Volunteer Tourism: The lifestyle politics of international development, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Volunteer Tourism

The lifestyle politics of international development, 1st Edition

By Jim Butcher, Peter Smith


148 pages

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Just a generation ago the notion that holidays should be invested with ethical and political significance would have sounded odd. Today it is part of the lifestyle political landscape.

Volunteer tourism is indicative of the growth of lifestyle strategies intended to exhibit care and responsibility towards others less fortunate, strategies aligned closely with developing one’s ethical identity and sense of global responsibility. It sits alongside telethons, pay-per-click, Fair Trade and ethical consumption generally as a way to “make a difference”.

Volunteer tourism involves a personal mission to address the political question of development. It draws upon the private virtues of care and responsibility and disavows political narratives beyond this. Critics argue that this leaves the volunteers as unwitting carriers of damaging neoliberal or postcolonial assumptions, whilst advocates see it as offering creative and practical ways to build a new ethical politics. By contrast, this volume analyses volunteer tourism as indicative of a retreat from public politics into the realm of private experience, and as an expression of diminished political and moral agency.

This thought provoking book draws on development, political and sociological theory and is essential reading for students, researchers and academics interested in the phenomenon of volunteer tourism and the politics of lifestyle that it represents.


"Butcher and Smith have provided the definitive unpacking and critical analysis of the mainstreaming of volunteer tourism. Reading this book may change your life more than doing a gap year and will make you think about volunteer tourism differently and with insight."– Professor Kevin Hannam, Leeds Beckett University, UK

"Butcher and Smith’s fascinating study goes beyond the existing debates on volunteer tourism to consider the changing nature of contemporary politics and international development. They explore how volunteer tourism involves the search for social meaning against the shrinking of the public political imagination. Volunteer tourism assumes significance because of how politics and development have become re-orientated around projects of therapeutic self-realisation as opposed to national material transformation. Indeed they suggest that volunteer tourism outsources the responsibilities of cultivating global citizenship onto the South. The book raises important questions for those of us seeking to understand North-South relations and politics today." – Dr Vanessa Pupavac, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham, UK

Table of Contents

1. Introducing the lifestyle politics of volunteer tourism 2. From Peace Corps to Volunteer Holidays 3. Volunteer tourism in development perspective 4. The Personal and the Political in Volunteer Tourism 5. The lifestyle politics of volunteer tourism 6. Volunteer tourism and global citizenship 7. The Volunteers: Postcolonial, Neoliberal or Diminished Subjects? 8. Conclusion

About the Authors

Jim Butcher teaches at Canterbury Christ Church University, UK. His research interests lie in the sociology and politics of tourism.

Peter Smith teaches at St Mary's University, UK. His main areas of interest lie in the sociology of volunteer and ecotourism.

About the Series

Contemporary Geographies of Leisure, Tourism and Mobility

The aim of this series is to explore and communicate the intersections and relationships between leisure, tourism and human mobility within the social sciences.
It will incorporate both traditional and new perspectives on leisure and tourism from contemporary geography whilst also providing for perspectives from cognate areas within the development of an integrated field of leisure and tourism studies.
Also, increasingly, tourism and leisure are regarded as steps in a continuum of human mobility. Inclusion of mobility in the series offers the prospect to examine the relationship between tourism and migration, the sojourner, educational travel, and second home and retirement travel phenomena.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Developing Countries
TRAVEL / General