Voluntariness and Capitalism

Work, Consumption and Civic Engagement in Times of Digitiziation

In light of the cases of Germany and the United states, this subproject examines voluntariness as a resource in contemporary Western capitalist societies. The transformation of the welfare state, the flexibilization of the labor market, and the digital revolution are generating demand for activities that are (supposed to be) essentially unpaid, informal, and voluntary, from volunteering in the field of caregiving to unpaid (additional or overtime) work in companies to the value-adding activities of consumers in the digital economy.

Our initial assumption is that voluntariness is becoming the linchpin of an emerging mixed-activity economy that integrates actors into processes of capitalist value creation in specific ways. While paid and regulated employment and traditional domestic work are not becoming meaningless, they are being combined with new forms of work. This requires us to modify our analytical approaches to labor. We examine three areas of activity: forms of unpaid or low-paid work on digital platforms (prosuming, clickworking, sharing), the voluntary engagement of dependent employees in digital economy enterprises, and forms of civic engagement organized in an analogous manner.

The subproject explores these arrangements on a comparative basis in Germany and the United States, enabling us to bring out different welfare state path dependencies and traditions of voluntary action. We put forward an empirically grounded sociological analysis that identifies voluntariness as a key governmental and economic resource in contemporary flexible-capitalist societies. As well as tracing the contours of a form of neoliberal governmentality centered on voluntariness, we seek to expose its potentially illiberal implications in the shape of new forms of control and exploitation.



Capitalism  |   Work   |   Civic Engagement   |   Prosumption   |   Digital Economy   |   Mixed-Activity-Economy

Research Field

Political Sociology


Friedrich Schiller University Jena

Department of Sociology

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