Re-visiting the barriers to participation in mutual aid

WHITE, Richard (2011). Re-visiting the barriers to participation in mutual aid. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 31 (7/8), 392-410.

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Purpose – Much of the contemporary literature surrounding the barriers to community self-help in the advanced economies has placed great emphasis on capital-orientated barriers, such as a household's access to financial capital, time capital, human capital and social capital. Focusing explicitly on one-to-one mutual aid, and drawing on rich qualitative data from two urban communities in the UK, this paper aims to re-visit the barriers to participation that prevent households from doing more for others in their community. In particular, the paper explores a range of entrenched social taboos that underpin the contested spaces of mutual aid. These include: “being aburden to others”, “false expectations/ inappropriate gestures”, “being taken advantage of” and “being unable to say no”. Furthermore, the paper also addresses the potentially problematic implications that the nature of work undertaken through mutual aid has for the social relationships that are involved. Despite finding previous UK-based research findings focused on capital barriers to be highly appropriate when considering mutual aid, the paper argues that the current emphasis placed on these barriers in policy and practice is disproportionate. To address this imbalance, the paper concludes that a greater awareness of socially-orientated barriers must be forthcoming if a more nuanced and accurate reading of mutual aid is to be achieved.

Design/methodology/approach – The research that is used to inform the findings of the paper is drawn from 100 in-depth semi-structured questionnaires conducted within households in the urban wards of West Knighton and Saffron in the city of Leicester, UK. The methods are designed to generate both quantitative and qualitative findings that engage explicitly with the informal work practices of households.

Findings – The paper explores a range of entrenched social taboos that underpin the contested spaces of mutual. These include: “being a burden to others”, “false expectations/inappropriate gestures”, “being taken advantage of” and “being unable to say no”. The main conclusions argue that both social barriers and capital-based barriers to participation in mutual aid must be given more equal consideration in future academic and policy-making discourse.

Research limitations/implications – The qualitative nature of the research makes it difficult to meaningfully extrapolate the findings beyond the case studies used.

Practical implications – The research focused on the informal coping strategy of mutual aid offers a deeper insight into this coping strategy. In exploring the various capital and social barriers to participation, the findings offer ways for popular, academic and political communities to reflect on their own approaches to informal volunteerism, and if appropriate these can inform future approaches tasked with tackling these barriers and harnessing mutual aid in society.

Social implications – In discussing the barriers to participation, the paper gives new insight into the contested geographies of mutual aid at the household and community level. To successfully overcome these barriers and further promote mutualism and community self-help is seen to be both desirable and necessary particularly following the formal economic crisis that has raised serious questions for the economy and society in recent years.

Originality/value – The research not only adds robustness to previous emerging findings related to the resource-based barriers to participation in mutual aid, but it also constructively asserts the relevance and centrality of social taboos. The paper argues that these social taboos must form a core point of analyses whenever barriers to greater levels of participation in mutual aid are discussed.

Item Type: Article
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Built Environment Division Research Group
Identification Number:
Page Range: 392-410
Depositing User: Hilary Ridgway
Date Deposited: 17 Feb 2012 10:53
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 10:15

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