Our Blog

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 structures and practices of voluntariness, while examining how people and societies are governed through it. We probe the conditions under which this operates and how voluntariness has changed over time and in different places. Our blog is made up of individual contributions by a variety of authors. Each has their own perspective on voluntariness, and they evaluate and discuss the term in different ways. Contributions by members of the research group provide an insight into how we ourselves seek to understand voluntariness as a multifaceted analytical concept and which methodological tools we consider crucial in this regard. At the same time, we want to highlight as many perspectives on voluntariness as possible while also enabling external authors to have their say. The range of our own topics and approaches is already highly diverse and is tailored to the specific foci of our projects. Guest contributions broaden our field of vision even further, helping us to engage in critical dialogue with each other and to compare contrasting approaches. We invite you to follow our monthly contributions and to participate in the debate on our key themes by leaving a comment.

All Posts

Who Dat in Lower Nine?

By Pia Herzan

Seventeen years ago hurricane Katrina had shown that man-made and natural disasters pose a particular risk to the vulnerable city of New Orleans. This post will take a closer look at New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, Katrina’s aftermath and the role voluntariness played in it.

Voluntariness, Positive Action, and Neo-Colonialism

By Carolyn Taratko

On April 7, 1960, African leaders from across the continent converged on Accra to attend the conference on “Positive Action for Peace and Security in Africa.” In the shadow of the Sharpeville Massacre and French…

Óláfr Haraldsson - Olav der Heilige

Did Ǫlvir Die For Faith?

by Markus Dolinsky

When Norway’s Christian king, Óláfr Haraldsson, received a tip-off at Easter 1021 that his vassal Ǫlvir was presiding over a pagan feast of sacrifice, he dispatched his troops to summarily slay him and his…

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…

the_empire_never_ended

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…

Vikings_season5_episode7

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…

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