Joshua David Bernstein* - Texas A&M University
My paper addresses ways in which volunteer tourism websites present host communities to voluntourists. Through analysis of the visual elements of the volunteer tourism website www.i-to-i.com, I show how the presentation of volunteer tourism exoticizes the voluntoured and in doing so reveals the self-serving motivations of volunteers. While volunteer tourism websites address interests of the people in host communities, the self-interest of both volunteers and volunteer travel companies reduces the recipients of volunteer tourism to essentialized and exociticized cultural "Others."
In this analysis I use the lens of performance studies to show how this presentation works. Sociology and psychology help to establish a framework that explains why people volunteer. Performance studies makes visible what happens in practice and how values, agendas, and assumptions about volunteering are made. Through the lens of performance studies I make critical observations and advocate for those whose voice is not heard, in this case the voluntoured.
If the purpose of volunteer tourism is to dissipate the already present distance between two diverse peoples (the voluntourist and voluntoured), the focus on the exotic and essentialized other typcasted by organizations such as i-to-i.com disrupts this objective ideal. The result of this othered presentation continues an already established geographical divide and opposes the potential for volunteer tourism to promote mutual understanding.