This paper examines the motivations, goals, and expectations of the voluntourists and how these pre-determined attitudes impact the host community members. I utilize interviews and participant observation to measure how the volunteer’s attitudes affect the overall experience of the host community through a qualitative case study. An important part of my study focuses on the sale of voluntourism as a commodity and how this affects the exchanges between the voluntourists, the host community, and the organizations. I construct a theoretical framework by combining the theories of commodification, recognition, and reciprocity. Under the current neoliberal regime, money can be made from anything and everything. Even the act of doing service has been commodified. Volunteering has melded with the tourism industry, forming a complex type of alternative tourism that is heatedly debated. I argue that voluntourism’s negative stigma has pushed organizations to better define their commodity, and as a result the volunteers become more aware of their position in the host community. Voluntourists must accept their role as simply an extra set of helping hands. In doing so, the host community members and voluntourists are able to maintain a healthy relationship in which both parties understand the reciprocal exchange. In order to truly ‘make a difference,’ volunteers must acknowledge their true motives for participation and ensure that the recipient communities do not feel a sense of shame, humiliation, or inferiority as a result of the exchange. The best volunteers approach their voluntourism experience with few expectations – simply the desire to learn and help.


Matsuzawa, Setsuko


Sociology and Anthropology


Inequality and Stratification | Service Learning | Sociology | Tourism


Volunteer, Tourism, Voluntourism, NGOs, Commodification, Reciprocity, Recognition, Exchange, Neoliberalism, Travel

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2015 Jaime R. Parfitt