“It's not voluntourism”: unpacking young people's narrative claims to authenticity and differentiation in the international volunteer experience
University of Cambridge
Faculty of Education
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Schwarz, K. (2016). “It's not voluntourism”: unpacking young people's narrative claims to authenticity and differentiation in the international volunteer experience (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.7113
This qualitative research study explores how a group of 27 British undergraduate students make meaning of their experiences as they prepare for, participate in, and reflect upon a short-term international volunteer excursion in Kenya. Through a thematic analysis of verbal and visual text (semi-structured interviews, field notes and photographic content posted to Facebook), I seek to understand the narrative claims young people come to make about this unique life episode. In particular, I examine how study participants take-up and employ notions of ‘authenticity’ within their personal travel narratives, and on what bases they claim to have encountered the ‘real Kenya.’ Here, I document the specific criteria participants drew upon to assert the value and legitimacy of their experience, including the remoteness of their destination, their engagement in ‘everyday’ Kenyan life, and their intimate interactions with local people. Next, I explore participants' attempts to differentiate themselves from 'other' volunteers - a grouping they referred to broadly (and derogatorily) as 'voluntourists.' Here, I detail the extent to which the critiques associated with international volunteering have become adopted into mainstream discourse, thereby helping to shape which identities (and particular labels) young travellers embrace and contest. Finally, I analyse the ways participants navigate difficult representational choices when communicating their international volunteer experiences to a public audience via social media. Revealing these practices is key to understanding young people’s impression management strategies and the types of ‘performances’ in which they may be invested. Overall, this thesis is positioned as a sociological inquiry, theoretically informed by the dramaturgical perspective of Erving Goffman and the field of whiteness studies. I further situate findings within the context of late or liquid modernity.
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.7113