The Voluntourist Gaze: Framing volunteer tourism experiences as portrayed in Facebook


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Virginia Tech


The purpose of this paper is to begin to analyze the discourse of volunteer tourism. More specifically, a holistic examination of the hermeneutic circle of volunteer tourism that takes into consideration the messages being communicated by volunteer tourism organizations, the voluntourist's interpretation and consumption of the messages, and in turn the re-distribution of the messages via social media using photographs and comments.

The sending organization pre-trip materials were reviewed to determine if volunteer tourism participants experienced a voluntourist gaze and subsequently captured similar images as marketed by the sending organization, thus completing the hermeneutic circle. Using grounded theory, photographs were coded to flush out underlying themes and patterns. These themes and patterns were incorporated into semi-structured interviews that were conducted, using a purposive sample of participants in a volunteer tourism experience with a student volunteer organization, to document the experience of the voluntourist. Underlying patterns further studied included: tourist gaze (Urry, 1990) vs. family gaze (Haldrup and Larsen, 2003), characterizations of hosts (Caton & Santos, 2008), and the characterizations of other images (Schmallegger et al., 2010) utilizing content and semiotic analysis. These results were triangulated with the interview responses to interpret the story shared on Facebook. Additionally, Barthes (1977) theory of anchorage and relay was utilized to analyze the photographs uploaded onto Facebook and the related captions and comments to reveal the story shared.



gaze, photograph, Facebook, Voluntourist