Topic: Self-organized Assistance Services in Rural Germany – Opportunity Structures between Participation and Fragility
Keywords: daily help associations, old people, volunteering, shared responsibility, self-organization
In the past about ten years, many self-organized assistance services have been founded by citizens in German rural communities. These civic associations provide daily help to those in need, especially elderly people. Already in the 1990s, such civil society organizations were discussed as forms of a “solidary”, “social” or “local” economy. They were considered as possible solutions for the acute crisis developments and problems of livelihood security and the loss of gainful employment – at that time especially in big cities. It is no coincidence that in scientific and political discussions such civic-organized daily help in rural communities is now being considered as “new forms of self-organization” connected with the discourse about the “crisis of an aging society”. The history of cooperatives shows that they have rarely emerged as democratically conceived economic organization or solidarity-based structures: The motive to find each other as a cooperative was the overcoming of an existential threat. The discourse in the 1990s therefore assumed that the idea of such self-organization could be reactivated depending on social problems such as unemployment, gaps in care and social inequalities.
The actual sociopolitical discourse considers such forms of self-organization to be necessary to cope with the tasks of caring for the elderly, especially in those areas where the opportunities for care and participation are no longer obtained from the state. In an action research project with three local daily help associations in different rural areas in Germany, it was examined to what extent such forms of self-organization can influence the structural disadvantages of local communities.
The results show that these civic associations focus on the constitution of the social. In addition to enable a self-determined life in old age, the preservation and liveliness of the community are at the center of their activities. Thus, these civic help associations have deeply anchored democratic principles of participation. In the self-organized help associations in our research participation is made possible by the committed people negotiating their interests, needs and motives with each other and also with their addressees. These negotiations take place on three levels: engagement with others (1), concrete assistance arrangements with the older addressees (2) and other institutional actors in the community (3). Such self-organized structures thus have an important role in the governance of opportunity offers in rural areas. At the same time, they are extremely fragile and require political and practical support.