International volunteers at a Costa Rican organic farm : sheepish volunteers, proud tourists and unwitting developers
Zavitz, Katherine J.
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This thesis analyzes the practices and experiences of two groups of Canadian volunteers who visited the organic fanning and "alternative development" project ofFinca la Flor (FLF) in central Costa Rica. Using both participant observation and in-depth interviews with volunteers and other people involved with FLF, I examine volunteers' understandings of their involvement with the fann. I argue that three discursive fonnations are instrumental in shaping this particular volunteering encounter. Specifically, interpretation of these Canadian volunteers' experiences inspires the argument that the emerging practice of international volunteering (or voluntourism) exists at the intersection of discourses of development, volunteering and tourism, all of which both reflect and maintain problematic North-South relationships. The analysis shows that in spite ofFLF's construction as an (alternative / sustainable) international-development project, and in spite of volunteers' initial conceptualization of their trip as "volunteering," volunteers tend to act and describe their time at FLF in ways that look more like tourism than like volunteer labor or international development. Likewise, although FLF claims to principally be focused on alternative development, and merely to open up this authentic development space to volunteers for their participation, the organization in both practice and discourse seems primarily to construct a tourist experience and cater to the needs of foreigners as tourists. Discourses of development and volunteering do infonn the practices offann personnel and volunteers at FLF, but they become subordinated to the more dominant discourse of tourism as the volunteers' and fann management's ideals of development and volunteering capitulate to become focused on satisfying volunteers' (perceived or "real") touristic desires. The FLF participants I studied may have entered the encounter as volunteers, but they departed the site having been tourists.