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Dissertation Title:

Image Over Impact: The Mythology of Voluntourism


Randall Ulyate

Date, Time & Place:

July 21, 2022 at 11:00 am


This theoretical dissertation aims to decolonize the voluntourism industry through a critical, depth psychologically-informed lens. By addressing the cultural complexes founded in white supremacy that inform the voluntourism industry, this dissertation explores how young American adults engage in neocolonial practices through performative voluntourism programs disguised as legitimate humanitarian efforts. The thesis asserts that the voluntourism industry prioritizes image over impact and that the mythology of American voluntourism is based on neocolonial attitudes, American exceptionalism, xenophobia, and the white savior complex, and that participants may be wholly unaware of their place in this myth. This dissertation examines the motivations of the voluntourist, and demonstrates how these motivations are often at odds with the way the system of voluntourism functions. By identifying the underlying cultural complexes and personal motivations, examining the current voluntourism industry and participants, it is then possible to suggest a decolonized narrative for volunteering and tourism as separate entities. The goal is that people drawn to the voluntourism industry might move away from neocolonialism so that communities can be served by volunteers who are engaging in authentic, sustainable, and mutually beneficial cultural exchange.

  • Program/Track/Year: Mythological Studies, I, 2016
  • Chair: Dr. David Odorisio
  • Reader: Dr. Mary Watkins
  • External Reader: Pippa Biddle
  • Keywords: Voluntourism, Altruism, Cultural Complex, Narcissism, White Savior, Ethical Tourism