Intimacy and Pedagogies in Volunteer Tourism

Monday, 16 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
Katie MACDONALD, St. Francis Xavier, Canada
Volunteer tourism is a rapidly increasing field. It is often either celebrated (for professional, pedagogical and developmental opportunities) or lamented (for neocolonial and oppressive structures). Both of these perspectives focus on the outcomes of volunteer tourism. In this presentation I take two sites of intimacy in volunteer tourism to consider the complex ways in which subject and meaning making happens in encounters between Western volunteers, particularly white women, and “locals”, particularly host mothers. Through in-depth interviews and participant observation with volunteer programs in Nicaragua, I found that while both Nicaraguan hosts and volunteers imagined possibilities for transformative pedagogies in volunteer abroad, these transformations and thus their pedagogical logics, were different. In this presentation I examine these pedagogical logics through a focus on how moments of intimacy through the naming of "family" in the homestay and catcalling in the street were illustrative of the inequalities of volunteer abroad that are often obscured through a neoliberal frame. I argue host mother labour is conceptualized as a labour of love rather than a labour for which they are financially compensated, and that the danger imagined in the street resides in the bodies of Nicaraguan men. By outlining the ways safety is imagined as “at home” and danger as in the “public”, I argue that pedagogical logics of volunteer abroad are underlined by a fantasy that the home space is particularly good for learning because of its conceptualization as safe and asexual. While volunteer abroad is rife with fantasies about intimacy, I demonstrate that when these fantasies are disrupted they often reveal the underlying power relations enabling these encounters. This presentation examines the experiences of intimacy of both women who are volunteering and women who are host mothers to consider the complex negotiations of learning, inequity and power.