“Fuck Capitalism”: Mutual Aid Participants’ Experiences of Burnout During the Early Months of the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Mutual aid,
- Collective Care
Copyright (c) 2023 Karaya Morris, Brendon Holloway, Danielle Littman, Colleen Cummings , Deanna Dixon , Kimberly Bender, Sophia Sarantakos
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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 aid—collective 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?