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Voluntariness is more than voluntary civic engagement. Appeals for voluntary self-conduct, compliance, and sacrifice permeate our daily routines. For instance, we are called upon to take good care of our bodies and make the best of our lives, work overtime (because we love our jobs), or use a Corona tracing app and thus be a responsible citizen. Voluntary practices such as these are performed as acts of freedom, yet are enabled, endorsed, and sometimes demanded by manifold expectations and conditions beyond our reach.

This blog explores the power of voluntariness and how people and societies are governed through voluntariness. We invite you to join us in discussing how this works and how it has changed over time and in different places. Against this backdrop, we propose to examine voluntariness from three key perspectives:


Voluntariness as a norm that guides and demands certain types of practice and behavior and, in one way or another, sanctions others.


Voluntariness as a resource for political participation, economic exploitation, civic recognition, and subject formation.

Discursive Strategy

Voluntariness as a discursive strategy aiming to legitimize social patterns and policies, which sometimes leave individual actors little room for maneuver.

All Posts

War and Voluntariness

By Matthias Ruoss

When it comes to war, Brecht helps. In particular, his play Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder, written in 1939 during his Swedish exile and premiered in 1941 at the Schauspielhaus Zurich, with its ambivalent characters…

syringe, mask and vaccine

Voluntariness, COVID 19, and a Vaccine Mandate

By Jürgen Martschukat

Those satisfied with a cursory glance or who like to think in clear-cut categories are quick to view voluntariness as the core political principle of a society that privileges the autonomy of the free individual, a …

live life art

Voluntariness at End of Life

By Ben Colburn

I am a political philosopher by training. Most of my work has involved developing our understanding of individual autonomy. Joseph Raz uses the phrase ‘self-authorship’ to capture this core liberal ideal: my goal…


Doing Voluntariness in Empires

By Florian Wagner

To this day, empires seem to be everywhere. Scholars argue that the continuity of empire is due to its ubiquity, since empires covered most of the world, and due to its performativity, since most people…

Blue Ocean Wave

Living with Shockwaves

By Stefanie Graefe

When southwest Germany was hit by the “flood of the century” this summer, two aspects initially dominated media discourse: shock and dismay. Readers and TV viewers in Germany are accustomed to footage of…

aerial view of new york city and the world trade center

Uncle Sam’s (Post-)9/11 Calling

By Pia Herzan

Almost exactly twenty years ago, I set off on what was, at the time, the biggest adventure of my life—my high school exchange year in the United States. The first couple of weeks were spent soaking up the last…

woman with backback walking in a forest

Into the (Urban) Wild

By Pia Herzan

Walking differs cross-culturally, in its manifestations, and in the specific distances covered. As a habitual practice, the bodily technique of walking exists in different forms, depending on the society and social…


Are We Fated?

By Elena M. E. Kiesel and Markus Dolinsky

Pagans against Christians, brothers against brothers, free will against fate: in the Canadian-Irish television series Vikings viewers are immersed in a conflict-laden world characterized by a search for religious…

Of Voluntary Submission to the Power of Fitness

By Jürgen Martschukat

For weeks, I have been suffering from a leg injury. Nothing serious, but it keeps me from cycling, at least as much as I would like to. I miss my exercise, feel slightly off-balance, and fear getting out of shape. Yet…