Organic Volunteering: Exploring Understandings and Meanings of Experience
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Volunteer tourism, a sub-sector of the tourism industry, is growing at an accelerated pace subsequently creating 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). Furthermore, volunteer tourism has been shown to foster cross-cultural understanding between participants and hosts (Raymond & Hall, 2008; McIntosh & Zahra, 2008). However, researchers question the laudable aims of volunteer tourism; indicating the presence of this type of tourism creates social and power struggles within local destination communities (Guttentag, 2009, Sin, 2010). Higgins-Desbiolles (2006) claims the transformative capacities of tourism are overshadowed by industry attributes of tourism. To use tourism as a positive engine for social, cultural, environmental, and political change, it would be necessary to promote touristic experiences that encompass a transformative ethos. My exploration of organic volunteering within this thesis illuminates the transformative capacities of these touristic experiences and contributes to the expanding horizons of volunteer tourism literature. This hermeneutic phenomenological study explores experiences of organic volunteering and what these experiences mean to the volunteers. Gadamer’s (2004) hermeneutic phenomenology provided me the opportunity to develop a deep understanding of the meaning of organic volunteering experiences studied in Argentina. Using interviews and participation observation, I explored meanings of organic volunteering, while I also considered volunteers’ historicity, or pre-understandings, of these experiences. Data analysis revealed the emergent 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. My research reinforces what many organizations’ claim; volunteer experiences improve global citizenship and participants desire to become more involved in future activism upon their return home.