Jim Butcher* - Canterbury Christ Church University
Volunteer tourism (VT) has emerged as a significant debate in geography. Much of the debate is around its contribution to development, or to the development of 'global citizens', able to act ethically in their lives and careers.
In this paper I want to focus on how the conflation of tourism (ostensibly about leaving ones cares behind) and development politics (involving confronting contested political issues) is very much a product of strands of development thinking.
The elevation of 'community' (usually prefixed with 'local') in development thinking has produced a narrative of rural development as a micro enterprise, one which emphasises the role of the individual encounter. Influential writers on development (notably Robert Chambers) have focused on the transformative impact of development work on the development worker's consciousness. This personalisation of development lays the basis for the emphasis on personal identity evident in VT.
Notions of expertise in development have been seen by Chambers and others as threatening to trample on local knowledge. Volunteer tourism fits well with the critique of expertise - the volunteer tourist is 'here to help', but there is no expectation of expertise or long term commitment.
VT fits with other contemporary trends such as ethical consumption and Fair Trade in presenting development as an issue for individuals in their daily lives. However, it is striking that holidays can be associated with political agency. This is only understandable in the context of a personalised agenda, effectively a retreat from development as a social project.