Vol. 1 No. 1 (2023): Abolitionist Perspectives in Social Work

“Fuck Capitalism”: Mutual Aid Participants’ Experiences of Burnout During the Early Months of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Karaya Morris
University of Denver
Brendon Holloway
University of Denver
Danielle Littman
University of Denver
Colleen Cummings
University of Denver
Deanna Dixon
University of Denver
Kimberly Bender
University of Denver
Sophia Sarantakos
University of Denver

Published 09/29/2023


  • Mutual aid,
  • Burnout,
  • Capitalism,
  • Collective Care


Amidst the intentional failures of the U.S. government and social service systems to respond to the care and survival needs created by the COVID-19 pandemic, mutual aidcollective survival work which both aims to meet individual and community needs and demand structural change—has proliferated. Along with an increase in mutual aid efforts has come a proliferation of burnout among those engaged in mutual aid work. Our paper shares findings from interviews (N = 25) with individuals engaged in mutual aid in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in Colorado. Drawing upon Gorski et al.’s (2019) model of burnout, which includes emotional exhaustion, physical exhaustion, and cynicism/hopelessness, we use critical phenomenological analysis to explore participants’ experiences of burnout while engaging in mutual aid work. While participants’ experiences largely align with Gorski’s burnout framework, the pressures of capitalism dominate and pervade participants’ experiences. These findings suggest a need for (a) greater understanding of burnout that connects to the structural harms of capitalism, and (b) futures of mutual aid and collective care that displace capitalism entirely. We end by exploring the question: how could mutual aid practices replace capitalist “care” structures in the future?