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Academic year: 2022



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In recent years volunteer tourism has become an increasingly popular form of travel. This has led to a commercialisation of the sector and an expansion of the number and type of volunteer sending organisations that provide opportunities for young people wishing to 'make a difference' during their gap-year. Consequently, critical literature is increasingly wary of the outcome of these programmes and questions the type of difference the volunteers can make.

This thesis builds on the premise that cross-cultural understanding should be the outcome of volunteer tourism, and argues that the commonly held perception of volunteers as development aid workers is unrealistic, considering their age and lack of skills. On this grounds, volunteer sending organisations are examined to gain an insight into how cross- cultural understanding can be facilitated based on the notion that a mere encounter between two different cultures does not necessarily lead to increased understanding. This is done by examining the practises of a Danish volunteer sending organisation, and illustrating how its volunteer training and programme structure can enhance cross-cultural awareness in participants.

In conclusion, volunteer sending organisations are recommended to provide preparation for their volunteers that incorporates Experiential Learning techniques encouraging reflection.

The content of the training should focus on shaping volunteer attitudes and providing skills and knowledge useful for the cultural context and type of activity the volunteer will engage in. They can also encourage cultural interaction and enhance cross-cultural understanding by sending volunteers in small groups, accommodating them with host families and setting a minimum timeframe for the duration of stay.


 Table  of  Contents              







1.5LIMITATIONS ... 4  

1.6STRUCTURE ... 5  

THEORY ... 6  




2.3.1 Sending organisations in the Danish volunteer market ... 9  


2.4.1 The notion of Othering ... 10  



2.6.1 The volunteer narrative ... 12  

2.6.2 Volunteer tourism and development theory ... 13  


2.7.1 Increasing tolerance and breaking stereotypes ... 14  


2.8.1 Volunteer attitude and unequal relationship ... 16  

2.8.2 Need for critical reflection ... 18  




3.1.1 Review of philosophy of science in social sciences ... 20  

3.1.2 Philosophy of science in tourism studies ... 21  

3.1.3 Methodological approach of this study ... 22  


3.3VALIDITY ... 24  

3.4RELIABILITY ... 25  




3.7.1 Thematisation and design ... 27  

3.7.2 Interview ... 29  

3.7.3 Transcription ... 29  

3.7.4 Analysis and reporting ... 30  


3.8.1 Training manual ... 30  

3.8.2 Website ... 31  

3.8.3 Blogs ... 31 Blog selection ... 32 Blog analysis ... 33  

3.9TRANSLATIONS ... 33  

3.10SUM-UP ... 34  











5.2.1 Promotional narrative ... 42  


5.3.1 Attitude ... 45  

5.3.2 Knowledge ... 47  

5.3.3 Skills ... 49  


5.4.1 Volunteers reflect on their experiences ... 51  

5.4.2 Breaking stereotypes and prejudices ... 54  



5.6.1 Social change ... 59  


5.7.1 Adaptation facilitated through cultural preparation ... 62  




6.1CONCLUSION ... 68  




List of abbreviations

FEC: Field Experience Course GC: Global Contact

MS: Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke


Part  1    

Problem  formulation  

1.1  Introduction  

In recent years, more and more young people have decided to travel abroad during their gap- year to 'make a difference', making volunteer tourism an increasingly popular form of travel (Guttentag, 2009). While the concept is not new, it is only recently that volunteering abroad has grown into an industry. There are an increasing number of organisations and private companies offering volunteer opportunities whereby people travel to foreign destinations, usually developing countries, where they join projects to help the local communities. But while the growth in quantity of volunteer tourists going abroad has risen over the years, there is a debate concerning the perceived quality of these volunteer projects.

The notion of quality refers to concerns the impacts these programmes have on the receiving host communities, the extent to which volunteers really contribute with something 'meaningful' as promised in the sending organisations' promotional, and whether the volunteer stream from North to South creates relationships reminiscent of colonial practises. These concerns are, however, often embedded in an understanding of volunteer tourism as a form of development aid.

Common to both literature and media, is the perception, that the goal of volunteer tourism primarily concerns the work being done. This perception is not undue considering how the sector has promoted its programmes. There has been a tendency of some volunteer agencies to suggest how important the volunteers are for the receiving host communities, and by mixing descriptions of poverty in the developing countries with statements of 'make a difference', insinuating that the volunteers can, in effect, be a solution for these types of problems (Simpson, 2004). This can lead to untenable expectations by volunteers and host communities alike and create a gap between expectations and realities (Palacios, 2010). It also contributes to the understanding of volunteer tourism as being a form of development aid.

Much debate and criticism have evolved around this idea that the volunteer work should contribute to effective help or development aid, emphasising service delivery and the transfer of knowledge and skills (Palacios, 2010).


Counter to this, the question has been raised as to whether the value of volunteer tourism is in the work itself. The suggestion that young gap-takers can be the solution to social and economic problems of the developing world has been deemed improbable, especially because of their young age and inexperience (Ingram, 2011).

Another perceived goal of volunteerism is that it should lead to increased cross-cultural understanding between the volunteer and host. Studies on volunteer tourism have found that this type of tourism can lead to intense social interactions, where engaging, genuine and mutually beneficial narratives are created between volunteer and host (McIntosh & Zahra, 2007). It has been argued that programmes emphasising the intercultural meeting can foster cross-cultural skills and global awareness, leading to increased tolerance, international solidarity and civic engagement (Sherraden et al., 2008). But although some have recognised the value of cross-cultural understanding, most of the existing literature is still dominated by the development aid goal (Palacios, 2010).

Given the age and inexperience of the volunteers, the volunteer programmes' attributes, in the context of development theory (more on this section 2.6.2), and the fact that many organisations do not state that they perform development work (Simpson, 2004), this study will discuss and build on the premise that cross-cultural understanding should be the primary goal of volunteer tourism. I.e. the impact and outcome of volunteer tourism should not be evaluated as contributing to larger development goals of developing countries, but rather on the small impacts the meetings between different cultures can bring about.

Focusing on cross-cultural understanding as the aim of volunteer tourism still calls for improvement to the sector. A meeting between two different cultures does not necessarily lead to an increased understanding. On the contrary, it has been argued that it can lead to misunderstandings and reinforcement of stereotypes (Raymond & Hall, 2008; Simpson, 2004). This is likely to happen when critical reflection is not part of the programme (Raymond & Hall, 2008), and when volunteers have not been properly prepared for their role, the local context and what to expect (Fee & Mdee, 2011).

While much of the existing literature has been about the positive and negative stances, little has been done to attempt to examine how volunteer tourism programmes can be developed to ensure that they benefit the involved parties (Raymond, 2008). Research in volunteer tourism is still in its infancy stage and so far the bulk of it has focused on the volunteers who go abroad. Little is known about the many sending organisations promoting and organising the programmes and how they can impact the outcome of the programmes (Benson, 2011).


According to Sherraden et al. (2008), the outcome of volunteer tourism, and whether it leads to increased cross-cultural understanding, depends on various factors including the volunteers' and sending organisations' attributes (Sherraden et al., 2008). As the number of volunteer sending organisations grows, there are an increasing number of questions surrounding the quality of their programmes and the role they can play in shaping the volunteer experience. It is therefore important to gain further insight into the sending organisations' practises to form a better understanding of how they can adjust and plan their programmes to promote cross- cultural understanding. On this basis, this study will explore the role of the sending organisations and how they can impact the outcome of the programme by imposing programme measures that can facilitate cross-cultural understanding.

While aspects such as volunteer preparation have been recommended by previous literature, this study seeks to contextualise how such training can be carried out and what other programme structures can be adjusted to facilitate cross-cultural understanding. This will be examined through a case study of a Danish non-governmental organisation, Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke, and their international volunteer programme, Global Contact. This organisation has been chosen because of its central focus on volunteer preparation and minimum requirements of duration of stay - features that may be conducive to cross-cultural understanding (Fee &

Mdee, 2011; Raymond & Hall, 2008). All volunteers travelling with Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke have to attend 5 weeks of preparatory training, and are required to volunteer for a minimum of 12 weeks. This is rather unique compared to many other sending organisations that neither provides preparation nor make demands on the volunteer time frame. The study is explorative in nature and should provide new insights that future research can build on, and other sending organisations can gain inspiration from.

1.2  Research  Question  

The principal aim of this study is to investigate the role that volunteer sending organisations can play in facilitating cross-cultural understanding in volunteer tourism. The main research question is:

How can volunteer sending organisations develop and manage volunteer tourism programmes that facilitate cross-cultural understanding?



1.3  Research  Objectives  

In order to answer the problem formulation, the research objectives are as follows:

(i) Explore excerpts of the existing literature on volunteer tourism and discuss the disparity between different perceptions of the goal of volunteer tourism.

(ii) Identify problems, as well as recommendations, regarding how volunteer programmes can increase cross-cultural understanding among their participants.

(iii) Examine the elements of Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke's volunteer programme that facilitate cross-cultural understanding and why.

(iv) Analyse the volunteer experience in the context of Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke's volunteer programme and in relation to the theory-based categories of importance in facilitating cross-cultural understanding.

(v) Relate the intended cross-cultural outcomes to the findings and determine key recommendations for sending volunteer organisations.

1.4  Problem  owners  

With the increase in popularity of volunteer tourism, the issues concerning the outcome of the programmes and their effect on cross-cultural understanding has growing relevance. Such knowledge is relevant, first and foremost, for the wide range of different volunteer sending organisations that are the focus of this study. This counts both the many commercial, and non- commercial sending organisations. It will also be applicable for potential volunteers and donors supporting the industry, including governments who fund the volunteers or support the sending organisations and not least the receiving host communities and local partners of cooperation. The study is also valuable for the academic community as it contributes to the knowledge on volunteer tourism, which can also benefit other researchers within the more general tourism sector who are engaged with cross-cultural issues.

1.5  Limitations  

There is an array of different types of volunteer programmes on offer, each catering to different segments of the market. This study will look at volunteer programmes for young people aged 18-25 years, which is the age group of the selected case. As the objective of this study is to examine the sending organisations, it will not discuss situations where volunteers choose to volunteer without the use of intermediaries.


Furthermore, the focus is on the volunteer sending organisation and how they can facilitate cross-cultural understanding through their programme structure and preparation of the volunteers, as these features are identified as unique to the chosen case. The study is therefore limited to exploring these elements and has not included their partnership approach with the local communities. The empirical data of the study provides insight into the behaviour and opinions of the sending organisation and the volunteers. It has not been within the scope of this study to include the receiving host communities.

Since the research is exploratory in nature, the data only takes a preliminary look at the requisite mechanisms for facilitating cross-cultural understanding.

1.6  Structure    

The study is divided into six Parts:

1. The first part consists of the introduction to the study and the problem formulation.

2. The second part introduces the theoretical foundation discussing the existing literature on volunteer tourism and the context of the study.

3. The third part consists of the methodological considerations and specification of research methods.

4. The fourth part presents the case study, Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke.

5. The fifth part presents and discusses the empirical data.

6. The sixth part concludes and makes suggestions for future research.


Part  2  


This section explores an excerpt of the current literature on volunteer tourism relevant to the empirical data of this study. Based on previous research, this part firstly introduces the development of volunteer tourism and compares it to general mass tourism. This is followed by an examination of the current literature on the impacts and value of volunteer work in relation to a) development work and b) intercultural understanding.


2.1  Defining  volunteer  tourism  and  host  communities  

The study of volunteer tourism is still relatively new and consequently academic research is in its infancy (Benson, 2011). One of the issues that researchers are still struggling with, is the fact that there is still no commonly agreed definition of the term ‘volunteer tourism’. It is being used broadly to encompass a variety of meanings, ranging from professionals working abroad in exchange of reimbursements and a ‘token pay’ such as UN volunteers (UNV, 2012) to short-term gap year travels for young, unskilled volunteers who pay for all expenses themselves.

One of the most cited definitions of volunteer tourism comes from Wearing (2001) who defines it as “…those tourists who, for various reasons, volunteer in an organized way to undertake holidays that might involve aiding or alleviating the material poverty of some groups in society, the restoration of certain environments or research into aspects of society or environment” (p. 1). Although this definition has been broadly used, it has also been deemed too limiting as a universal definition (Lyons & Wearing, 2008) because it confines volunteering to holidays or vacations, which might not always be the case, and it does not include the intercultural aspect of volunteer tourism, nor the importance of interaction between the volunteers and the host community (Lee & Woosnam, 2010). Most literature acknowledges this lack of a universal definition, and Benson (2011) encourages research that will set the boundaries of ‘what is’ and 'what is not’ volunteer tourism to define it universally.

This study is concerned with the growing body of volunteer tourism projects available to the young, unskilled population in industrialised countries, who volunteer abroad during their gap year. Henceforth, the term volunteer tourism will refer to this type of volunteers and will be restricted to the age group of 18-25 years.


Having defined the type of volunteers there is also a need to define different aims of programmes. Sherraden et al. (2008) distinguishes between programmes that emphasise the outcome of international understanding and those that emphasise development aid and humanitarian relief, although, they add, these goals often overlap (p. 400). While this study engages with the goal of cross-cultural understanding, as stated in the introduction, the goal of development aid predominates in previous research and both goals will be discussed further down to clarify their differences.

2.2  Historical  context  and  development  of  the  volunteer  tourism  sector  

Volunteer tourism is argued to have its roots in the organisation Service Civil International (SCI), which was set up in Europe in the early 1920s following the First World War. The founder, Pierre Cerresole, was horrified by the events of the war and wanted to create an organisation, which could enable volunteers to provide help for those in need (Tomazos, 2010). After Second World War similar organisations sprung up in the US, where, among others, the Peace Corps initiated a range of volunteer projects (Daldeniz & Hampton, 2011).

Others have connected the history of volunteer tourism to the missionary movements (Raymond & Hall, 2008), which resemble a similar concept of people helping others in need on a voluntary basis. Regardless of its origin, volunteer tourism has, since the 1990s, experienced marked growth and the sector has become increasingly commoditised as it has emerged as a new popular alternative travel, especially for young people taking a gap year (Guttentag, 2009).

The phenomenon of taking a gap-year has resulted in a fast growing industry of companies and organisations offering different forms of experiences for young people, who are in between education. The gap-year phenomenon is particularly popular in certain countries, such as the UK, Australia and Canada, and it is countries like these that turn out the most volunteer tourists (Lyon et al, 2012). There is no exact number specifying how many people travel abroad to volunteer. The fact that there is no agreed definition on the concept also complicates any attempt to count the volunteers. The Association of Tourism and Leisure Education calculated that the market had grown to 1.6 million volunteer tourists in 2008, contributing between USD 1.7-2.6 million (Tomazos, 2010). Such figures should be viewed with caution because it is so difficult to estimate, but even if the numbers are not correct, there is a general agreement between researchers that volunteer tourism has increased dramatically in recent years (Guttentag, 2009, p. 538).


2.3  The  role  of  sending  organisations  

The volunteer tourism market consists of an increasing number of organisations and companies that market and sell their volunteer products. Both commercial and non-profit agents will be referred to as volunteer sending organisations henceforth. Similar to the mass tourism industry, these volunteer sending organisations work as intermediaries who transform an available good by bundling raw components into a product that can be purchased and consumed (Page & Connell, 2009). These products consist of a variation of components such as work placement, accommodation, transport/flights, introduction/preparation, language courses and so on. Many of the volunteers are first time travellers and rely on these intermediaries for volunteering. By nature, the final product cannot be 'tried on' before consumption and this makes both the operation and type of volunteer sending organisation very important for the final outcome.

The structure of operation often includes several layers, where volunteers travel out with a sending organisation and are received by a separate host organisation that places the volunteers (Sherraden et al, 2008). The types of volunteer sending organisations vary;

although the majority of sending organisations are still non-profit organisations, the commercial segment is growing rapidly, and “evidence of a move towards the commodification of volunteer tourism is already at-hand with large tourism operators competing for a share of this new market” (Lyons & Wearing as cited in Guttentag, 2009, p.


Overall, the outcomes and impacts of volunteer tourism on the parties involved (including volunteers and receiving host communities) rely to a great extent on the attributes of the volunteer sending organisation and their institutional capacity1 (Sherraden et al, 2008). The sending organisation defines the goal of their programme, who participates, what type of partners they cooperate with, and the outcome depends on their ability to leverage individual capacity and shape volunteer impact (ibid). The type of sending organisations therefore plays an important role in shaping the outcome of the product. Despite this, few studies have engaged with how these organisations can facilitate different outcomes and it is an area that remains underexplored (Benson, 2011; Raymond & Hall, 2008; Sherraden et al., 2008).

1 The third factor of impact in Sherraden et al.'s model for impact are the volunteer attributes


2.3.1  Sending  organisations  in  the  Danish  volunteer  market  

Although it is very popular to take a gap-year in Denmark, little is known about the Danish volunteer tourism market. Current research on gap-year organisations is almost exclusively centred on studies from the UK (Lyon et al., 2012). This study has used www.udiverden.dk, a Danish website administered by the Danish Administration of Universities and Internationalisation, to create an overview of the market. The site provides a list of links to many of the sending organisations providing volunteer tourism experiences to Danes.

The Danish market also consists of a mix of non-government organisations and for-profit agencies, and the programmes at offer vary markedly. Important for the analysis below, it is noted that many of the Danish sending organisations offer short term volunteering (from two weeks duration), only few offers preparation for the volunteers and especially the commercial players seem to send the volunteers in large groups accommodated at volunteer camps.

2.4  Volunteer  Tourism:  a  morally  superior  alternative  to  mass  tourism?  

Volunteer tourism is considered a niche sector of regular mass tourism, and has been given a variety of names such as ‘sustainable’ and ‘alternative’ tourism. Although no widely accepted definition of alternative tourism exists, it is generally used to represent "a market- differentiated and an ideologically divergent form of tourism that is considered preferable to mass tourism and more sustainable" (McIntosh & Zahra, 2007, 541). There are different suggestions as to how volunteer tourism is distinguished from regular tourism, but it is often related to the tourists’ degree of involvement in the foreign culture. Looking at the conventional mass tourism industry, it has been argued that it is formed and controlled by Western society and a commodification process has lead to “the segregation and exclusion of local communities from participating in or sharing the process, functions and economic benefits of the industry” (Wearing & Gabrowski, 2011, p. 196). With an increasing number of tourists visiting the developing world, there has been a growing critique of how mass tourism interferes with and changes the local culture. This includes issues such as the commodification of the local culture, feelings of resentment or how staging of rituals for tourists can lead to the risk of losing these cultural rituals (ibid). A big influx of tourists can, by volume and presence, shape and possibly damage, the culture in the tourist-receiving communities. One of the oft-repeated concerns within tourism is the 'demonstration effect', which is the copy of behavioural patterns of tourists by the local population (Fisher, 2004).

Foreign tourists expose the locals to their different lifestyles and items of wealth, which on


some occasions inspire positive change, but are most commonly connected with negative impacts, leading to feelings of discontent when such consumption patterns and lifestyles are out of reach for the local communities (Wall & Mathieson as cited in Guttentag, 2009, p.


In trying to incorporate the elements of ethics and responsibility, other forms of tourism such as ecotourism, pro-poor tourism and volunteer tourism have emerged. These forms of tourism are said to avoid some of the ills of regular mass tourism and try to “ensure that the resource and destination impacts are minimized” (Wearing, 2001, p. 7). Consequently, volunteer tourism has received a lot of positive attention and has been promoted as “a morally superior alternative to mass tourism” and the volunteers have been labelled the “new moral tourists”

whom, opposed to the mass tourists, involve themselves in, and contribute to the local communities (Butcher as cited in Gray & Campbell, 2007, p. 465). According to Wearing (2001) volunteer tourism is mutually benefitting for both volunteer tourist and the receiving host communities, and promotes a genuine exchange between the two. But although volunteer tourism has received much praise and recognition, critical voices have also emerged.

Guttentag (2009) argues that this predominant focus from existing literature on the positive aspects has overlooked many of its potential negative impacts. He finds that much of the literature has focused on the ‘mutual benefits’ for both host and volunteer, but the studies have been based on the volunteers, not on the host communities. The critical voices and the concerns raised are important for developing and improving the volunteer tourism sector and will be discussed in more detail further below. On this line, the degree to which volunteer tourism stands as a morally superior alternative to mass tourism is questioned, and the reason to look more closely at the sending organisations is accentuated, in order to see if they can play a role in averting such negative impacts.

2.4.1  The  notion  of  Othering  

When discussing intercultural meetings in tourism studies the notions of authenticity and Othering are often brought up. Tourists are believed to consume and place relative value on their tourism experience based on the level of authenticity involved (White, 2007, p. 26). This authenticity often implies the pursuit of the Other, defined as "an equally homogeneous, but diametrically opposed set of people that are untainted by the violent orderings of modernity"

(Jack & Phipps as cited in Wearing & Gabrowski, 2011, p. 196).


In trying to cater to this presumed quest for authenticity, promotional tourist material has been found to capitalise on the concept of Othering by portraying destinations as 'real' and 'authentic' experiences, describing the local population as homogenous groups and generally hinging on differentiation mechanisms (White, 2007). Such simple illustrations of the Other may in effect create platforms of 'us' versus 'them', which pinpoints cultural differences without identifying any commonalities (Simpson, 2004). The presence of such notions is also important in volunteer tourism and will be explored further down.

2.5  Who  are  the  volunteers?    

The volunteer tourist usually comes from a developed country and volunteers in a developing country (Guttentag, 2009). Based on research from Europe and North America, gap-year volunteer tourists are found to be young, educated, affluent and white (Sherraden et al, 2008).

The preponderance of research in volunteer tourism has focused on the volunteers and their different motivations for volunteering.

Volunteer tourism has been considered an altruistically motivated form of tourism because the young people pay in order to go to a foreign country and lend a hand somewhere their help is needed. A Study by Alexander and Bakir (2011) on volunteer tourists’ motivation and expectations revealed that the key component is ‘engagement’, where engagement is defined as a form of interaction where the participants are connecting with the Other. The important factor for the volunteers was the fact that they were going somewhere to get involved and do something. But studies have shown that motives are not purely altruistic, but self-serving as well, as volunteers are also motivated by career and personal development (Wearing &

Gabrowki, 2011), and by the “opportunity to re-evaluate their core beliefs and values, as well as the intrinsic rewards gained from the volunteering experience” (Ingram, 2011, p. 215).

Motivational aspects such as having fun and going on an adventure are also part of the motivation, and Sherraden et al (2008) suggest that volunteers who are primarily motivated by their own benefits may have less to offer on their volunteer placements (p. 399).


2.6  Volunteer  tourism  in  the  context  of  development  aid  

Volunteer tourism is often set in relation to development aid, where the volunteers are regarded as a type of development workers who can ‘aid or alleviate material poverty of some groups in society’ (cf. definition in section 2.1). A great deal of the critical literature engages with the presumed miss-match between work performed by gap-year students and the


substantial task of aiding less developed countries. The following sections looks at volunteer tourism in the context of development.

2.6.1  The  volunteer  narrative  

The notion of volunteer tourists providing a form of development aid partly stems from the promotional material of the sending organisations, which is filled with statements of ‘needy’

communities in the developing world and how volunteers can ‘make a difference’ there (Simpson, 2004). In Simpson’s (2004) study of volunteer sending organisations’ promotional material, she focused on the commercial sector of the industry to identify the language and narrative used in their sales material. While there were few direct claims of doing

‘development work’ she found many allusions to this. Sales material was filled with statements of “making a difference”, “doing something worthwhile” and “contributing to the future of others” (p. 683), notions that, however, remained vague and were not properly contextualised. These statements were coupled with descriptions of host communities as ones with “poverty, disease, hunger and monotony” and “disadvantaged communities” (p. 684), illustrating the type of context in which they would "make a difference". Furthermore, a 'geography of need' was created to convince the volunteers that they could directly influence these societies:

We have carefully selected the projects that present the opportunity for you to be of genuine value to an indigenous community and to give something back

(Venture Co. as cited in Simpson, 2004, p. 686)

This is argued to shape the expectations of the participants in their roles as volunteers, but also encourage a perception of development as a simple matter that can be alleviated through the volunteering of young, unskilled volunteers. Simpson (2004) argues that although the word ‘development’ is sparsely used, the message is thinly disguised. This is supported by Palacios (2010) who believes that the use of this 'helping narrative' consequently leads to the colonial connotations on which much of the volunteer critique is based. It also shapes the volunteers' expectations about their contribution, which may not be met, and can create a gap between expectations and reality.

A relevant question becomes whether this helping narrative is used because the sending organisations' goal of volunteer tourism is development aid, or whether it is an outcome of the commercialisation of the sector. Guttentag (2009) suggests that the predominant theme of


volunteer motivations in the literature has caught the attention of volunteer sending organisations that are increasingly trying to satisfy the needs of the volunteers as a marketing strategy. According to Fee and Mdee (2011), the volunteer sending organisations are not lone offenders in drawing on such market hooks, but they do invoke the suggestion that volunteers - regardless of skills - are able to make a difference to poverty and deprivation. They declare,

It is the reinforcement of this myth that is perhaps one of the most problematic aspects of the volunteer tourism encounter and contributes to an over-expectation on the volunteer’s part of their own direct impact, and a seeming disregard for a need to learn about and respect other ways of doing and being.

(Fee & Mdee, 2011, p. 225)

2.6.2  Volunteer  tourism  and  development  theory  

So how does volunteer tourism relate to development aid theory, and does it have a place there? In order to find out whether volunteer tourism follows good development principles Ingram (2011) examined current development models and juxtaposed them with the volunteer tourism models to see if the volunteer sending organisations’ claims of "contributing in a meaningful way", are more than just catchy slogans (p. 211).

The development discourse, which is dominated by Western thinking, has evolved from modernisation theory, which claimed superiority of the ‘developed West’ over the

‘underdeveloped Third world’, placing the ‘Third world’ in a role of dependency.

Development in the 'Third world' was considered to be contingent by the aid and transfer of knowledge by the West. This conceptualisation of development has changed dramatically and current development models are now based on empowerment principles of building capacities in partnerships with local communities (Ingram, 2011, p. 217). Especially during the past two decades, NGOs have used these models that apply a bottom-up approach, where participation is carried out in long-term partnerships and where the locals are the initiators of the actions.

This view places the local communities in a central role when defining and acting upon development issues.

In opposition to this model, Ingram (2011) finds that volunteer tourism promotes a simplistic understanding of development. Based on Simpson's study (2004), she argues that the volunteer narrative portrays development as something one should just ‘get on with’ as expressed in the sales material of a sending organisation:


We provide the materials and get on with it, alongside local people

(Teaching and Projects Abroad as cited in Simpson, 2004, p. 685).

According to Ingram (2011) such attitude presumes that western volunteers can model and influence development, externalising the development process. And similar to Simpson (2005), Ingram argues that the promotional material creates spaces of need for the volunteer rather than defining the specific needs the volunteer assist in meeting (p. 218). Such approach seems to “ignore the root cause of poverty and inequality [and] [i]nstead, volunteerism propagates a public myth of development, one of simplicity, where participation and good intentions are considered enough and the use of unskilled labour is validated as the ‘solution’”

(Ibid, p. 218-219). This view is supported by Palacios (2010) who argues that the development aid goal is both unrealistic and undesirable. It is unrealistic because of the volunteers' lack of skills, their questionable motivations and the short timeframe involved.

Moreover, it is undesirable because of the negative outcomes it can produce, such as role ambiguity among the volunteers (this will be discussed further in section 2.8.1), public scepticism and accusations of neo-colonial traits.

2.7  Cross-­‐cultural  understanding  

As much of the literature on volunteer tourism has been monopolised by the development aid goal, it has been suggested that “volunteer tourism academics should consider reframing their perspectives and incorporate the goals of international understanding and intercultural learning to their research agendas" instead (Palacios, 2010, p. 864). The purported goal of cross-cultural understanding is not new but has - perhaps because of the commercialisation of the sector - been underexposed as a valuable outcome. The following examines how volunteer tourism can bring about positive social impacts in the form of increased intercultural understanding.

2.7.1  Increasing  tolerance  and  breaking  stereotypes  

Cross-cultural issues between the volunteer and the host communities have only just started to be examined in the literature (Wearing & Gabrowski, 2011; Lee & Woosnam, 2010). It can be difficult to measure, but increased cross-cultural understanding has nonetheless been assumed to bring about desirable outcomes. According to McIntosh & Zahra (2007), interaction and exchange of narrative can lead to an increased understanding of the world and can be mutually beneficial for the host and the volunteer.


It has been proposed that a prerequisite for cross-cultural understanding is the process of intercultural adaptation, defined as "the process whereby people adapt their behaviour to facilitate understanding in cross-cultural understandings" (Reisinger as cited in Wearing &

Gabrowski, 2011, p. 199) and that realistic expectations are key to achieving a greater ease of adaptation (ibid).

Compared to conventional mass tourism, volunteers stay at the same location on average for much longer and are more likely to gain a deeper insight into local practises. Through working and living closely with the foreign culture they are able to engage in a cultural exchange and both experience and learn about the Other. Beyond gaining a deeper and more enriched cultural understanding, Lee and Woosnam (2010) suggest that volunteers may bring these insights with them and become global citizens more partial to involvement in changing the world. They argue that through direct interaction with people who are less affluent, volunteers are considered to gain a better comprehension of world matters, such as poverty. In this way, volunteer tourism has the potential to raise social consciousness, and become a platform contributing to peace and broader global justice movements (Conran, 2011). But as addressed previously, such outcomes will depend to a large degree on the sending organisations' goals and aims of their programmes.

The values ascribed to cross-cultural understanding are intangible; they are not monetary and are difficult to measure. In this sense volunteer tourism and the assumed benefits that come from cross-cultural understanding can be explained as a positive externality with social benefits exceeding the private supply.

An important part of what comes out of voluntourism is social capital: It breaks down stereotypes. For the traveller, it can help you retool and rethink your life philosophy, and the local people end up with a different image of foreigners

(Elliot, 2008, as cited in Guttentag, 2009, p. 545)

This view is supported by Palacios (2010). He argues that we have to understand volunteer tourism through these 'intangible outcomes'. In his study of students volunteering abroad he found evidence of volunteer-host encounters that went beyond mere amiability, but were friendships with deep conversation and reciprocity. He argues that "the intercultural relationships born out of these micro-scenarios have a significant value" (p. 872) and such close cultural contact can lead to "strong economic, social and learning outcomes for both


hosts and students" (ibid). These cross-cultural experiences can be a valuable source of cultural learning and respect, inspiration and appreciation leading to feelings of solidarity and civic engagement (McIntosh & Zahra, 2007).

2.8  The  possibility  of  cross-­‐cultural  misunderstanding  

Using volunteer tourism as a way to foster cross-cultural awareness and understanding may, according to the above, seem like an ideal educational process, but does it always happen?

Raymond and Hall (2008) argue that the process of cross-cultural understanding is not automatic and social interaction between cultures may not always lead to a genuine awareness. The volunteer tourist experience can, in fact, lead to a reinforcement of previously formulated expectations such as assumptions that “host communities accept their poverty”

(Raymond & Hall, 2008, p. 533). This is because ‘seeing’ does not equal ‘knowing’ and merely facilitating contact with the Other does not break down assumptions or stereotypes - in fact there is a danger they may be strengthened instead (ibid). This can lead to a deepening of the dichotomies between ‘them' and 'us’, if the volunteer stay is used to confirm, rather than question, pre-conceived perceptions.

Lyon et al. (2012) stress that the proliferation of the gap-year market and the increasing commodification of volunteer tourism products have made it questionable whether volunteer tourism provides a sustainable alternative to mass tourism. They contend that the linking of volunteer tourism to global citizenships remains empirically unsupported, and question that the volunteers' experiences can be the basis for a change of world view or for less racist or stereotypical perception of the Other (p. 373). The following examines some of the problematic aspects in the meeting between cultures.

2.8.1  Volunteer  attitude  and  unequal  relationship  

An oft-debated issue in volunteer tourism regards the attitude of the volunteer and the perception of their role in the host community. The problem arises when the volunteer takes on a role as an 'expert', which might be inappropriate considering their (lack of) experiences or qualifications (Fee & Mdee, 2011; Raymond & Hall, 2008; Simpson, 2005; Wearing 2001).

An example is when volunteers initiate projects, which may not be needed by the locals or may lead to discontent. In Sin's (2010) study she describes how the installation of solar panels by volunteers became a source of unsettling power hierarchies and unhappiness in a village.


The solar panels were installed to provide electricity for computers that the volunteers had brought. In the end, the computers made little impact and an internal power struggle over the control and access to the solar panels emerged, causing much unhappiness (p. 990).

Accordingly, Sin argues that the lack of knowledge among the volunteers may unwillingly lead to negative impacts. She also argues that volunteer tourism involving the handing out of presents and money can lead to perceptions of the foreigner as a bestower of gifts. This may lead to a relationship of dependency where the receivers will come to expect that things like, infrastructural developments, for example, are provided by external agencies for free (ibid).

In relation to this concept, volunteer tourism has in many cases been likened to neo- colonialism, with the perception that Western knowledge can play a 'saviour' role (Fee &

Mdee, 2011, p. 228) and may be seen as racially and culturally superior (Raymond & Hall, 2008, p. 531). Sin (2010) argues that the relationship in volunteerism is unequal to begin with, as the volunteer is put in a position of power when they are coming down to 'care'2, implying a position of privilege and power (p. 986). She goes on to describe this as a paradox because

[...] the call for responsibilities based on universal justice, or ‘‘sameness” between people despite the distance, is itself continuously placing the ‘‘same people” into distinct categories of the ‘‘rich” and therefore ones who need to assume responsibilities; and the

‘‘poor” and therefore ones who will always remain on the receiving ends of responsible actions.

(Sin, 2010, p. 988)

Erikson Baaz (as cited in Fee & Mdee, 2011) also found attitudes of superiority in volunteers who were not aware of the context they were operating in and believed they knew the answers (p. 228), which is not helpful for building respectful relationships between host and volunteer.

According to Fee and Mdee (2011) the volunteer attitude is part of what determines the process of cross-cultural understanding. Based on literature on personal attitudes in development practitioners, they suggest that the experience between the volunteer and host can be improved when expectations and attitudes are managed more effectively, and that volunteers need to be open, willing to learn, and slow to judge (p. 228). This can be done through training and preparation of volunteers prior to their arrival. Simpson (2005) suggests that the uncritical adoption of a position as an expert, and the powerful inequalities framed by

2 This is based on Sin's (2010) finding of many volunteers performing social and caretaking work.


it, can be avoided by incorporating greater levels of reflection during the learning process, which will be discussed below.


2.8.2  Need  for  critical  reflection  

According to Simpson (2004; 2005), the confirmation of stereotypes is the likely outcome when volunteer sending organisations promote simplistic views of the Other. In her study she found sweeping generalisations in the descriptions of the receiving host destinations and these were continued throughout the volunteer experience because of the lack of critical engagement (Raymond & Hall, 2008; Simpson, 2004). If the focus is on cultural explanation alone without addressing the structural relationships between communities, volunteers will retain a myopic concentration on the individual rather than an increased understanding of some of the global mechanisms, according to Simpson (2004). Furthermore, she argues that for the cultural meeting to be an educational process, volunteer organisations cannot rely on social interaction alone and need to include interpretation and critical reflection in the process (Simpson, 2005).

On similar lines, Raymond (2008) argues volunteers should be provided with opportunities to reflect on their behaviours, think critically, and not just 'experience'. He argues that while his, and other studies, suggest that cross-cultural understanding and a sense of global citizenship is possible, the volunteers need to engage in deeper reflections about their actions and the larger issues surrounding the programme for it to have long-term effects on the lives of the volunteers and their worldview (Raymond, 2008, pp. 54-55). Fee and Mdee (2011) suggest, that such critical reflection need also include the volunteers' ability to reflect upon the validity of their own views and how well these views fit into the new context they operate in. Such reflections can be included through Experiential Learning techniques, according to Raymond and Hall (2008).

Following Kolb's Experiential Learning Theory, Experiential Learning is "the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience" (Kolb & Kolb, 2005). This specific theory is implemented by the case in this thesis and is therefore considered important. Kolb's Idealised Learning cycle, figure 1, illustrates how concrete experiences are the basis of reflections and observations. Such reflections are transformed into abstract conceptualisation from which new implications for action can be drawn, actively tested and become the basis for creating new experiences (Kolb & Kolb, 2005, p. 2).

Therefore, in order for learning to take place, it is important that the participants reflect on their experiences.


Figure 1. Learning cycle

(MS, 2010, p. 6)

Evidence from studies of other educational forms3 have emphasised the need for 'experience' to be part of the educational process (Krnas & Roarke, as cited in Simpson 2005, p. 464), but Simpson (2005) finds such active processing "to be woefully missing from gap year programmes" (p. 464).

2.9  Building  responsible  programmes  

It is questioned whether volunteer tourism experiences reduce the way we Other cultures of developing countries, despite rhetoric linking volunteer tourism with global citizenship (Lyons et al., 2012, p. 373). If volunteer tourism leads to cross-cultural misunderstanding rather than a raised awareness and global consciousness, it might be hard to distinguish the sector as alternative to conventional mass tourism. But it has also been recognised that volunteer sending organisations can play a role in mitigating and avoiding such cultural misunderstandings in volunteer tourism. Therefore, Raymond and Hall (2008) call for a greater examination of this role, to gain a better understanding on how cross-cultural understanding can be facilitated.

3 I.e. other than volunteer training


Part  3  


The purpose of this section is to account for the methodology that underlies the empirical study and to explain the implementation of the method. It is therefore relevant to reflect upon and explain the philosophy of science on which the study is based. This will be followed by an account of how the empirical data was obtained and the considerations and reflections of the process.

3.  1  Philosophy  of  science  

This section discusses the underlying principles of research traditions. Firstly, different paradigms in philosophies of science will be reviewed, and secondly there will be a discussion specifically on the paradigms present in tourism studies. This will lead to an explanation of the methodology of choice for this study.

3.1.1  Review  of  philosophy  of  science  in  social  sciences  

Philosophy of science is concerned with the assumption, methods and implications of science.

Throughout history, one of the most dominant and influential philosophies of science has been the positivist paradigm (Delanty & Strydom, 2003a). Broadly speaking, the positivist philosophy deems that an objective reality exists, which is arrived at independent of personal, subjective elements or ethical self-reflection (Delanty, 2005, p. 12). The empirical is given the

‘supreme value’. The positivists focus on existence, reality or nature (Delanty & Strydom, 2003a, p. 15), and rely mainly on quantitative data for verifiability of reality.

The dominance of positivism in the sciences has been challenged throughout the 20th century and positivism itself has gone through major internal transformations, such as the shift from an inductive approach to the neo-positivist deductive approach. An important actor in this methodological shift was Karl Popper (1902-94), who addressed the problem of induction4. He dismissed that inferences from single statements could become universal theories. Instead he proposed that systems should be tested and that the criterion of demarcation should be falsification, i.e. he contended that while a singular statement could not translate to a universal truth, a singular statement can contradict such truth (Popper, 1934, pp. 42-45). This

4 The problem of induction is ”[t]he question whether inductive inferences are justified, or under what conditions” (Popper (1934) in Delanty and Strydom, 2003, p. 42).


has been the instigator of a research tradition with hypothesis testing and rigid use of statistical measures.

Critical theory

Critical theory developed as an objection to the positivists’ rigid, quantitative and statistical measures, their logical empiricism, and their claim to objectivity and value-freedom (Delanty

& Strydom, 2003b, p. 208). The positivistic process of developing quantified measures has been accused of being inappropriate for the creation of knowledge in the social sciences as it strips the context of its meaning. The interpretivist philosophy (a broad term, which encompasses a number of paradigms) focuses instead on the study of meanings and experiences of human beings. Interpretivists believe that the social world is constructed by the people living in it and hence differs from the world of nature (Williamson, 2006). This leads to a very different research approach that often relies on qualitative methods to interpret and understand an ever-changing world.


Constructivists believe that social reality is partly constituted by science. Social science is “a construct designed to produce knowledge of something other than itself but is forever confined to the limits of its own methodology. Constructivism therefore entails a degree of

‘reflexivity’” (Delanty, 2005, p. 137). Within constructivist belief are the social constructivists who are concerned with how people construct the world they live in, focusing on research concepts such as cultural values. It accentuates the fact that “research is conducted in a world where language, concepts and well-formed disciplinary rules already exist. These are not universal but vary across time and place so that different cultural ensembles sustain different recipes for truth and knowledge” (Tribe, 2006, p. 361). Reality depends on what individual human experience and is therefore socially constructed. Social constructivists are specifically engaged with discourse analysis and the shared meanings that reflect social constructions (Williamson, 2006).

3.1.2  Philosophy  of  science  in  tourism  studies  

Studies of research journals and articles in the tourism research field have uncovered heavy use of pure quantification and a dominance of a positivist research approach (Tribe, 2006).

While evidence exists of a recent trend in tourism research to increasingly make use of


qualitative data and include reflexive and critical academic enquiry (Pritchard et al, 2011), the dominant method is still positivistic.

A critical response to the dominance of the positivistic approach has emerged. Pritchard et al.

(2011) argues there is a dire need for critical research in tourism studies which is political, value-led, and “regards ethical obligations as intrinsic to its enquiry” (p. 947). He believes that “the tourism management community is rooted in neo-liberal philosophies and dominated by a drive for industry-oriented solutions which seek to enhance and reinforce the existing systems” (Pritchard et al., 2011, p. 946). Coming from a social constructivist approach Tribe (2006) opposes the dominance of the current discourse in tourism studies. He contends that due to the power of discourse, it is possible for the dominant positivist discourse in tourism to sustain a regime of truth, which need not be the absolute truth. He scrutinises the congruence between the ‘phenomenal world of tourism’ and its ‘knowledge-constructed world’ and explores how the different understanding and approaches applied by the positivists and the interpretivist leads to different knowledge on tourism. He argues the world of tourism is not found by researches, but is constructed and limited by a ‘Knowledge Force-Field’ which is defined as the “factors which mediate in the process where the phenomenal world of tourism is translated into its known world” (Tribe, 2006, p. 362). It is the individual researcher who decides what to study and how to do it and the individual will inevitably be influenced by his own pre-conditioned knowledge and values.

3.1.3  Methodological  approach  of  this  study  

This study is based on a social constructivist approach. It will seek an interpretive understanding of the study content and apply critical theory to understand and contribute towards a change of society. It is based on the understanding that the values, outcome and impact of volunteer tourism are not a single truth in itself, waiting to be discovered. Volunteer tourism is socially constructed in the interplay between the participants such as the volunteers, sending organisations and the receiving host organisation. Impacting or altering these players can influence the outcome. The study engages with the examination of the 'tools' or 'ways' to increase cross-cultural understanding as the outcome, i.e. valuing social and cultural outcomes that can be produced in the transformation of the individuals engaging in cultural encounters. These are 'soft' values, which cannot be measured by number nor be monetised.

The researcher acknowledges the fact that the outcome of the study, i.e. the knowledge gained on tourism, and the selection of topic, case and research question, will be influenced by the


Knowledge Force-Field of the researcher as described by Tribe (2006). This specifically relates to the researcher's background at Copenhagen Business School, study of service management and work experience in the volunteer tourism sector. The choice of topic and direction is furthermore influenced by the researchers previous education in development studies and by working in a development organisation. Truth and reality is subject to the social context, where the creation of meaning is dependent on the individual’s subjective realisations and interpretation. Likewise, the knowledge gathered from the informants in this study will also be based on their subjective interpretation of the truth.

Finally, this study will apply a deductive approach where the literature reviewed provides theoretical background to the study, and defines the discourse of what is considered to be relevant knowledge within the field.

3.2  Research  Method  

In order to investigate how volunteer sending organisations can facilitate cross-cultural understanding, this study conducted a case study. Case studies allow for in depth investigation of how people act and interact with each other within their own physical surroundings (Maaløe, 2002, p. 96). The case study is considered suitable when the understanding of the phenomenon requires an investigation of the context in which it is happening (Yin, 2009, p.

18) and when the research question requires the answer of a “how” question in relation to contemporary events, in which the researcher has no control over those who are investigated (ibid, p. 13), which is the case for this study. The chosen case is a Danish volunteer sending organisation, Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke, and the training and preparation practises of their programme.

Due to limited previous knowledge on volunteer sending organisations, the case study will be descriptive in nature and shed new light on practises and outcomes performed by the Danish volunteer sending organisation. The single case study is chosen because of the uniqueness of the practises of the chosen case (Yin, 2009, p. 47). The researcher is not aware of any other sending organisation conducting such lengthy preparation of volunteers and wants to shed light on this practise and its relevance in facilitating cross-cultural understanding.

The chosen method will allow for an examination of the volunteer training as well as the programme structures of Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke, which can be juxtaposed with the empirical data on the volunteers and their experiences. Jointly, this can give an insight into how volunteer sending organisations actively can model their programmes in a way that can influence cross-cultural understanding as an outcome for the participants.



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