Explaining why the non-commodified sphere of mutual aid is so pervasive in the advanced economies : some case study evidence from an English city

WHITE, Richard (2009). Explaining why the non-commodified sphere of mutual aid is so pervasive in the advanced economies : some case study evidence from an English city. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 29 (9/10), 457-472.

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/01443330910986252
Link to published version:: https://doi.org/10.1108/01443330910986252


Purpose – Using new empirical data from the UK focused on mutual aid and reciprocity, the purpose of this paper is to offer robust challenges to the logic and dominance of the commodification thesis. In finding mutual aid to be a significant coping strategy to get household tasks completed, in both affluent and deprived communities, the paper addresses the important question as to “why” mutual aid is so pervasive. Using qualitative insights as to “why” respondents engaged in mutual aid and reciprocity a considered response to this question, revolving around the instinctive and social nature of reciprocity, is made.

Design/methodology/approach – The research draws on previous Household Work Practice Studies, which have been influential in exploring the geographies of community self-help. An in-depth semi-structured questionnaire, which adapts and develops previous successful approaches focused on mutual aid and volunteering, was employed across 100 households in two neighbouring wards in Leicester, UK.

Findings – The research found that the non-commodified sphere of mutual aid was employed as a central coping strategy within the two communities investigated. The suggestion is that the extent of mutual aid in both deprived neighbourhoods and affluent neighbourhoods has been underestimated in previous research. However, the strength of the methodology resides with its understanding of the rationales being participation in mutual aid. This suggests that the natural and instinctive nature of reciprocity, and the social role that mutual aid plays within kin and non-kin relations, helps explain its pervasiveness in the advanced economies.

Research limitations/implications – The methodology and methods were designed to explicitly harness a deep qualitative understanding of the relationship and attitudes that households adopt toward their informal coping strategies, and mutual aid in particular. Thus though this approach has uncovered rich qualitative data to inform the key arguments, the quantitative findings must be treated as speculative rather than conclusive.

Practical implications – In undermining the commodification thesis, the paper concludes that alternate and better approaches toward harnessing “the economic” in society must be pursued by policy makers. Crucially economic policy which promotes co-operation over competition within society should be seen as earning the qualification of “advanced” economic practice.

Originality/value – This is the first paper which explicitly looks at the pervasive nature of mutual aid within the advanced economies, using primary data from Leicester. The value is seen on three levels: first, the original arguments made which highlight the pervasiveness of this informal coping strategy; second, the manner with which these contemporary insights are then contextualised with reference to the wider literature; third, the way in which this research adds to the calls to fundamentally re-think our dominant attitudes (and policies) toward the commodified and non-commodified spheres of work in the advanced economies.

Item Type: Article
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Built Environment Division Research Group
Identification Number: https://doi.org/10.1108/01443330910986252
Page Range: 457-472
Depositing User: Hilary Ridgway
Date Deposited: 17 Feb 2012 10:41
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 10:00
URI: https://shura.shu.ac.uk/id/eprint/4814

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