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Abstract

While research to date on volunteering and development has largely focused attention on the global South as a place that ‘hosts’ volunteers and the global North as a place that ‘sends’, in this article we focus on movements of volunteers between countries in the South. Our objective is thus to consider ‘South–South’ flows of volunteers in order to provide a counter to dominant North–South imaginaries of international volunteering. However, we do not declare or celebrate South–South volunteering as ‘new’, rather our approach critically engages with the framing of this geography of international volunteering as offering benefits similar to those of wider South–South development cooperation. Drawing on interviews with volunteers and stakeholders in South–South volunteering, we draw out and explore three prominent themes: (1) how volunteers echo some of the wider discursive formulations of South–South development cooperation premised on commonalities within the global South; (2) how these commonalities meet limits at which a heterogeneity of the South is articulated through hierarchical orderings of relations between Southern constituents; and (3) the ways that racialised development imaginaries bring challenges to South–South volunteers. We thus argue that South–South volunteering works, re‐works and contests established imaginaries of development, and their construction and ordering of sameness and difference. We argue further that caution is needed around claims of ‘newness’ of, or unqualified advocacy for, South–South volunteering, which instead needs to be subject to critical attention in the areas we highlight.
SouthSouth volunteering and development
MATT BAILLIE SMITH* , NINA LAURIEAND MARK GRIFFITHS*
*Department of Social Sciences and Media, Northumbria University, Newcastle NE18ST
E-mail: matt.baillie-smith@northumbria.ac.uk, mark.grifths@northumbria.ac.uk
School of Geography and Sustainable Development, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9AJ
E-mail: nina.laurie@st-andrews.ac.uk
This paper was accepted for publication in September 2017
While research to date on volunteering and development has largely focused attention on the
global South as a place that hostsvolunteers and the global North as a place that sends, in this
article we focus on movements of volunteers between countries in the South. Our objective is
thus to consider SouthSouthows of volunteers in order to provide a counter to dominant
NorthSouth imaginaries of international volunteering. However, we do not declare or celebrate
SouthSouth volunteering as new, rather our approach critically engages with the framing of this
geography of international volunteering as offering benets similar to those of wider SouthSouth
development cooperation. Drawing on interviews with volunteers and stakeholders in SouthSouth
volunteering, we draw out and explore three prominent themes: (1) how volunteers echo some of
the wider discursive formulations of SouthSouth development cooperation premised on
commonalities within the global South; (2) how these commonalities meet limits at which a
heterogeneity of the South is articulated through hierarchical orderings of relations between
Southern constituents; and (3) the ways that racialised development imaginaries bring challenges
to SouthSouth volunteers. We thus argue that SouthSouth volunteering works, re-works and
contests established imaginaries of development, and their construction and ordering of sameness
and difference. We argue further that caution is needed around claims of newnessof, or
unqualied advocacy for, SouthSouth volunteering, which instead needs to be subject to critical
attention in the areas we highlight.
KEY WORDS: Asia, development, international volunteering, SouthSouth cooperation, difference,
new development actors
Research on volunteering and development to
date has largely focused attention on the
global South as a place that hostsvolunteers
and the global North as a place that sends
volunteers (Baillie Smith and Laurie 2011; Baillie
Smith et al. 2013). Within these literatures, critiques
have emerged around international volunteering and
the colonial legacies underpinning much international
volunteering work (Perold et al. 2013), the ways that
benets are often more orientated to the (Northern)
volunteer (Jones 2011), and the importance and lack
of critical pedagogies of development (Diprose
2012). NorthSouth volunteer movements, for these
scholars, take place within the uneven patterns of
power we nd in NorthSouth development partnerships
(Noxolo 2006) and development more generally
(Mawdsley 2012). These critiques articulate with broader
questionings of global North-led aid and development,
and its colonial contingencies, power asymmetries and
neoliberal citizenships (Baillie Smith et al. 2013 2016;
Grifths 2015; Kothari 2005; McEwan and Mawdsley
2012; Lyons et al. 2012). Such geographies, thus, both
critique and privilege particular types of volunteer and
the institutions that facilitate their work, producing a
narrow account of the local and transnational
relationalities of volunteering and development (Laurie
and Baillie Smith 2017). Such narrowness looks away
from the large numbers of volunteers who do not travel
those same routes but whose contribution to
development is increasingly recognised as signicant
[Haddock and Devereux 2016; United Nations
Volunteers (UNV) 2015]. To broaden the account, in
this article we explore an often only implicit question in
research on volunteering: that non-Western volunteers
might be better equipped culturally, linguistically as
well as technically to undertake development work
(e.g. Raymond and Hall 2008).
Our objective in this article is to focus on South
Southows of volunteers in order to provide a
counter to dominant NorthSouth imaginaries of
international volunteering. This focus is not intended
to reify an undifferentiated Southerncategory it is
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necessarily reect the opinion of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG).
© 2017 The Authors. The Geographical Journal published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use,
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The Geographical Journal, 2017, doi: 10.1111/geoj.12243
in many senses a misnomer, particularly when
referring to volunteers from Asian settings such as
China and South Korea but rather to discuss South
Southas a policy label that has been used by donors
and volunteer-engaging organisations to describe
international volunteering ows outwith the North
(e.g. Bannister 2017). This approach is timely given
the growing emphasis on volunteers as a new set of
development actors who are recognised and
legitimised by a range of stakeholders (e.g. NGOs,
faith groups, state and corporate interests alike), as
well as being central to the recently launched
Sustainable Development Goals (Haddock and
Devereux 2016; UNV 2015). Our wish to refocus also
relates, rst, to the challenge to development and aid
orthodoxies presented by the rise of newaid donors
and the reshaping of cooperation between non-
Western and non-state actors (see Bond 2016;
Mawdsley 2014; Mawdsley et al. 2014; de Renzio
and Seifert 2014), and second, to the ways that
SouthSouthvolunteering might be considered an
expression of these new forms of aid and
development. While there has been relatively little
academic research specically focused on South
Southvolunteering (for an exception see Butcher and
Einolf 2016), policy communities have been engaged
with the theme for some time (e.g. Brassard et al.
2010; Seo 2011; Ngutu 2011). This marginalisation in
academic work must be considered an oversight. In
2012, 81 per cent of UNV volunteers came from the
global South, and at its foundation in 1970, a Special
Voluntary Fund was created to support the
mobilisation of skilled volunteers from the global
South (Lough et al. 2016). Chinese volunteering is
growing rapidly in sub-Saharan African countries
(Ceccagno and Graziani 2016) and South Korea is
now the third largest sender of volunteers globally
(Brassard et al. 2010, 13). What is notable about these
policy literatures is a characterisation of SouthSouth
volunteering as offering important benets compared
with NorthSouth volunteering, mirroring similar
claims made about wider SouthSouth development
cooperation. Explicitly: just as shared experienceand
shared identity(Mawdsley 2012, 263) have become
important constructions of non-Western development
cooperation, so too are shared understanding, and
similar systems, processes, living conditions, and cultures
(Brassard et al. 2010, xi) considered advantageous
conditions for SouthSouth forms of volunteering for
development.
Locating this research within this geography, it is
not our intention to declare or celebrate SouthSouth
volunteering as new; to do so would miss longer
histories and forms of international voluntary action
(see Craggs 2011). Rather, our approach in this paper
is a critical engagement with this framing, not an
acceptance of it. Specically, we discuss interviews
with volunteers and stakeholders in SouthSouth
volunteering in and from Asia in the context of critical
scholarship on volunteering and the changing
geopolitics of aid and development. We highlight
three prominent themes in the data to show (1) how
volunteers echo some of the wider symbolic and
discursive (Mawdsley 2012) formulations of South
South development cooperation premised on com-
monalities within the global South; (2) where these
commonalities meet limits at which, as we might
expect, a heterogeneity of the South is articulated
though hierarchical orderings of relations between
Southern constituents; and (3) the ways that racialised
development imaginaries bring challenges to South
South volunteers. We thus argue that SouthSouth vol-
unteering works, re-works and contests established
imaginaries of development, and their construction
and ordering of sameness and difference. We argue
further that caution is needed around claims of new-
nessof, or unqualied advocacy for, SouthSouth
volunteering, which instead needs to be subject to
critical attention in the areas we highlight.
The article proceeds in ve sections. The rst
section outlines the methodologies used in this
research. The second section explores how claims of
sameness are articulated by volunteers from the
South. Shared identities and experiences are here
brought to the fore and understood as advantageous
in development work. In the third section we turn to
how volunteers, within this sameness, assert new
hierarchies within the South through a discourse of
difference. The fourth section foregrounds the ways
that racialised development imaginaries present a
challenge to SouthSouth volunteers and highlights
the legitimising and deligitimising effects of ethnicity.
The nal section discusses the tensions between a
homogeneous notion of the South within South
South volunteering (predicated on sameness) and
the heterogeneity inherent within a newhierarchy
of development (predicated on difference). In the
conclusion we map these tensions onto a broader
discussion of SouthSouth development cooperation.
Methodology
The data we discuss in this paper derive from
discussions with an international development NGO
with a specic interest in exploring SouthSouth
volunteering, who helped identify relevant stakeholders
and interviewees. This small-scale exploratory project
sought to identify initial themes to inform future
scholarship and practice, given the lack of research
on SouthSouth volunteering to date. Our focus
purposefully reects a particular subset of volunteering
mobilities between countries outside the global North
those brokered by international civil society actors
working in development since this interpretation and
realisation of SouthSouth cooperation is an increasingly
signicant feature of volunteering and development
policy (e.g. Ngutu 2011; Cuso International 2017;
Bannister 2017; FK Norway 2015). For these reasons,
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2SouthSouth volunteering and development
we do not engage with other forms of volunteering
mobilities in the South, some of which have long
histories, such as faith-based mobility, and some of
which are newer, such as volunteering linked to Chinese
state agency engagement in Africa.
Our decision to focus on NGO-brokered volunteering
reects an interest in bringing civil society actorsrecent
framing of SouthSouthvolunteering into dialogue
with newly established geographies of NorthSouth
development volunteering. Building from longstanding
networks with partner NGOs, the research deployed
snowball sampling to engage a group of participants
whose institutional framing and mobilities are reective
of such SouthSouthgeographies. This is not to deny
the relevance and signicance of wider histories and
materialities of development interactions in Asia, but to
recognise the specic context of this paper.
Data were collected through 11 interviews,
comprising six interviews with staff managing and
coordinating volunteers at different scales, and ve
interviews with volunteers during and after their
placements. For the former, we interviewed one
volunteer programme manager for a large non-Western
donor agency, an Asia region NGO manager, an NGO
country manager from China, an NGO country
manager from Bangladesh and two interviews with
UNV programme staff in one south Asian country, not
named here for reasons of anonymity. In terms of
volunteers, we interviewed two volunteers from China
after their placement, of whom one had volunteered
in Bangladesh and one in Kenya, two volunteers from
the Philippines who were volunteering in Bangladesh
at the time, and one from Kenya who had recently
nished volunteering in Bangladesh. Interviews varied
in length from one to two hours, with six conducted
face to face and ve via skype. Interviews were
conducted in English, since all programme volunteers,
managers and coordinators were required to have
strong English, although we acknowledge that this
further underlines the specics of our focus and
sample. In recognition of the many forms of global
English that are spoken, the quotations given in this
paper retain the different idioms used by the
participants. The interviews with the managers and
coordinators focused on processes of recruitment,
placement decisions, allocations and support, post-
volunteering experiences and networks, and future
plans for SouthSouthvolunteering. The interviews
with volunteers focused on their decisions to
volunteer, where they volunteered, their role and
experiences, and their post-volunteering experiences
and reections. The interview data were analysed
using NVIVO.
Additionally, the paper draws on collaborations
with wider development actors, including research
collaborations with Voluntary Service Overseas since
2009 on diaspora volunteering and the post-volun-
teering experiences and activities of volunteers; Baillie
Smiths work with the International Federation of Red
Cross and Red Crescent Societies since 2012, includ-
ing as part of their Global Review on Volunteering
(Hazeldine and Baillie Smith 2015); and the Swedish
Red Cross, as part of the Volunteers in Conicts and
Emergencies Initiative (ViCE). It also reects Baillie
Smiths and Lauries participation in stakeholder fora,
such as recent UNV workshops and debates, bringing
together key global academics and policy-makers
(e.g. UN actors, donor agencies, national government
representatives) to identify and respond to critical vol-
unteering and development challenges, and ongoing
research and policy dialogues with individual NGOs
engaged in SouthSouth and related forms of volunteer-
ing. This work may not formally constitute ethnographic
data collection or other more conventional forms of
data gathering. However, our engagement in the co-
production of knowledge for advocacy has fed into vol-
unteering policy development globally (Seelig and
Lough 2015). Participation in these activities has in turn
informed our research, including that discussed here.
A homogeneous South: identity, experience and
legitimacy
In this section we discuss how samenessis
articulated by volunteers from the South through
themes of shared identities and experiences. These
continuities between Southern constituents and
countries are prominent throughout the data and,
cumulatively, present an imaginary of a homogeneous
sense of Southernessthat is assumed to better equip
volunteers to engage in development work in poorer
areas of the South. This was evident, for example, in
the following exchange where Luisa, a volunteer from
the Philippines, emphasises different layers of
sameness to discuss her volunteering in Bangladesh:
For me its really ... because the culture is totally
similar so I did not have difculty to adjust ... and I
didnt have difculty to bond with the people. Because
we have similar culture like food, clothing, you know?
And also an indigenous people ... and I am in the
[indigenous] community.
Of particular note in this extract is that,
notwithstanding the ostensible differences between
quite distant parts of Asia, Luisa perceives a
sameness in that international volunteering does not
require social and cultural adjustment, but also in
that a further layer of connection is found in shared
identication as indigenous. Luisa then goes on to
talk about what this shared identity means in terms
of belonging, and the ways that the community in
which she works make clear to her were not
considering you a different person, we consider you
our own. Similarly, Sana, a Country Manager in
Bangladesh, emphasised this dynamic, explaining an
important aspect in the way she manages her cohort
of volunteers:
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SouthSouth volunteering and development 3
for the north volunteer were saying dont pay too
much attention to the village politics[but] on the other
hand [for] the south volunteers you dont have to put
that message because they are from that culture.
The local context is presented as unknowable for
volunteers from the North, whereas it is entirely the
opposite for volunteers from the South. Again,
important differences within the South are absented
and disparate areas are brought into commonality
with Bangladesh:
in Kenya theres also you know, village politics [in]
common ... India theyre saying the village [is]
common, in Philippines, they are not that experienced
with village politics but they said we have that
experience [in that area].
Sana thus draws Bangladesh into a Southern com-
monswhere geographically and culturally diverse
settings from Kenya, India and the Philippines
are marked by commonality.
What is important to note at this stage is the
articulation of an imaginary of shared identity across
the South. A related aspect of the data was volunteers
seeking to nuance the notion of a Southern commons
by noting slight differences within the South, while all
the time maintaining a unifying difference from the
North. This is apparent, for example, in the words of
Kay, a Chinese volunteer in Bangladesh, who
commented:
Theres some difference, because if there come some
volunteer from the UK it is Oh, its a foreigner, but when
I come ... my face is very close to theirs I mean the
colour so [the community] treats us as from another
country but not so completely different with us. I think its
better, cos we can have better communication especially
some environment, climate or the cultural.
There is a richness to the way Kay locates himself in
relation to his development work, where race, culture
and even physical environment play important roles
in the articulation and negotiation of sameness and
difference. While it is certainly true that skin tone
varies signicantly between these two countries, Kay
nonetheless positions himself as contingent not so
completely differentand volunteers from the North
as expressly different, unequivocally foreign.
Signicantly, this identication underpins a claim to
the material advantage of better communicationin
his work. Connectedly, the particular commonality of
physical environment expressed here came to the fore
in interviews with other volunteers, especially Maria,
a volunteer agronomist from the Philippines also
working in Bangladesh:
South Asia countries [are similar to work in] because the
weather conditions are same as Philippines so crops are
almost same as Philippines so I can explore more, I can
learn from the .. . people also, what technology theyre
using ... in terms of agriculture so I can compare with
Philippine soil ...
What we see here is the way in which a historically
constructed, shared thematic of developmentthe
introduction of specic crops and associated
technological and production regimes represents a
homogenous set of technopolitics(Mitchell 2002)
that are easily recognisable across the South. For this
volunteer there is an important material advantage to
climatic similarity in that it offers the possibility of
mutual learning on the basis of that sameness, where
agricultural expertise can apparently be
transposed across space.
Further commonalities lie in volunteersexperi-
ences of shared cultural norms, ones which they por-
tray as characteristically Southern. Chloe, a volunteer
from China placed in Kenya suggests a shared sensi-
bility around the particular processes of forward
planning and objective setting that dene much main-
stream development activity, that can underpin pro-
ductive encounters and development outcomes:
I think that the advantage is because of philosophy of
China is similar to the African country because we all
think that you had to go with the owyou know?
Because from the EU and the UK and also other people
they would like to make a plan once. For China, yeah,
we make the plan, but not that particular thing ...
sometimes were just spontaneous, but African country,
they are more spontaneous than us. So for me I think it
is easier to understand how they behave because
partially we think that as well, but not that extremely
like they, you know? Yeah. So I think it is easier for us
to understand and then take the actions, we dont feel
annoyed because thats part of our life as well.
In concert with the other volunteers above, Chloe
seeks differentiation from global North volunteers
while also retaining an element of difference by plac-
ing China and her host country in Africa at different
points in a continuum of spontaneity. Once again,
difference from the North is articulated through a dis-
course of commonality, and that commonality is
nuanced through an assertion of difference within the
South. Importantly, through these identications, it is
perceived that it is easier for us to understand and
then take actions, reinforcing the idea that shared
identities and experiences in SouthSouth volunteer-
ing bring material benets.
The volunteer perspectives discussed here broadly
cohere with the characterisation of SouthSouth
volunteering as a productive counter to NorthSouth
models. Claims to sameness and shared identities and
experience most evident here in terms of
indigeneity, skin colour, climate, and cultural norms
are understood to bring very real benets to the work
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4SouthSouth volunteering and development
the volunteers do on the ground. While these
perceptions of commonalities override at times quite
considerable differences in the very same terms (of
indigeneity, skin colour, climate, and cultural norms),
they do enable volunteers to identify as better
equipped to communicate, provide expertise on
agricultural issues, and even understand the often
place-specic dynamics of village politics. In their
review of international volunteering in Asia, Brassard
et al. (2010, 22) identied exactly these points in the
construction of SouthSouth volunteer programmes;
that the benets of Asia-to-Asia placementsemerge
from the understanding and expertise gained from the
shared systems, processes, living conditions and
cultures. In this sense, the subjectivity of SouthSouth
volunteers, alongside those promoted by programme
organisers as pointed out in Brassard et al.s review,
can be located within broader discursive constructions
of SouthSouth development cooperation that are
underpinned by shared experience, developing
status, and some geographical commonalities ...
[and] a specic expertise in appropriate development
approaches and technologies(Mawdsley 2012, 263).
We thus reach the rst theme that we argue in this
paper: that SouthSouth volunteers draw on a
discursive imaginary of a homogeneous South to
articulate and assert their (greater) legitimacy as
development actors. That volunteers draw on such an
imaginary, however, brings with it the imperative to
examine critically how this claimed legitimacy
depends also on a heterogeneous conceptualisation of
the South and the hierarchical power relations within,
and how they may relate to similar orderings among
newdevelopment actors. It is on this ordering that
we focus in the following section.
The heterogeneous South: expertise, hierarchy and
difference
Alongside the discussion of common or shared iden-
tities, we have sought to keep in view subtle or
nuanced expressions of difference within the appar-
ent sameness of the South. In many of the cases we
discuss above, sameness gives way to similarity such
that, for instance, where Luisa surveys geographies
of indigeneity and marks the Philippines out as simi-
lar but not-quitethe same, or when Chloe likens
Chinese approaches to those of Kenyan volunteers
and host communities, but only partiallyso. In this
section we focus fully on these expressions to
explore where similarity moves towards difference to
illustrate how newhierarchies within the South are
asserted through volunteering. For Sana, the Country
Manager in Bangladesh, for instance, particular
development histories are assumed to be embodied
in volunteers from particular places:
Kenya is very good on community mobilisation, they
have a number of good models on community
mobilisation [as does] Sri Lanka [there might be]
a global strategy to increase the number of [volunteers]
from Sri Lanka or Kenya.
We begin here to get a sense of the differentiated
geographies of country-specic volunteer capabilities.
Seb, a regional volunteering manager for Asia, makes
a similar observation to Sanas:
If I look at the volunteers that weve recruited, particu-
larly from Asia, then the skills that were recruiting are
no different than recruiting from the North, if I look at
China, the skills weve had around gender empower-
ment, gender specialists, doctors, urban planners, HIV
specialists theyve been fairly the same as the North ...
The locating of expertise in Kenya, Sri Lanka and
China in these cases might be read as a legitimation
for global South volunteers, and in many ways
complements the discourse of sameness discussed in
the previous section: whatever the differences within
the South, they are set aside towards an assertion of
distinction from the North. Nonetheless, there is a
clear hierarchical relation here to do with expertise
where Kenya, Sri Lanka and China especially are
framed as authoritative presences in different parts of
the South because of specialisms in various areas of
knowledge, much like Western or Northern actors
have been through the history of development.
We might read these hierarchical relations as a
coming together of different histories of development.
On the one hand is the trace of long-established
perceptions within the South of developedand
under-developedwhere, say, Chinas imperial past
returns as a contemporary, culturally held notion of
superiority behind the break-neck speed of
industrialisation that sets it apart from many of its
south and south-east Asian neighbours (see Fairbank
1992; Oakes 2012). In this context, the setting apart of
North from South would seem to open the way to
revisiting older perceptions of superiority within the
newactors in SouthSouth development cooperation.
On the other hand, there is a simultaneous trace of
Northern-led development histories where, while the
North is quite assertively displaced as the arbiter of
expertise, the ideal of expertise is far from dismissed,
and it is in fact recalibrated and reorientated around a
different, seemingly Southern geography. For instance,
the perceived value of professionalism in volunteering
is prominent in this response from Sana in Bangladesh:
Of the volunteers coming from the South, for them ...
we are probably putting more emphasis on informal
management ... because north volunteers are, they
really like to, get into the work straight away and done
because [they are from] a very professional country.
Volunteers from South maybe they have some problem
... so for them we are also saying that how we can
really take developing more professionally?
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SouthSouth volunteering and development 5
There is a familiar ordering of NorthSouth relations in
development here: Northern volunteers are understood
to be professionalised because of their approaches to
accountability, punctuality and productivity, while
Southern volunteers are implicitly outside of these
measures of professionalism, echoing and replicating a
prominent ideal of Northern-led development work
and international volunteering (Baillie Smith and Laurie
2011; Nightingale 2005; Simpson 2005).
In Sanas quote immediately above, her closing
question how we can really take developing more
professionally?calls Southern volunteers into a
trajectory of professionalisation. A number of
interviewees took up the same theme. For instance, for
Luisa from the Philippines, punctuality provided a
marker of difference in categorising behaviours as
more or less professional:
like starting late in a meeting, like waiting for hours for
someone. Its really natural for them here [in
Bangladesh]. In the Philippines we also have that but
were not late for two hours were late for thirty minutes
but not two hours.
Punctuality for Luisa becomes a marker of difference
that came to be expressed hierarchically, enabling her
to position herself towards a sensibility closer to that
of the professional country. We would argue that this
signals not only a heterogeneity to the category of
Southvolunteers (as we would expect) but that also
SouthSouth volunteering can facilitate the (re)
production of hierarchical relations. Another quite
pointed example of this dynamic came in the
interview with Kay, a Chinese volunteer in Bangladesh
(quoted also above), who draws on cultural
stereotypes of laziness to assert difference:
I have [a] exible vision of poverty and a developing
country ... sometimes its not only about the natural
resource but related to the people, related to the lifestyle
there, because they were very lazy actually. Lazy is a
problem, sometimes the politics, or the war - but we
found laz[iness] is a problem. Specically in Bangladesh
the population is a problem ... they dont have many
modern factory, manufacturing and the population are
lazy ...
Brought abruptly to the surface here is an
uncomfortable reconguring, those at the bottom are
late, less professional, lazy even; those at the top are
the implicit self to this other and, as ever, dictate the
terms of hierarchical relations.
While the policy rhetorics and discursive formula-
tions of SouthSouth cooperation assert difference and
a challenge to Northern-led development hierarchies
and norms based on sameness, the data presented
here suggest that those hierarchies are not displaced in
SouthSouth volunteering but reworked and recong-
ured. For interviewees such as Chloe, Seb, Sana, and
Kay especially, place continues to be used as a hierar-
chical marker of difference in development knowledge
and expertise, legitimising and enabling behaviours
and practises for volunteers from speciccountriesin
the South. In these examples, at the same time as vol-
unteers evoke a category homogeneous in its differ-
ence from, for example, UK volunteers(Kay, second
section above), they also nuance that category as
heterogeneous within itself. Within this, as we have
discussed, we can locate contingencies with longer
histories of hierarchy both within and outwith the
South: volunteers from more developedplaces
(China) are positioned as morally superior in lazy
Bangladesh, and other Southern volunteers are valued
according to how they relate to Northern-led develop-
ment ideals such as professionalisation. The same-
nessof SouthSouth volunteering, then, meets limits
at which a heterogeneity to the South is articulated
though hierarchical orderings of relations between
Southern constituents.
Challenging oldperceptions of legitimacy
In this nal section discussing the data, we draw
attention to the ways historical Northern development
imaginaries present a challenge to SouthSouth
volunteers. Specically, we draw attention to an aspect
of the data suggesting that the persistence of racialised
imaginaries of development undermine the legitimacy
of SouthSouth volunteers as development actors. This
was evident, for instance, in an interview with John, a
volunteer from Kenya working in Bangladesh, who
noted that volunteers from the South are hindered
because of their difference from more legitimate
actors from the North: they [beneciary communities]
start with the conception that the European are better
than the African volunteer because they are used to
the European and American.Suchorderingof
volunteers according to provenance was a prominent
theme in the data, especially where interviews turned
to relations with host communities and in-community
partner organisations. A marked example came in a
discussion between Luisa and Maria, two Filipino
volunteers working in Bangladesh, who explain how
the paler skin colour of a colleague, Christine, who is
German, shaped the ways that their host community
positions them:
Luisa: For me its totally different because how
they receive Christine ... people are
particularly amused because she is white.
Maria: Yeah, the colour matters ...
Luisa: Yeah.
Maria: Colour matters ...
Luisa: I get the feeling I am discriminated
because they say helloto her and not to
The Geographical Journal 2017 doi: 10.1111/geoj.12243
© 2017 The Authors. The Geographical Journal published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)
6SouthSouth volunteering and development
me because they think Im one of their
own ...
In this example the very sameness that Kay cites
above to do with my face is very close to theirs
that facilitates better communicationseemingly
works in the opposite way for Luisa (and presumably
Maria). For Luisa, her sameness in terms of skin tone
marginalises her with material effects, as she went
on to explain:
I worked as a research assistant [in English] for how
many years and ... I told my organisation about that but
when they were preparing a paper they went to
Christine because they think she has more English or
or whatever.
There is thus a clear equivalence made between skin
colour and linguistic competence and this, in turn,
gives effect to racial difference in hierarchical ways
where whiteness signies greater legitimacy.
The same was true for in-community partners
where larger organisations who promote South
South volunteering programmes met with some
uncertainty on the ground. This was the case for
Seb, the regional volunteering manager for Asia
quoted above, who commented that partner demand
was closely related to colour of skin:
So [the volunteers] perceive there being a hierarchy and
I think that hierarchy does exist that in terms of
development partner demand for volunteers, of course a
white volunteer is top of the list and again, from being
a volunteer I understand particularly from a cultural side
that Western, Northern people tend to be very much
more vocal around their demands and tend to be
serviced in those demands a little bit quicker than
perhaps others ...
What is particularly notable here is not only the
hierarchical ordering of skin colours but also the
conation of Western, Northern peopleand
whiteness. Within this conation, too, is a material
effect similar to that noted by Luisa; just as her
supposed efcacy is lessened because of racial
assumptions around linguistic capacities, so too is the
efcacy of voice in the volunteers to whom Seb refers.
Of further note, as Seb continued to speak about race,
is a gendered aspect of the racialised hierarchies of
volunteer relations:
The perception of Southern volunteers is very different,
the way they are perceived, that they are seen as a kind
of substitute, as a second best and that wed rather
have a white person if its possible, and if that could be
a male even better.
Here we have a quite concise articulation of the
legacies of colonialism and Northern-led development
that have established white European men as authorita-
tive gures in the South. Such positioning puts South
South volunteers in a place of ambivalence; while skin
colour might facilitate more equal exchanges (as evi-
denced above in the second section), it also subjects
certain volunteers to subordinating hierarchies.
Considered in this context, SouthSouth
volunteering exists in a eld of racialised hierarchies
where volunteers from the North might be considered
more desirable or credible actors in development, or
more succinctly: in these cases volunteers are
legitimised and delegitimised along lines of race (see
Cheung Judge 2016). While the sample discussed here
is relatively small, it is of troubling note that the
promise of SouthSouth volunteering as a more equal
or de-colonial mode of cooperation is challenged by
signs of the persistence of the racialised and gendered
imaginaries of mainstream, Northern-led development.
In this sense, the displacement of the historical gure
of a white/male/Anglophone development expert is
only partial; he returns as an ideal from which
volunteers from the South can fall short in the eyes of
communities and partner organisations. The material
effects of this unfavourable comparison, these
testimonies would suggest, are the reduced capacity
to be considered legitimate workers in development.
Conclusion: SouthSouthvolunteering and
development
The research presented here highlights a number of
tensions around a homogeneous notion of the South
in volunteering debates predicated on sameness
and a heterogeneity that grows out of new
hierarchies that seem inevitable amid the rise of new
development actors. Our objective has been to
broaden the account of development volunteers by
turning the focus away from NorthSouth models,
and to consider instead the growing number of
volunteers who travel within the South to embark on
development work. In this concluding discussion we
seek to reconnect with broader debates on South
South cooperation (see Bond 2016; Mawdsley 2014;
Mawdsley et al. 2014; de Renzio and Seifert 2014).
By way of conclusion, then, we explicate the ways
that SouthSouth volunteering is inextricably tied to
broader imaginaries of development, both those long
established of the North, and those considered to be
newof the South.
In previous writing on international volunteering,
largely focused on Northern actors working in the
South, scholars have revealed the importance of
popular, corporate and state imaginaries of develop-
ment in constructing who volunteers, where they
volunteer and how they volunteer. For instance,
CV-building(Jones 2011) or a quest for career and
personal development(Devereux 2008, 358) for vol-
unteers from the North cannot be separated from the
desired subjectivities required to compete in a
The Geographical Journal 2017 doi: 10.1111/geoj.12243
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SouthSouth volunteering and development 7
neoliberalised jobs market, or the increased cultural
capital of popular humanitarianism (Mostafanezhad
2014). Nor can paternalistic(Perold et al. 2013)
volunteer roles such as teacher or expert (Raymond
and Hall 2008) be separated from historical and con-
temporary relations of domination and exploitation
between the North and South. Thus, popular, corpo-
rate and state understandings of development give
particular meanings to the encounters that volunteer-
ing promises, to the subjectivities constitutive of
those encounters, to the places in which the encoun-
ters take place, and to the potential for development
through volunteer work (Baillie Smith et al. 2013;
Grifths and Brown 2016). In this way encounters
with difference are a dominant framing of North
South volunteering, its negotiation giving rise to both
emphasis on and a search for commonalities
between constituents of the North and South. The
dominant imaginary in these literatures, of course,
relies in part on a homogeneous conceptualisation
of the South as the poorhost for development and
volunteer work.
The recourse by the volunteers and volunteer man-
agers to homogeneity documented here, therefore,
might sit uneasily. For geographers working on devel-
opment especially, notions of a homogeneous global
South are instinctively pushed against. In the cases dis-
cussed in the rst section above, however, homogene-
ity is seemingly mobilised to assert difference and
autonomy from Northern-led development agendas.
We might draw attention here to distinctions between
different geographies of development cooperation, as
Emma Mawdsley (2012, 266) has pointed out:
whereas the West deploys a symbolic regime of char-
ity and benevolence ... Southern donors invoke a
rhetoric of solidarity, mutual benet and shared identi-
ties. It has long been recognised in research on
NorthSouth volunteering that paternalistic charity
(Devereux 2008, 358) and a language of helping
(Grifths 2016) place volunteers within dominant
imaginaries of development. What is offered here, in
the perception of Southern homogeneity, is evidence
of SouthSouth visions of development emerging and
being reproduced in equivalent geographies of volun-
teering. Our research only scratches a surface of what
is sure to be a rich site of development cooperation
between Southern actors that draws on similar dis-
courses of solidarity, mutual benet and shared iden-
tities(see Brassard et al. 2010).
Somewhat contrastingly, the second theme we
emphasise here reveals an ambivalent relationship
with Western-centric perspectives on volunteering
and development (and indeed raises the question of
whether relationships with Western-centric perspec-
tives is at all a concern). On the one hand, a wish to
document heterogeneity is worked towards: the vol-
unteers in the research present a varied geography of
the South that reasserts the differences that are swept
away when we deploy terms such as the South.
We thus learn of particular skill sets in, say, Kenya
and China; the gradations of foreign-ness and com-
monality among volunteers and host communities;
and shared identities of people across vast expanses
of the South. However, as some point out, this
shared-ness, or similarity, gives way to difference,
which is in turn expressed hierarchically. At the more
extreme poles, for example, Chinese volunteers pro-
vide expertise just like the Northwhile low levels of
development in Bangladesh are attributed to lazi-
ness. We might argue from here that this hierarchical
arrangement of newdevelopment actors is further
reective of emergent development imaginaries that
are less to do with the rhetoric of solidarityreferred
to above and more to do with the power and political
interests of major actors in SouthSouth cooperation
(McEwan and Mawdsley 2012). That China and Ban-
gladesh are spoken of in such contrasting terms by
the interviewees here is important and should be a
critical part of the future research agenda on interna-
tional volunteering. While not overlooking shared
identities and experiences, such a research agenda
might track the ways that hierarchies within the South
as well as between South and North inect volunteer
relations on the ground.
A future research agenda in this area might also
interrogate how and why, while the North is (in
many positive ways) not the only organising frame of
reference, many of the underpinning tenets of these
hierarchies to do with professionalisation, productiv-
ity, expertise are suspiciously analogous to the exis-
tential terms of Northern-led development practices.
This is not to say that these themes are exclusively
Western, but it would be an oversight not to examine
the genealogies and materialities of these newhierar-
chies. Connectedly, as the third theme we discuss
above highlights, future research should aim to focus
fully on the pervasiveness of Northern imaginaries of
development where the idealised actor of development
is not a volunteer from, say, Kenya or China, but is in
fact a white, English-speaking man. For volunteers from
the South, our research here suggests, their Otherness
from this gure can devalue their work as legitimate
development actors. If this is the case, it is incumbent
on researchers and practitioners to explore and engage
with the power relations that underpin such hierarchi-
cal orderings of international volunteers.
We thus argue that SouthSouth volunteering
works, re-works and contests established imaginaries
of development, and their construction and ordering of
sameness and difference. We argue further that
caution is needed around claims of newnessor
unqualied advocacy, and that instead SouthSouth
volunteering needs to be subject to critical attention in
the areas we highlight. Our call is then for a counter to
dominant NorthSouth imaginaries of international
volunteering through critical engagement with the
relations between homogeneity and heterogeneity
within and outwith the South, and a sustained
The Geographical Journal 2017 doi: 10.1111/geoj.12243
© 2017 The Authors. The Geographical Journal published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers)
8SouthSouth volunteering and development
engagement with the challenges that racialised devel-
opment imaginaries bring to SouthSouth volunteers.
Acknowledgements
We would like to thank our interviewees for partici-
pating in this research. We would also like to
acknowledge the contribution of wider conversations
and collaborations with staff at volunteering organi-
sations with whom we have engaged, particularly
Shaun Hazeldine at the International Federation of
Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Janet Clark at
Voluntary Service Overseas, Katie Turner at Institute
for Voluntary Action Research and Neha Buch and
colleagues at Pravah. We would also like to thank
two anonymous reviewers and The Geographical
Journal Editor, Professor Keith Richards, for their
helpful and insightful comments.
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10 SouthSouth volunteering and development
... International volunteering in non-Western societies is structured by inclusive and participatory approaches, sharing and learning from each other for the common good (Appe, Rubaii, and Stamp 2017). The Western 'expert' volunteers often use specific standards whereas the non-Western volunteers choose to 'go with the beat' (Baillie Smith, Laurie, and Griffiths 2018;Brassard, Sherraden, and Lough 2010). A possible explanation for this might be that a sense of achievement is crucial in the Western context while an emotional connection is more important in the non-Western context of international volunteering (Brassard, Sherraden, and Lough 2010). ...
... The study by Baillie Smith, Laurie, and Griffiths (2018) offers probably the most comprehensive empirical analysis of movements of volunteers between non-Western countries to date. The most significant insight in Baillie Smith, Laurie, and Griffiths's (2018) research is how an image of sameness describes the non-Western concept of international volunteering through shared experiences and identities. ...
... This point was noted in an earlier review of Asia-to-Asia volunteer programmes by Brassard, Sherraden, and Lough (2010, 57) where, 'similar cultures and commonalities in food and living conditions shared cultures make placements easier to manage'. In other words, it is believed that Asian volunteers serving in Asia will have a better understanding of local needs than Western volunteers (Baillie Smith, Laurie, and Griffiths 2018;Brassard, Sherraden, and Lough 2010). ...
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