Maggie C. Miller* - University of Waterloo
Heather Mair, PhD - University of Waterloo
Volunteer tourism, a sub-sector of the tourism industry, is growing at an accelerated pace and subsequently creating positive and negative socio-cultural, political, cultural, and environmental impacts. Current tourism literature suggests volunteer tourism provides opportunities for participants to facilitate building relationships with like-minded volunteers and encourages consciousness-raising experiences (McGehee & Santos, 2005). However, some researchers question the laudable aims of volunteer tourism, as they suggest the presence of volunteer tourism creates social and power struggles within local destination communities (Guttentag, 2009, Sin, 2010). Furthermore, potential transformative capacities of tourism are overshadowed by industry attributes of tourism (Higgins-Desbiolles, 2006).
To use tourism as a positive engine for social, cultural, environmental, and political change, promoting touristic experiences that encompass a transformative ethos seems imperative. Through a hermeneutic phenomenological exploration, underpinned by Gadamer's philosophies, this paper illuminates transformative capacities and deeper understandings of organic volunteering experiences. Organic volunteering is a phrase I developed to denote these kind of volunteer experiences and best described the experiences in this research. Through interviews and participant observation, I explored meanings of experiences from the perspectives of volunteers on organic farms in Argentina. Data analysis revealed an essential structure of "Opening to living in interconnectedness." Interconnectedness within organic volunteering is embodied in six essences of reconnecting, exchanging knowledge, being in nature, bonding with others, consciousness-raising, and transforming. This study contributes to new understandings of experience and reinforces what many volunteer tourism organizations' claim: that volunteer experiences improve global citizenship and participants desire to become involved in future activism.