AAG2022 CfP: Solidarity not Charity! Reclaiming the radical politics of mutual aid in a post-COVID world

Organisers: Adam Badger, Jenni Cole, Phil Brown and Oli Mould

**We are aiming to have a physical AND virtual session February 25th to 1st March, New York & online**

The COVID-19 crisis has seen monumental shifts in our understanding of the world and of each other. Yet, despite dystopian fiction often painting of picture of a Hobbesian world of mistrust, violent competition for resources and default to a self-survival mode, the crisis saw a wellspring of communality, empathy and perhaps most visibly, mutual aid (Pretson & Firth, 2020; Spade, 2020). Through digital media, community notice boards or simply knocking on doors, people mobilised extremely quickly to make sure vulnerable neighbours were fed, supported and not isolated in their homes. However, as individuals and groups – including mosques, charities, schools, sports clubs, churches etc. – began to coalesce into larger networks of community support, which Local Authorities took time to mobilise. All under the term ‘mutual aid’, these groups have radically shifted the terrain of post-crisis community care, and expanded the definitional and practiced boundaries of what constitutes mutual aid to provide community care and support to the most vulnerable – around food justice, housing justice, companionship, financial support – often exceeding the original remit of the groups and institutions they represent.

This session discusses the changing nature of mutual aid; transitioning it from Kropotkin’s anarcho-communist counterbalance to the social Darwinism of neo-liberalism, and placing it in the context of our contemporary Covid-19 society (Springer, 2020). It is of pressing importance now, because Covid-19 has the potential to reframe how we see our shared world and our responsibilities and actions within in it. This will be of increasing significance in forming a critical response framework to the increasing climate emergency. As the agile community support groups that have sprung up around the UK become more established and embedded, will they change to face the challenges the future presents, and if so, how? If not, why did they not endure beyond the sprawling ends of the Covid-19 pandemic?

Solidarity, not charity: Why mutual aid reemerged in the pandemic, and is  flourishing amid protests

This session therefore aims to explore the types of mutual-aid efforts that took place to understand how they transgressed the fractured political climate across the world; often occurring outside of what many would have considered an overtly ‘political’ act. In this sense, the pandemic – whilst forcing us apart – has brought many of us closer together, inspiring interactions and solidarities between strangers who otherwise, may never have met; and opening the eyes of more privileged members of society to previously present but less visible injustices and poverty on their doorsteps. Much of the population now has a shared experience of living under a capitalistic system that actively disregards people’s health and wellbeing in pursuit of expansion.

With all this in mind, we invite papers for discussion that explore the role of mutual aid during the pandemic and how it has forced people, and institutions, to rethink their role in post-crisis community care. Specifically, this may involve papers that think about the following questions, but of course, are not limited to them:

  • How has mutual aid been redefined by practice?
  • What are the political motivations of specific groups?
  • Has mutual aid centred prefigurative politics into ‘mainstream’ political action?
  • How has mutual aid praxis in the pandemic brought about a revival of food justice?
  • What key social injustices have been highlighted and exposed through mutual aid action?
  • What has been the role of digital and non-digital technologies?
  • Does mutual aid need to have a foothold in political activism to support and strengthen communities?
  • Where does – and should – mutual aid sit within State apparatus geared to respond to the climate emergency?
  • How do mutual aid groups address issues of scale? Do they see scale as a challenge to be overcome, or something to be embraced as part of a move toward localised organising?
  • How do the histories of Mutual Aid become present in the contemporary mutual aid responses to the Covid-19 pandemic? Do they?
  • How do approaches to mutual aid vary from country to country, culture to culture or context to context?
  • How do Mutual Aid groups share knowledge and organising initiatives with each other?
  • How does the internal governance of Mutual Aid groups play-out in the complicated and contested realities of practice?

The deadline for abstracts is the 11th October 2021, please send them through to oli.mould@rhul.ac.uk.

If you would like to discuss your abstract prior to submission, please feel free to get in touch.

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