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Talking about race in volunteer tourism is like breaking a taboo. By critically exploring the racialized and gendered politics of volunteer tourism from the perspective of the ‘white savior complex,’ we seek to open new avenues of discussion to break this silence. We employ a postcolonial feminist theoretical framework to analyze volunteer tourism. The meanings, practices, and policies of volunteer tourism development are informed by the racialized, gendered logics of colonial thought. If older colonial logics were predominantly masculinist, it considers the largely (white) women participants in contemporary volunteer tourism as a window onto current transformations in historic racialized and gendered logics. Colonial logics and discourses have shifted over time, from the erstwhile ‘civilizing mission’ to the subsequent mandate for development to contemporary depoliticized social causes such as ‘saving the environment.’ Volunteer tourism is an exemplar of this third discourse, as global North volunteer tourists, through their depoliticized logic of ‘saving’ and ‘helping’ the less fortunate others in the global South, inherits such distinctions and reproduces them further. Given the predominance of young white women in contemporary volunteer tourism, beyond these continuities, we also point to compelling shifts in this logic from the masculinism of historic colonial processes. We also highlight the religious dimension, how Christian ideologies which were so central to formal colonial processes continue to play an important role in volunteer tourism today. Future studies on volunteer tourism need to examine its emergence, growth, and popularity (with young white women in particular) from the perspective of historic and ongoing power relations having to do with race and racialized gender, which will enable a critical conversation on volunteer tourism that adds significantly to our knowledge of contemporary neo-colonial processes and their gendered dynamics.
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Tourism Geographies
An International Journal of Tourism Space, Place and Environment
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‘The white woman's burden’ – the racialized,
gendered politics of volunteer tourism
Ranjan Bandyopadhyay & Vrushali Patil
To cite this article: Ranjan Bandyopadhyay & Vrushali Patil (2017) ‘The white woman's burden’ –
the racialized, gendered politics of volunteer tourism, Tourism Geographies, 19:4, 644-657, DOI:
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The white woman's burden’–the racialized, gendered politics
of volunteer tourism
Ranjan Bandyopadhyay
and Vrushali Patil
Tourism and Hospitality Management Division, International College, Mahidol University, Thailand;
Department of Global & Sociocultural Studies, Florida International University, Miami, FL, USA
Received 26 January 2016
Accepted 3 February 2017
Talking about race in volunteer tourism is like breaking a taboo. By
critically exploring the racialized and gendered politics of volunteer
tourism from the perspective of the white savior complex,we seek
to open new avenues of discussion to break this silence. We employ
a postcolonial feminist theoretical framework to analyze volunteer
tourism. The meanings, practices, and policies of volunteer tourism
development are informed by the racialized, gendered logics of
colonial thought. If older colonial logics were predominantly
masculinist, it considers the largely (white) women participants in
contemporary volunteer tourism as a window onto current
transformations in historic racialized and gendered logics. Colonial
logics and discourses have shifted over time, from the erstwhile
civilizing missionto the subsequent mandate for development to
contemporary depoliticized social causes such as saving the
environment.Volunteer tourism is an exemplar of this third
discourse, as global North volunteer tourists, through their
depoliticized logic of savingand helpingthe less fortunate others
in the global South, inherits such distinctions and reproduces them
further. Given the predominance of young white women in
contemporary volunteer tourism, beyond these continuities, we
also point to compelling shifts in this logic from the masculinism of
historic colonial processes. We also highlight the religious
dimension, how Christian ideologies which were so central to
formal colonial processes continue to play an important role in
volunteer tourism today. Future studies on volunteer tourism need
to examine its emergence, growth, and popularity (with young
white women in particular) from the perspective of historic and
ongoing power relations having to do with race and racialized
gender, which will enable a critical conversation on volunteer
tourism that adds signicantly to our knowledge of contemporary
neo-colonial processes and their gendered dynamics.
Volunteer tourism; white
savior complex; race;
feminization; postcolonial
theory; postcolonial feminist
CONTACT Ranjan Bandyopadhyay
© 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
VOL. 19, NO. 4, 644657
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(Mies) (Shiva)
In the early phases of colonization, the white man's burden consisted of the need to civilize
the non-white peoples of the world this meant above all depriving them of their resources
and rights. In the latter phase of colonization, the white man's burden consisted of the need
to developthe Third World, and this again involved depriving local communities of their
resources and rights. We are now on the threshold of the third phase of colonization, in which
the white man's burden is to protect the environment - and this too, involves taking control
of rights and resources. The salvation of the environment cannot be achieved through the old
colonial order based on the white man's burden. The two are ethically, economically and epis-
temologically incongruent. Mies and Shiva (1993, pp. 264265)
The term volunteer touristsis generally applied to those tourists who partake in volun-
teer work during their vacation, through organizations that promote the economic, envi-
ronmental, or cultural welfare of some chosen groups in the host society (Wearing, 2001).
Millions of young adults from the global North take a gap year and ock to the global
South in the name of helping the less fortunate by teaching in schools, building orpha-
nages, saving turtles or nurturing street children. The number of volunteer tourists is stag-
gering every year, more than 1.6 million young volunteer tourists from the global North
spend about $2 billion in the global South (Kahn, 2014) and the majority of these young
volunteer tourists are white women (Jackson, Payne, & Stolley, 2015; Mostafanezhad,
2013) who travel with a desire to change the world.
Scholars have well documented how volunteer tourism can be mutually benecial for
both tourists and host communities. However, recently some scholars have criticized the
role of volunteer tourism as a development tool as volunteer tourism is simply a new form
of colonialism which propagates unequal power relationships (Brown & Hall, 2008). The
continuities between the history of formal colonization and the current practice of volun-
teer tourism, and the resulting negative connotations arising from them, are far too signif-
icant to be ignored. While more has been written, this work on volunteer tourism has yet
to generate any sustained interdisciplinary critical inquiry in the tourism social sciences.
Wearing and McGehee (2013, pp. 122127) aptly called for more interdisciplinary, trans-
disciplinary, transnational approaches drawing from psychology, sociology, political
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science, anthropology, economics to examine volunteer tourism in a more systematic and
logical way.Encouraged by Mostafanezhad's (2013, pp. 153164) inuential article in
which she laments that there has been surprisingly little attention paid to the political
economy of volunteer tourism developmentand in particular her call for volunteer tour-
ism to be reframed as a historically situated and politically implicated cultural practice,
this conceptual paper seeks to attend to this signicant lacuna in volunteer tourism
research. Precisely, this study aims to confront the issue of race and in particular, the gen-
dered dynamics of racialized processes, as a signicant blind spot in volunteer tourism
and development practice.
While the majority of volunteer tourism studies have acknowledged the signicance of
volunteer tourism and challenged conventional understandings of socio-economic
change in the global South, the ways in which ideas about race and racialized gender
shape volunteer tourism and development discourses are rarely spoken about. It is
increasingly recognized now that development is about power its operations, its geogra-
phies (McEwan, 2001) and indeed, development today is understood as a radical and
intrusive white endeavor (Biccum, 2011; Dufeld, 2005). Feminist scholars in particular
have underscored the gendered and sexualized dimensions of this racialized endeavor
(see for example, Alexander, 1996; Wangari, 2002). However, the overall impact of anti-rac-
ist contributions by tourism scholars to expose and challenge the racism embedded in
whitenessremains marginal in tourism studies. From a postcolonial feminist view, Frye
(1992) describes whiteness as an assumption on the part of many Northern white women
that they have the knowledge and the obligation to help women in the global South (no
need to know whether they want the help or not). Kothari (2006, p. 2) asks, perhaps
within a discourse framed around humanitarianism, cooperation and aid, raising raceis
too distracting, disruptive and demanding? Or does the silence of raceconceal the com-
plicity of development with racialized projects?This paper identies the need for further
exploration of the subtle manifestations of gendered racism within volunteer tourism and
insists that gender and race deserve serious discussion in volunteer tourism research. In
particular, this study focuses on the history and legacies of the white savior complexas it
informs volunteer tourism. Contrasting the masculinism of racialized colonial processes
(their feminist variants notwithstanding) with the contemporary feminization of such raci-
alization within volunteer tourism, it also considers continuities and shifts within such
This paper employs a postcolonial feminist theoretical framework to analyze volunteer
tourism. Postcolonial theory emphasizes the legacy of colonial and imperial machineries
of oppression, of which the development project can be seen as one piece (Sahle, 2011).
Robert Young (2003) puts it succinctly, postcolonial theory disturbs the order of the world.
It threatens privilege and power, [and it] refuses to acknowledge the superiority of the
Western cultures.In theoretical terms, postcolonial perspectives have been greatly inu-
enced by Marxism and poststructuralism drawing on both the political economy
approaches of the former and the cultural and linguistic analyses of the latter. Postcolonial
critiques challenge the experiences of speaking and writing by which dominant dis-
courses come into being. For example, terms such as underdeveloped,’‘developing,and
the Third Worldhomogenize peoples and countries and other them in relation to the
developedworld. Gayatri Spivak (1990) named this process of selfand otheras
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worlding,or setting apart certain areas of the world from others. As Sardar (1999) opined,
the real power of the West lies not in its massive economic development and technologi-
cal inventions but rather, in its power to dene, represent, and theorize. The idea of devel-
opment has enabled the West to appropriate and control the past, present and future of
the Orient, a fact that postcolonialism seeks to disrupt. Hence, postcolonialism is a power-
ful critique of the legacies of formal colonialism and the development project and an
increasingly important challenge to dominant ways of apprehending NorthSouth rela-
tions. Within this broader arena, postcolonial feminism in particular highlights the gender
and sexual dimensions of post/colonial processes and the racialized, neo-colonial dimen-
sions of Northern-based gender identities. In our analysis, we draw especially from this
postcolonial feminist critique, and bring it to bear on the identities which produce and
which are produced by volunteer tourism.
A postcolonial feminist approach
In Orientalism (1979), Edward Said argues that the construction of the Orientin terms of
inferiority, irrationality, excess, strangeness, sensuousness, and so on secures the superior-
ity, rationality, and normativity of the Occidentor West.As feminist scholars point out,
such understandings were highly gendered. For example, the West's othering of the Ori-
ent was similar if not identical to its othering of (Western) women a commonality which
points to the elaboration of both from the point of view of one group, elite Western men
(de Groot, 2000). Said himself does not focus on the role of gender and sexuality in the
construction of the Orient, nor the signicance of these processes for Western masculin-
ities or femininities. Nevertheless, a number of scholars across a range of (inter)disciplines,
from Said's own English and Comparative Literature to History, Anthropology, Sociology,
and International Relations have since further elaborated the multiple ways in which gen-
der and sexuality inform colonial and imperial processes and legacies. In Imperial Leather:
Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Context (McClintock, 1995, pp. 614) for example,
Anne McClintock argues that Orientalism is a male power fantasy which sexualizes a femi-
nized Orient for Western power and possessionsexuality itself is a trope for imperial
power relationsindeed imperialism cannot be understood without a theory of gender.
Hence, it is from the point of view of elite Western men that beyond the Orient, in the
globaleighteenth century, the entirety of the globe was imagined as four distinct quad-
rants, represented iconographically as female gures:
America was represented as bare breasted, with a feathered headdress, carrying arrows and a
bow; Asia bore incense and was veiled against a backdrop of desert and camel, or the harem;
Africa, naked except for an elephant headdress, sat on a lion, and was anked by a cornucopia
signifying its natural riches; and Europe was represented as a muse surrounded by arts and
letters as well as the signs of military victory. (Nussbaum, 2003,p.2)
Thus, the racialization of multiple distinct spaces in imperial and colonial processes was
dependent on racialized constructions of gender and sexuality.
Historians and historically oriented anthropologists have also shown how gender and
sexuality informed colonial policy. For example, Ann Stoler (1997) has written on how Brit-
ish, French, and Dutch colonial states, concerned with the mixing of their own populations
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with nativesin colonies where miscegenation was common, sought to educate the for-
mer in proper gendered and sexual behavior in order to secure their racial and civiliza-
tional superiority. Indeed, a slew of historical work argues that notions of modern and
civilized gender and sexuality emerged in precisely these sorts of spaces of intense con-
tact with the other, in opposition to ideas of the other's savageand barbaricgender and
sexuality (Bleys, 1995; Sebastiani, 2013; Wilson, 2004; Woollacott, 2006).
With the Enlightenment emphasis on progress and development over time, the racial-
ized and gendered others of European colonialism were increasingly imagined as children
who could be and should be educated and developed in all sorts of arenas including
the realm of gender and sexuality (de Groot, 2000; Patil, 2008). One cause that galvanized
much activity in the Indian context on the part of British missionaries, the colonial state,
humanitarians, and feminists was the practice of sati. Careful historical work has shown
that this traditional Indian practicewas very much a political and social reication that
extrapolated from the practices of a few groups to characterize an entire religion, culture,
and eventually country (Mani, 1987; Narayan, 1997). Moreover, such concern for native
women was ultimately hollow and hypocritical, for at the same time that British ofcials
passed legislation to prohibit these barbaric practices,they enacted laws which imposed
prison sentences on wives who refused to fulll sexual obligations to their husbands and
imposed a system of prostitution that provided Indian women to sexually service British
soldiers stationed in India (Enloe, 1989, p. 49). Nevertheless, these discourses of civiliza-
tional and moral uplift served a variety of purposes such as the colonial project itself.
Overall then, postcolonial and other anti-racist feminists across a variety of disciplines
have elaborated the functions of particular constructions of orientaland other traditions,
problems, and causes for Western subjectivities, including masculinities and femininities,
in colonial and postcolonial contexts (Grewal & Kaplan, 1994; Mohanty, 1988; Spivak,
However, well-intentioned and progressive particular efforts towards the less fortunate
in other parts of the worldmay be, without a critical theory of global power relations and
imperial histories, such efforts may end up reproducing problematic processes instead.
Voluntourism, or travelling with a purposeis interesting because it similarly seeks to help
such others,and again typically without a critical theory of global power relations and
imperial histories. Furthermore, as the purview generally of mostly white, Northern
women, it also begs for an analysis from the perspective of postcolonial feminisms. And
yet, this work clearly still remains to be done.
Volunteer tourism, romanticism, and the feminization of the global South
The historic connections forged between colony and metropole in imperial relations can
be seen from the perspective of contact zones, social spaces where disparate cultures
meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical relations of domi-
nation and subordination[and which include] the strategies of representation whereby
European bourgeois subjects seek to secure their innocence in the same moment as they
assert European hegemony(Pratt, 1992, pp. 47). One key dimension of this contact zone
within colonial histories was travel writing, a compelling and seductive form of story-tell-
ing. European travellers wrote about faraway lands of interest, and travel accounts were
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frequently translated into several European languages and gathered into collections of
voyages(Teltscher, 1995, p. 3). Indeed, from Marco Polo to Bruce Chatwin, travellerstales
about distant places and exotic cultures have proven to be remarkably popular reading
(Blanton, 2002). Travel writers of the nineteenth century contributed to a certain exoticisa-
tion of India in the name of a cultural need to know more about theirIndian empire.
Tourism representations have traditionally been implicated in such socio-political dis-
courses (Bhabha, 1983). While commenting on British (and European) travel writing about
India in the nineteenth century, Lalvani (1995, p. 263) argued,
The discourse of la femme orientalewhich informed the Romantic critique of capitalism, was
recuperated in a hegemonic manner to promote a commodity fetish and an expanding con-
sumer culture, the success of this transference was guaranteed by Romanticism, which not
only underwrote the discourse of Orientalism but ironically advanced a psychology commen-
surate with the emergence of a consumer society.
The exploration of nineteenth-century travel writings on India made it apparent
how important the Romantic gaze was at that period (Bandyopadhyay, 2009), which
on one hand, provided the travellers' self-discovery and idyllic pleasures, and on the
other hand, was an integral part of the colonial scientic enterprise by which India
was appropriated to the European imagination and facilitated the implementation of
a colonial ideology of improvement (Nayar, 2005). Volunteer tourism is the most
recent addition to a long pedigree of romanticism about global South people and
cultures. However, romanticism is a subject that has been neglected in tourism social
science research. From the perspective of gender, descriptions abound about how in
the nineteenth-century British social reformers, especially women, became popular in
Britain for their frequent self-promoting articles in British newspapers describing their
moral duty and valiant efforts to save Indian children from savagery and raise and
educate them instead in a civilized environment.
Also signicant was the related yet distinct discourse of saving women. As mentioned
in the discussion of postcolonial feminism above, one major point of focus in the Indian
case became the so-called traditional practice of sati, which was understood as an exam-
ple of how Indian culture and Indian men oppress Indian women. Such causes became
important sites of, as Spivak (1988, p. 24) has aptly described it, White men saving brown
women from brown men.Part of the problem, according to this narrative, was the devi-
ance of Indian men from norms of (imperial white) masculinity, as argued by T.B. Macaulay
(1843 = 1967) and Hopkins (1998). Sinha (1995, pp. 1819) argued that such representa-
tions of effeminacy helped represent Indian men as simultaneously sexually insatiable
and inferior to the imperial male. Moreover, British women were also deeply implicated.
While for British men, such a discourse consolidated a colonial masculinity which justied
and legitimated colonial policies, for British women, it was a bid for space in the political
and civil realms of nation and empire, from which they were excluded. For example, in a
suffrage periodical of the early twentieth century, Common Cause, the author argued that
imperial responsibilities to oppressed Indian women and their uplift compelled British suf-
fragists to demand the vote, not only for themselves but for the sake of their colonial sis-
ters(Burton, 1994, p. 187). Thus, as numerous critical writers have observed, such
constructions of the other are actually sites for the consolidation of particular denitions
of the self (Hall, 1992, p. 297; Mohanty, 1988), for it is in the process of civilizing, uplifting,
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saving, and aiding this helpless and oppressed other that the self becomes secured as the
source of these gifts.
Today, such gendered othering of historically colonized countries continues, whether
in the Northern masculinist constructions of states in the global South as inappropriately
or insufciently masculine (Patil, 2009) or in Northern feminist constructions of women in
the global South as needing rescue (Abu-Lughod, 2002). Patil (2008) argues that the lan-
guage of development itself is a legacy of a colonialist kinship politicsin which global
North actors are envisioned as the parents that will help underdeveloped, immature third
worldcountries reach civilization, maturity and development. Within contemporary vol-
unteer tourism, despite a different set of actors (i.e. the host, the volunteer (or other) tou-
rists, the organizations bringing together the alternative forms of tourism, and the local
partners), dominant discourses continue to perpetuate this kinship politics. For example,
some terms that have been used by an earlier generation of tourism scholars (transmitted
to the next generation of scholars) regarding volunteer tourism include mini-mission
(Brown & Morrison, 2003), petting the critters(McGehee, 2007), charity(Wearing, 2001),
community-service,and servant-leadership(Butin, 2003). These terms perpetuate the
imagery of a feminized, childlike global South awaiting (white, Western) assistance. As the
postcolonial feminist critique points out, such a construction of self and other, with no rec-
ognition of the power differentials which have historically produced such distinctions,
merely ends up reproducing essentialist, racialized constructions. Cecil et al. argue that for
male volunteer tourists, the ability to endure hardships in a savageland while helping
the deprived is a current site for the securing of Western masculinity (Cecil, Pranav, &
Takacs, 1994).
More work is clearly needed on contemporary women volunteer tourists, in order to
understand how they construct their identities within these processes. If for British women
in the colonial period, saving Indian children and women from their savage men and cul-
ture was a bid for inclusion in nation and empire (Burton, 1994), what are the particular
concerns of the predominantly young, white women who participate in volunteer tourism
today? How does this participation matter for their sense of self? How is it related to their
identities as young American women?
The new civilizing mission
The literature on volunteer tourism has limited evidence of long-term benets of volun-
teer work in the global South, whereas there is a sustained emphasis on the transforma-
tive experiences of the volunteers (Gray & Campbell, 2007). Hence, volunteer travel
narratives today abound with the images of the primitiveness of the toured, the enrich-
ment of self of the tourist, and the renewed appreciation of the tourist's own life. The web-
site of a British company (, 2011) illustrates this imagery while justifying the
need for volunteer tourism:
More and more people are becoming motivated to go out and do something as the news
media daily report on poverty in the developing world. You may nd yourself working with
people who live in poverty, surrounded by disease, and frequently hungry. You will hopefully
return with a great sense of achievement and pride in what you have done for a local
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The notion that as a prospective volunteer tourist, you will work with the poor, diseased
and hungry and return with a great sense of achievementraises the question: is the pur-
pose of volunteering in the Third Worldin this way to do good, or to feel good? Commen-
tators have argued that if designer clothes and fancy cars signal material status in the
North, then volunteer touristsstories of embracing of poverty and its discomforts signals
(almost a spiritual?) superiority of their characters (Zakaria, 2014). Taking seles with those
one is helpingseems to be a recurrent practice volunteer tourists engage in. The taking
of these pictures and their inevitable subsequent distribution via social media like Face-
book points to their signicance in a certain construction of self on the part of the tourist.
In a recent article in The Onion (2014),the author describes sarcastically how a six-day visit
to a rural African village can completely change a woman's Facebook prole picture.The
article quotes 22-year-old Angela Fisherwho says: I don't think my prole photo will
ever be the same, not after the experience of taking such incredible pictures with my
arms around those small African children's shoulders.
Two voluntourism organizations based in the USA (Globe Aware and Global Volunteers)
draw young students in this way, capitalizing on a Northern will to uplift and save. The fol-
lowing quotes demonstrate how these organizations rely on a spectacle of poverty in the
global South in order to do so.
Participate in Globe Aware's India program and combat poverty by working with slum dwelling
and other disadvantaged children in the community of Jaipur. Volunteers will work with rescued
child laborers, assist at day care centers and provide support for local teachers, in addition to
completing beautication activities for public facilities. Come and ght poverty in India and
enhance the lives of poverty-stricken children in ways that you can only begin to imagine.
You're needed now to volunteer in India. Teach and care for orphaned children. Help once
homeless youth in Chennai reach their full potential as a volunteer in India. Your volunteer
assistance for one or two weeks directly elevates the futures of Indian children who have
been abandoned, orphaned or are from families too poor to care for them. What's more,
Global Volunteers offers the most affordable India volunteer program fees.
Such imageries of misery, disorder, mass death, and poverty reinforce notions of Third
Worlddependency, powerlessness, and need, while perpetuating First Worldbene-
cence, and capacity to act, assist, and save. As such, these images reproduce historic colo-
nialist and kinship politics. As French sociologist Luc Boltanski (1999) has argued,
suffering, though at a distanceis a master subject of our mediatized times and is rou-
tinely appropriated in American popular culture (which is synonymous to global popular
culture). Indeed, this globalization of distant suffering is one of the more problematic
impacts of the discourses and practices of volunteer tourism.
From yet another angle, one can also ask: and what about social problems and strug-
gles in the global North in volunteer touristsown backyards, so to speak? For example,
according to a report by UNICEF (2014), 27% of children in the UK (i.e. one in four) and
32% of children in the USA (i.e. one in three) live in poverty. Kenyan activist Boniface
Mwangi aptly asks why young American volunteers would choose to come to Africa to
help dig wells, for example, when they have so many social ills in their own communities
(Goffe, 2015). In other words, it should not be forgotten, that there are rst worldswithin
third worldsand vice versa. Perhaps other people's problems seem simpler, less compli-
cated, and easier to solve than those of one's own society. In this context, Zakaria (2014,
p. 2) suggests that the decontextualized hunger and homelessness in Haiti, Cambodia or
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Vietnam is an easy moral choice unlike the problems of other societies, for example,
severe poverty in Manchester or London or the failing inner city schools in Chicago or the
hopelessness of those living on the fringes in Detroit.
The historic roots of racial inferiority/superiority are further perpetuated by contempo-
rary neo-colonial aid relationships in volunteer tourism (Lough & Carter-Black, 2015). The
colonial narratives are retold through modern discourses of volunteer tourism and devel-
opment, where those in the global South come to believe that they have lower capacity
for development augmented by inferior science, technology, and resources (Kothari,
2006). Despite decades of independence, this narrative results in a colonization of the
ı,1986), wherein whiteness is associated with progress, power, and higher sta-
tus. But we argue that it is not just this kind of ignorance of the other which enables the
quick shift to Africa or Asia. Rather, it is the impact that this selective attention and com-
plementary deection has for the constitution of the self. That is, a recognition of prob-
lems of poverty, inequality, and oppression within the USA or Britain would require a
fundamental disruption of binaries between Westand the restthat have been operative
for centuries. Furthermore, a deep engagement with these problems would inevitably
involve an interrogation of relations of power having to do with gender, sexuality, race,
and class within global North countries that volunteer tourists (typically as middle class,
white students) benet from.
While The Onion's ctional character, Angela Fisher, seemingly engages in volunteer tour-
ism for the benets to her Facebook page, we again return to the predominantly young white
women who participate today and ask: how are their subjectivities formed within these rela-
tions of power? Why do they choose this sort of activity as opposed to other opportunities
within the USA? In what ways are these understandings continuous with colonial-era racializa-
tions and in what ways do they differ? Are we seeing a particular kind of Northern, white femi-
nist identity in the making? And, what are the larger structural and institutional contexts
within which their participation in this activity has emerged and grown?
Volunteer tourism and religion
Scholars have highlighted another signicant issue within contemporary volunteer tour-
ism: the fact that most volunteer trips often have the explicit goal of imparting certain reli-
gious beliefs on the host community (Ver Beek, 2006). As McGehee and Andereck (2008,p.
20) put it, The role of organized religion in volunteer tourism often seems to be the ele-
phant in the living roomthat no one wishes to discuss.Hence, similar to the role of Chris-
tian ideologies in formal colonial processes, such ideologies continue to be important in
volunteer tourism today. Missionary movements in nineteenth-century Britain, for exam-
ple, created a public awareness of the fact that there was a larger world beyond Britain
and that British Christians had an imperial duty towards the rest of the world(Van der
Veer, 2001, p. 12). Such ideologies have changed little as the following quote from a US-
based volunteer organization (Catholic Relief Services) reveals:
Catholic Relief Services carries out the commitment of the Bishops of the United States to
assist the poor and vulnerable overseas. We are motivated by the Gospel of Jesus Christ to
protect, defend and advance human life around the world by directly meeting basic needs
and advocating solutions to injustice.
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Wilson and Janoski (1995) found out in their study that among Catholics, the connection
between church involvement and volunteering is formed early and remains strong. A promi-
nent and gendered example of this is Mother Teresa, whose work spurred the growth of vol-
untourism. Mother Teresa, then a young woman, was sent on a mission by a Roman catholic
religious order in her homeland Macedonia to serve the poor people in Kolkata (erstwhile Cal-
cutta), India. Calcutta was founded by Job Charnock, a British East India Company administra-
tor in 1690, and was the premier city of Britain's overseas empire for nearly 250 years serving
as the capital of the British Raj till 1911. In 2001, the Government ofcially changed the name
of the city from Calcutta to Kolkata. Apart from Malcolm Muggeridge's (1971)Something Beau-
tiful for God that elevated Mother Teresa to sainthood, Dominique Lapierre's (1985) bestseller
and Roland Joffe's (1992) epic direction, City of Joy transformed Calcutta in the Euro-American
thought as the very exemplar of poverty and squalor. In Kolkata, Mother Teresa later founded
an organization known as Missionaries of Charity to offer palliative care to the poorest of the
poor in the city. She is an international icon and won the Nobel Peace Prize for her work. Her
canonisation took place in September 2016.
Mother Teresa opened her work to thousands of annual volunteers often coming and
going unannounced a model that now inspires waves of evangelical trips to India (as
well as other places in the global South). Today, thousands still feel drawn to Mother Ter-
esa and to Catholicism. Similar to her program, individuals are still enticed by voluntour-
ism organizations to volunteer for a day or two and then go sightseeing elsewhere in
Calcutta. Two voluntourism organizations based in the USA (Volunteering with India and
IFRE Volunteers) echoes the following sentiments:
VWI offers a unique combination of volunteering projects and action packed adventure travel
in a fun, safe, educational and well-organized environment.
We are honored that you are considering a volunteer abroad experience with us. As a human-
itarian with desire to complete works of mercy and charity we applaud you! We recognize
your courage to venture so far from home.
In these examples, we see the construction of a volunteer tourist identity that explicitly
combines the charity orientation of volunteer tourism with the Christian mission to do
good works.
Mother Teresa's own legacy has always been called into question as she was criticized
for converting the people she served into Christianity (Taylor, 2015). The late British writer
Christopher Hitchens (1995) vehemently criticized Mother Teresa who was less interested
in helping the poor than in using them as an indefatigable source of wretchedness on
which to fuel the expansion of her fundamentalist Roman Catholic beliefs.From a postco-
lonial perspective, Vijay Prashad (2012) has also written: Mother Teresa is the quintessen-
tial image of the white woman in the colonies, working to save the dark bodies from their
own temptations and failures. This sort of religiously oriented volunteer tourism, then, is
the contemporary manifestation of colonial-era imperial, missionary travel. Although Marx
opined long ago that religion will fade away with modernity, it is important to note that
for most people in the world today, religion still remains the ultimate source of morality.
Ironically, in an era of sustainable development, global South spaces still continue to be
constructed as the white man's and perhaps even more, the white woman's burden. It
should be noted, however, that for those who live in the postcolonialworld, the concept
of religious identity is intricately bound up with imperialism, colonial history, and now the
hegemony of world capitalism. As the Orient develops,the interpenetrations between
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the producer and consumer of religious representations between an Orient hungry for
foreign capital and a West craving cultural and spiritual authenticity will continue.
This paper argues that the meanings, practices, and policies of volunteer tourism develop-
ment must be understood within broader histories of colonial thought. Following Mies
and Shiva (1993) who we began with, colonial logics and discourses have shifted over
time, from the erstwhile civilizing missionto the subsequent mandate for development
to contemporary depoliticized social causes such as saving the environment.We argue
that voluntourism is an exemplar of this third discourse, as global North volunteer tourists
seek to saveand helpothers, typically in the global South. Postcolonial theory and post-
colonial feminist theory, in particular, has highlighted the colonial era racialized, gendered
distinctions between an independent, masculine, active, rational, West, and a childlike,
feminine, passive, and irrational non-West as well as their ongoing signicance. We
argue that global North volunteer tourism, through its depoliticized logic of savingand
helpingothers in the global South, inherits such distinctions and reproduces them fur-
ther. Given the predominance of young white women in contemporary volunteer tourism,
beyond these continuities, we also point to compelling shifts in this logic from the mascu-
linism of historic colonial processes. Finally, we also highlight the religious dimension of
this volunteer tourism: that is, Christian ideologies which were so central to formal colonial
processes continue to play an important role in volunteer tourism today.
This paper thus contributes to tourism social science research by highlighting the
racialized, gendered logics of volunteer tourism and their continuities with and distinc-
tions from the colonial era from which they emerged. Thus, if colonial era discourses pro-
duced narratives of orientalist savagery requiring civilization and uplift, we ask: to what
extent do such logics continue within contemporary discourses and practices of volunteer
tourism? If such logics secured the civilized masculinity of colonialist men (and to a lesser
extent the civilized femininity of colonialist women), we ask: what are the consequences
for identity for the predominantly young white women who participate in volunteer tour-
ism today? If the imperial feministsof the Raj participated in gendered colonial projects
as a bid for inclusion in nation and empire, we ask: what are the power structures within
which young white women volunteer in a third worldcountry today? In short, work on
volunteer tourism needs to examine its emergence, growth, and popularity (with young
white women in particular) from the perspective of historic and ongoing power relations
having to do with race and racialized gender. It needs to examine what sorts of concerns,
tensions, and identities produce the participation in this practice, as well as the conse-
quences for identities of such participation. We submit that such a path will enable a criti-
cal conversation on volunteer tourism that adds signicantly to our knowledge of
contemporary neo-colonial processes and their gendered dynamics.
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Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
Notes on contributor
Ranjan Bandyopadhyay is an associate professor at Mahidol University, Thailand. Previously, he was
an associate professor at The California State University, USA and also taught at The University of
Nottingham, UK. He obtained his Ph.D. in Tourism and Socio-cultural Anthropology from The Penn-
sylvania State University, USA. His research interests include sociology of tourism, politics of repre-
sentation, nationalism, heritage, nostalgia, identity and social justice. He has published in Annals of
Tourism Research, Journal of Sustainable Tourism, Peace Review: A Journal of Social Justice and is an
Associate Editor of the postdisciplinary journal - Visual Methodologies.
Vrushali Patil is an associate professor of Sociology at Florida International University in the US. She
obtained her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Maryland, Collge Park. Her research interests
include postcolonial and decolonial feminism, transnational feminist theory, and global historical
sociology. Her work has appeared in Theory and Society,Annals of Tourism Research,Signs,Sex Roles,
and Sociology Compass.
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... Volunteerism can become neocolonialistic when international volunteers and their organizations do not focus on empowering host country nationals' sense of self-sufficiency or when volunteer programs primarily benefit the volunteer's personal development [19,23,31]. Inadequately prepared volunteers may reinforce negative stereotypes, contributing to 'us' vs. 'them' mentalities, such as perceptions of the global South being dependent on the global North [50,52,53]. International volunteerism that empowers host country nationals' sense of self-sufficiency and host communities' sustainability (i.e., economic, environmental, and social) helps minimize the neocolonial aspects of volunteerism. ...
Full-text available
Some graduate education programs support experiential learning but do not require practical experiences for students specializing in international agriculture development. We examined U.S. land grant university graduate international agricultural education program descriptions for experiential learning requirements and found them lacking. The literature surrounding volunteerism is reviewed and examples are described. International volunteerism can fill the experience gap for future international agricultural development professionals studying at U.S. land grant institutions. Graduate students can acquire practical field experiences through short-or long-term volunteer assignments, such as those in the USAID Farmer-to-Farmer volunteer program for international agriculture development. Graduate students build their capacities by providing technical and agricultural assistance in Farmer-to-Farmer assignments, whereas host country participants enhance their knowledge, skills, and abilities to expand and increase agricultural sector productivity. Short-term international volunteer assignments help graduate students gain practical experience, improve interpersonal skills, and enhance cultural competencies. Host communities and volunteers alike benefit by engaging in intercultural exchanges that promote increased understanding of differing societies worldwide.
... in such a context, the ability to move, or not, spatially and socially is an expression of privilege. through a recognition of uneven mobilities, influenced by race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and nationality, scholars, feminists, and postcolonial theorists have demonstrated how diverse mobilities and immobilities are imbued with power (alderman, 2018; Bandyopadhyay & patil, 2017;Giubilaro, 2016;Kaplan & Grewal, 1994;Mountz, 2011). the interaction and connectedness between spatial mobility and social mobility was conceptualized by Kaufmann et al. (2004) as 'motility' . ...
Lampedusa (Italy) and Lesvos (Greece) have become significant locations where the interaction between migration and tourism is expressed through the presence of volunteer tourism, which, along with supporting migrants, has spawned new practices, such as visiting emblematic sites of migrants’ passage, presence, and death. This study investigates the emergent practices of memorial tourism from the perspective of mobility justice. Specifically, considering this liminal practice, the study seeks an alternative route to the dead-end of political possibilities of volunteer tourism, by exploring, rather than denying, the paradoxes it produces. The study employs a comparative ethnographic approach using a multimethod process, including an online survey, semi-structured interviews, and participant observation. The author spent six months on Lampedusa and Lesvos as a volunteer. Via these tools, the research explores how volunteers’ actions reinforce and confirm mobility inequalities. Specifically, migration is ‘memorialized’ by volunteer tourists, while concurrently the individuals migrating, and in certain cases even those who return after completing their migratory path, have no access to the spaces of memory on Lampedusa and Lesvos. While volunteer tourists’ practices and relationships to these spaces can engender a growing awareness of the phenomenon of migration, an investigation of the emerging paradoxes argues that despite the risk of reproducing the forms of exclusion and injustice that volunteers seek to counter, some subjectivities gain new, significant positions that cause forms of resistance to the disciplinary power of the border regime.
... Only recently (e.g. Bandyopadhyay, 2019;Bandyopadhyay & Patil, 2017), scholars have critically explored the racialized politics of tourism from the perspective of the "White savior complex" and argued that white supremacy continues to play an important role in tourism today. They claimed that colonial logics and discourses have shifted over time, from the erstwhile "civilizing mission" to the subsequent mandate for development to contemporary depoliticized social causes such as volunteer tourism to save and help the people in the global South -the main purpose of this third discourse is to resurrect imperial/colonial nostalgia. ...
Full-text available
In this conceptual paper, I tried to articulate that in leisure and tourism studies “we still live in a wholly racialized world” (Morrison, 1992). Few leisure and tourism scholars cared to follow the clues to map the contours of the racial predicament of scholars of color as a way of their lives surviving in the academia. As a scholar of color, my everlasting quest has always been to feel at home without becoming “White”. The dilemmas and rejections in this journey created an omnipresent tension in my life which shaped the content of this paper. I understand that this study will certainly not set the Thames on fire but I seek to open new avenues of discussion to break this silence. While doing that, I tried to follow the philosophy of Hegel’s “master/slave dialectic: the search for self-consciousness” within the Bakhtinian (multiaccentuality of racial meaning) and Levinasian (his close equivalence between structuralist anthropology and genetics) context equipped with the wisdom of Stuart Hall, Frantz Fanon, W.E.B. Du Bois, Toni Morrison, Michel Foucault, Karl Marx, Jacques Derrida and Amartya Sen.
As the tourism industry emerges from pandemic shutdowns and border closures, so too is “voluntourism”, the controversial combination of overseas volunteer work and more traditional tourist experiences. This has led to a resurgence of critiques, and to calls for the industry to take criticisms on board, examine past practice, reassess the role and impact of volunteering, and to take the opportunity to rethink the practice of volunteer tourism. One of the options proposed for reconfiguring voluntourism is to emphasise cultural exchange. This involves a focus on relationships, mutual understanding and respect for different cultures and knowledge systems, while moving away from discourses of ‘doing good’, helping and development. In this article we draw on primary, qualitative research from case studies in Peru and Fiji to examine voluntourism as cultural exchange. These very different examples of volunteering and cultural exchange highlight the potential of these encounters to increase mutual understanding and respect. However, they also show that emphasising cultural exchange in a context of significant inequality and difference, alongside the commodification of the volunteering experience, does not ensure cultures are perceived equally. Moreover, cultural exchange does not automatically encourage volunteer-tourists to face difficult questions regarding inequalities and differences across cultures. Therefore, we argue that voluntourism, when undertaken – as it often is – by volunteers from the global North working in the global South remains a highly inequitable, neo-colonial practice. Reframing volunteer tourism as cultural exchange may therefore further mask and even perpetuate injustice and inequality.
Humanitarian celebrities have become influencing agents within humanitarian aid-related contexts such as volunteer tourism, especially with the increase in social media platforms. However, few scholars have analysed the relationship between humanitarian celebrities and volunteer tourism in an online scenario. Therefore, this article explores how humanitarian celebrities portray volunteer tourism experiences on social media, in particular on Instagram. To this end, this paper collects all available Instagram posts of 27 well-known celebrities acting as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors. These posts are examined through a content analysis based on an inductive approach. The results highlight that humanitarian celebrities reproduce voluntourism's colonial and gender dynamics, especially in their posts about international trips with UNICEF. Given the influence power of such celebrities, negative impacts derived from their pictures and messages may come to be reflected in voluntourists' motivations and behaviours. Therefore, this article proposes to develop a code of ethics and/or conduct concerning humanitarian celebrities' online presence to avoid reproducing colonial and gender-based stereotypes in volunteer tourism.
This article explores the visual rhetoric of development cooperation in Finnish newspapers during late 1960s and early 1970s. Photography, with the political and geographical imagination that it reinforces or dissolves, has the power to shape our perceptions of place, culture and people. The study compares two data sets, one collection of official press photography and another collection of amateur photographs shot by an individual development cooperation worker. It asks, how were development experts represented in the official press photos approved by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Finland (MFA) and, more importantly, how it differed from the set of photographs taken by an amateur photographer, Lasse Björkman, who worked in Tanzania from 1970 to 1972. The results show that the press photos excluded any signs of leisure, tourism or anything associated with exoticism, to centre on experts and expertise, professional diligence and places or actions of work. The public image of individual development cooperation workers was carefully built on the premises of political neutrality, anti-imperialism and rationality. Political appearances are, thus, not only negotiated in offices and conferences but also in choices of representation and publicity.
The negative impact of COVID-19 on international tourism mobility generated two opposite types of discussion: one focusing on how to return to “normality,” and another on how to transform this crisis into an opportunity for redesigning tourism. Mobility restrictions have created a test scenario for teleworking, which has led to the consolidation of the number of digital nomads, describing the professional who uses digital technology and needs a high-quality Internet connection to be able to develop both a professional and a social online and offline lifestyle, while travelling. Digital nomadism represents an increasing tendency worldwide, questioning the existing forms of combining work and leisure and blurring the boundaries between mobility for work and for tourism. As a consequence of the rapid growth of digital nomadism, various destinations have refocused their marketing strategy and present themselves as “digital nomad-friendly” destinations, with ideal conditions to live and work. Urban spaces were the first to react to this new demand due to existing infrastructure standards, whereas rural territories entered the game without much preparation due to the need for escaping the pandemic’s effects, considered as isolated and safe areas.Through a theoretical perspective, this paper investigates innovation in the tourism sector in general, as it focuses on the analysis of not only a new segment of tourism but also the analysis of a new concept of mobility that challenges the conventional profile of a tourist and offers new opportunities both for rural and urban destinations. A number of emerging concepts of analysis associate coworking spaces with tourist attractions and the gender perspective within this type of mobility.KeywordsDigital nomadsTourismCoworking spacesGender
There is a dearth of narrative research related to “tourist identity” in leisure and tourism studies. In this review paper, we identify this research gap upon performing a systematic review of articles in leisure and tourism studies published on the SCOPUS database in the last four decades (1979-2021). We furnish three theses based on the prevalent research gap and offer three propositions that foregrounds the questions of identity. We argue that leisure and tourism studies focus more on the collective and the ethnic – to pit the collective Self against the collective Other, while discounting the personal and the phenomenological. We insist that leisure and tourism studies must engage with a wide range of traveling practices outside of the tourist experiences, and integrate more non-conventional sources (e.g. photography and narrative autoethnography) and non-Western approaches. Among other things, this will help dismantle the White logic prevalent in, and thus decolonize the field.
Postcolonialism: A Very Short Introduction explores the political, social, and cultural effects of decolonization, continuing the anti-colonial challenge to western dominance. It explores the history and key debates of postcolonialism, discussing its importance as an historical condition and as a means of changing the way we think about the world. Key concepts and issues are considered, such as the status of aboriginal people, cultural nomadism, Western feminism, the innovative fiction of Garcia Marquez and Salman Rushdie, and the postcolonial cities of London, Bombay and Cairo. The work of theorists such as Homi Bhabha, Edward Said, Frantz Fanon, and Gayatri Spivak is also examined.
This book provides an overview of the phenomenon of volunteer tourism, its sources and its development as a concept; and focuses on the potential positive social and environmental benefits of volunteer tourism, and the prerequisites for a successful experience. Chapter 2 examines alternative tourism experiences and how tourists themselves construct them, then conceptualizes the concept of volunteer tourism within those boundaries of alternative tourism and, subsequently, mass tourism. Chapter 3 examines one of the 60 environmental projects undertaken by Youth Challenge International (YCI) between 1991 and 1995, which provides a microsocial context for the examination of the Santa Elena Rainforest Reserve experience of YCI participants. Chapter 4 presents the data obtained from the in-depth interviews with participants from Australia, over the 3 years of the Costa Rica project. Chapter 5 examines the elements of ecotourism, volunteerism and serious leisure in conjunction with the themes that emerged from the participant's definitions of the experience and links them to related information in the interviews and the literature. Chapter 6 focuses on the centrality of the natural environment. Chapter 7 explores how volunteer tourism experiences actually contribute to the development of self, framing the experience in the very words of the participants. Chapter 8 examines the growing convergence of aims between local communities and the tourism sector. Chapter 9 argues that the alternative tourism experiences should not be reduced to a dialogic model of impossible realities related to dialectal materialism. Instead, its understanding should be grounded in human interactions and the concrete social reality in which it takes place.
Distant Suffering, first published in 1999, examines the moral and political implications for a spectator of the distant suffering of others as presented through the media. What are the morally acceptable responses to the sight of suffering on television, for example, when the viewer cannot act directly to affect the circumstances in which the suffering takes place? Luc Boltanski argues that spectators can actively involve themselves and others by speaking about what they have seen and how they were affected by it. Developing ideas in Adam Smith's moral theory, he examines three rhetorical 'topics' available for the expression of the spectator's response to suffering: the topics of denunciation and of sentiment and the aesthetic topic. The book concludes with a discussion of a 'crisis of pity' in relation to modern forms of humanitarianism. A possible way out of this crisis is suggested which involves an emphasis and focus on present suffering.