Global justice awareness? The journey towards transformational learning through international volunteering
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The opportunity to engage in international volunteering (IV) is a markedly privileged one that this thesis explores through the consideration of a complex range of factors and influences from the global to the personal in an effort to understand how volunteers make meaning of their experiences. IV encompasses a large range of organizations, many of which market volunteering abroad as a mutually beneficial experience for both the volunteer and the host community receiving the volunteers. Links to neocolonialism and neoliberalism, however, have illuminated ethical concerns about how transformation is experienced if host communities are used for the benefit of volunteers. This thesis undertook a mixed methods approach and analysis of three groups of volunteers: those who are currently volunteering, those who have recently returned, and those who have volunteered in years past. Through in-depth interviews and an open-ended survey, this thesis identified four phases of transformation that suggest IV can foster an awareness about global in/justice and that critical self-reflection plays a significant role. Using Mezirow’s theory of transformational learning compliments Bourdieu’s concept of habitus and embodied experience, which implies that volunteers need to be aware of their own habitus, recognizing they may contribute to both systems of injustice and justice. Using this theoretical strategy generated an account of IV as a doubled-edged sword, which signals that there is tension between personal transformation and social justice. Studying IV within a sociological context can contribute to knowledge about how IV programs are situated within a framework of service, influenced by tourism and development, and how they could be better operated within this framework to better foster volunteers’ awareness of inequality and global justice.