ABSTRACT

This chapter expands on nascent debates on grass-roots humanitarianism in Europe by exploring the social relations volunteers enact in their everyday encounters with refugees and the possibilities of enacting alternative modes of humanitarian practice. Based on ethnographic research on the Greek island of Chios and in Paris, we focus on how these interactions move beyond short-term humanitarian relief to foreground exchanges of “biographical life” – personal accounts of people’s pasts and subjectivities – that allow volunteers to reimagine a more dignified provision of care. These forms of care, we find, subvert the twin effects of depoliticization and dehumanization identified in long-standing critiques of humanitarianism. Rooted in the improvisational and egalitarian ethos of grass-roots volunteering, this chapter argues that these encounters in and beyond refugee camps allow for creative solidarities with people on the move. Many of these everyday encounters are central to challenging binaries of refugee control and care and hold the potential for more fluid and humane responses, even if these spaces of solidarity – where citizens and non-citizens struggle alongside each other against the brutality of contemporary border regimes – are becoming increasingly foreclosed.