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The Production of Solidarity: A Case Study of Voluntary School Programs of Hungarian Ethnic Kin Support


The broader aim of this paper is to reveal how emotions of solidarity (“the urge to help”) are created and maintained in personal philanthropic relations. It will be shown that a dialectic of identification and othering plays an essential role in such processes. Qualitative analysis of such helping interactions may contribute to achieving a dual goal. First, as opposed to scholarly approaches that sweep all helping attitudes into the unitary category of a universal prosocial-altruistic disposition, the motivations and emotions that guide voluntary philanthropic actions may be understood as being embedded in a social-discursive context. Second, such helping interactions may contribute to understanding more deeply how ethical discourses and ideologies are (re)produced and maintained.

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  1. 1.

    In the context of volunteering, a similar line of thought is followed by Kleres (2009).

  2. 2.

    Symbolic power in helping relations has been extensively studied by post-colonial and feminist analysts in terms of how different helping relations are oriented from the first world towards the third. These perspectives are devoted to showing how othering takes place during such helping activities, and taking a wider view, to showing how solidary relations, instead of emancipation, contribute to the maintenance of discourses of power and domination (Berlant 2004; Ahmed 2004; Woodward 2002).

  3. 3.

    Meaning construction is not a unilateral process. Although those in structurally and symbolically advantageous positions (i.e. helpers) have a greater influence on this, the recipients of help also have agency in shaping meanings, categories and boundaries. If participants—helpers and the helped—all share the goal of sustaining the helping interaction, then negotiations and strategic struggles that result in the shaping of meanings, relations and boundaries according to the multiple aims and expectations of participants will follow. In this paper I restrict my focus to helpers’ perspectives about such boundary-making in helping interactions.

  4. 4.

    See also Jasper (1998), who defines solidarity as an emotion itself, with features linked to the cognitive process of categorization.

  5. 5.

    Some important examples: Anderson (2006 [1983]), Eriksen (1993), Eriksen (1993) Calhoun (1997), Calhoun (2007).

  6. 6.

    3–7 days’ participant observation during the summer camps of each program.

  7. 7.

    Discourse is used in this paper in a Foucauldian sense as an interrelated system of statements (ideas and practices) and social positions in which the reproduction of knowledge and power are intimately inter-related (Foucault 1981).

  8. 8.

    Two major ways of understanding narratives are used in this paper: narratives may be ideal types of stories and ways of speech that appear in the actual speech acts of actors, as well as idealtypical statements that are constitutive elements of discourses.

  9. 9.

    Assimilation refers here to specific processes of inter- and intragenerational language change, intermarriage and inter-and intragenerational changes in national identification. With a special focus on related language use, see Fenyvesi (2005), especially Chaps. 4–6.

  10. 10.

    The process of civilisation is used by these authors in an Eliasian sense, referring to ”a movement upwards on the slope and in the qualitative level of social behaviour” (Melegh 2006, p. 20).

  11. 11.

    For ethnic Hungarians from Romania, see Feischmidt 2005; Kürti 2002.

  12. 12.

    ”The Republic of Hungary bears a sense of responsibility for the fate of Hungarians living outside its borders and shall promote and foster their relations with Hungary.” The Constitution of the Republic of Hungary, 6. §. “Bearing in mind that there is one single Hungarian nation that belongs together, Hungary shall bear responsibility for the fate of Hungarians living beyond its borders, and shall facilitate the survival and development of their communities; it shall support their efforts to preserve their Hungarian identity, the assertion of their individual and collective rights, the establishment of their community self-governments, and their prosperity in their native lands, and shall promote their cooperation with each other and with Hungary.” The Fundamental Law of Hungary, Foundations, Article D.

  13. 13.

    The largest such organisation (according to data about charitable 1 % donations of income tax permissible under Hungarian law) is a foundation that supports a children’s home institution that operates in settlements mainly based in Transylvania that is targeted primarily towards Hungarian children. The organisation is ranked 12th based on the total sum of money donated, and 18th according to the number of donors (9591 people). On 1 % income tax donations, see: Vajda and Kuti 2000.

  14. 14.

    According to a survey conducted in 2010, 28 % of all primary and secondary schools have some kind of institutional relationship with ethnic Hungarian schools and communities in neighbouring countries. (Lettner 2011).

  15. 15.

    Although the emphasis on this theme has changed through different governments, it has always remained part of the official National Core Curriculum.

  16. 16.

    On national socialisation in the institutional context of schools, see Brubaker et al. (2006, S. 270).

  17. 17.

    For policy actors, both from the Hungarian state and the Hungarian minority political sphere, these Hungarian speaking Roma are possible replacements for the minority Hungarian population that is decreasing due to migration and assimilation.

  18. 18.

    A region of Ukraine that shares a border with Hungary with a considerable ethnic Hungarian minority (A population of 156600, according to the 2001 census, Gyurgyík 2011).

  19. 19.

    March 15th, the 1948 Revolution and King Matthias are central symbols of the national historical canon in Hungary.

  20. 20.

    The program that targets Transcarpathian Roma communities relies on national discourses only indirectly. First, some of the volunteers that enter the program mobilise discourse on ethnic Hungarian minorities—while bracketing meanings around the Roma. Second, the program itself (i.e. practices and activities) borrows heavily from the Hungarian language camps that were organised earlier by the programme leader.


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The research was carried out under the framework of the larger project “Changing Discourses of Nationhood” that was financed by the Hungarian Scientific Research Fund. I am indebted to Margit Feischmidt, the leader of this project, who extensively contributed to my research throughout the phases of planning, fieldwork and analysis.

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Zakariás, I. (2015). The Production of Solidarity: A Case Study of Voluntary School Programs of Hungarian Ethnic Kin Support. In: Kleres, J., Albrecht, Y. (eds) Die Ambivalenz der Gefühle. Springer VS, Wiesbaden.

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