.de