Volunteering in the Super-Diverse City: How Young Urban Volunteers Negotiate Belonging

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Astrid Mattes, Marie Lehner, Ilona van Breugel, and Ursula Reeger

Volunteering is widely understood to foster community building, and therefore it is often also studied in the context of integration, for example asking how volunteering can help refugees in their transition to the labour market. Whereas there is no lack of studies demonstrating the positive impact of volunteering activities on individuals and communities, there is limited understanding of linkages between the two in light of super-diversity. Moving beyond socio-economic integration, how does volunteering affect volunteers’ sense of belonging? What does this furthermore mean in the context of increasingly diverse cities?

In this article, we address the question of how young volunteers in Rotterdam and Vienna negotiate belonging in their super-diverse, urban surroundings. Our exploratory study builds on the VOLPOWER study, a cross-national research project on volunteerism, in which we have collected qualitative and quantitative interview data from volunteering youth. We are interested in the potential of volunteering to build means of identification for newcomers and locals alike, and in volunteers’ individual politics of belonging.

Our research contributes to the conceptualization of belonging, to capture societal identification processes more comprehensively than concepts such as integration do. We demonstrate the parallels and differences in the identification processes of newcomers and locals in terms of feelings of belonging in urban areas, transformed by volunteerism. Thereby we aim to demonstrate the limits and potential of volunteerism as a policy instrument to facilitate social inclusion against the backdrop of increasing diversity.

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