Volunteering in the Neoliberal Subjectivity: Repackaging Problematic Narratives of the Past

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Gunnarsdottir, Elsa


Mathers, Catherine

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This thesis seeks to analyze how Western volunteers today justify their experiences in Africa despite being aware of criticism. Outlining key moments in the history of English and American Philanthropy, this thesis seeks to investigate how volunteerism has become conceived of as such an important part of Western communities and identities. The research focuses on fieldwork in Taroudant, Morocco that investigates the ways volunteers describe their experiences in order to further understand this rationale. By identifying key characteristics of the millennial generation, this research has shown that the ways of rationalizing are constructs of a specific neoliberal subjectivity. This includes the coupling of pragmatic approaches to humanitarian issues with an argument that compassion is an imperative part of this activity. With specific focus on individual skill, and belief that compassion constitutes a type of skill, the neoliberal subject justifies that their presence is helpful to the communities in which they volunteer and that the experience can help strengthen personal skills. This neoliberal subjectivity has largely taken shape guided by influential narratives of the past that, for the purpose of this research, focuses specifically on NGO advertisements. This thesis argues that the stories volunteers share today, often on social media, recycle problematic narratives of the past. These reproduced narratives, and the consequent repackaging of the volunteering industry, allow for the maintenance of a hierarchal relationship between Africa and the West.





Gunnarsdottir, Elsa (2016). Volunteering in the Neoliberal Subjectivity: Repackaging Problematic Narratives of the Past. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/12012.

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