The commitment of the individualists


To be as individual as possible – but also to be part of a group: What sounds like squaring the circle is what we are aspiring to today. In a study, GDI researchers describe how a combination of these opposing needs could be possible.

The following text is based on a chapter of the GDI study "The new volunteers - the future of civic participation", which can be downloaded free of charge.

To live as an individual within  the community–to feel part of it and still be able to thrive  independently–is an ideal that characterises our time but may feel impossible at first glance. But is it  really? Not necessarily, write GDI researchers in the study "The new volunteers". In this matrix, they show possible constellations of attachment and individuality. For example, the feeling of belonging is maximally pronounced in clan-like structures, while individuality is minimal. In a society based purely on market-economy maxims, on the other hand, the individual is at the forefront, but there are no aspects that create a sense of affiliation.

Matrix New Volunteers

How can affiliation and individuality be brought together? The researchers of the GDI propose a civil society commitment that is limited in time and non-binding. A concrete solution  would be a sort of crowdfunding in which time would be donated instead of money. People could offer a certain number of hours towards a project;. as soon as enough hours are donated, the project begins. "Donors" feel like they are part of a group that is achieving something together. How much everyone contributes is up to them.

However, in order to optimally shape cooperation and achieve the set goal, clear agreements and rules are needed, according to the researchers. These must be defined jointly. Individualists need the feeling that they can participate in shaping the rules of the game.

At first glance, this may have little to do with previous forms of  civil society engagement or voluntary work. But perhaps participatory engagement is  the way to maintain a sense of community in an individualistic society, albeit for a limited period of time.