Mary Mostafanezhad* - University of Otago
In this paper I address the "politics of aesthetics" in volunteer tourism. By "aesthetics," I mean two things. First, I adopt Jacques Ranciere's notion of aesthetics as the structured way human sense is organized. I argue that volunteer tourism perpetuates an aesthetic structure that systematically depoliticizes the global economic inequality on which the experience is based. Second, drawing on recent scholarship in critical tourism studies as well as 16 months of ethnographic research in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I illustrate how volunteer tourists aestheticize the host community members' poverty as authentic and cultural. This reframing contributes to the legitimization of volunteer tourism as a celebrated cultural practice that perpetuates the aestheticization of poverty in the encounter and in a neoliberal sleight of hand, reframes questions of structural inequality as a question of individual morality.