The article analyzes the varied meanings historically associated with concepts of voluntarism in relation to social relief as they were articulated by changing moral elites in Denmark from the late nineteenth century until the present. Concepts of voluntarism have historically constituted “normative counterconcepts” that link voluntary practices to desired futures in opposition to alternative modes of organizing. The “proximity” of voluntarism vis-à-vis the “distance” of the state has always been a core meaning, but the concept has drifted across the political spectrum from its first articulation by nineteenth-century conservative Christians to its rediscovery by leftist social researchers in the late twentieth century. Paradoxically, the welfare state helped “proximity” become a core meaning, in contrast to its original social-conservative meaning emphasizing proximity and distance.
Anders Sevelsted is an Assistant Professor at the Copenhagen Business School, Dept. of Management, Politics, and Philosophy as well as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Lund University, School of Social Work. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org