Hard Work, Helping or a Holiday? The politics of fun and friendship within ‘neocolonial’ volunteering programmes

Authors: Ruth Judge*, University College London
Topics: Social Geography, Cultural Geography, Tourism Geography
Keywords: youth, volunteering, emotion, affect, resistance
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Studio 6, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores the politics of fun and friendship within short volunteer tourism trips involving young people from non-elite backgrounds. The trips, run by youth groups based on London council estates and travelling to sub-Saharan Africa, are framed as experiences which catalyse the transformation of young volunteers into grateful, aspirational and motivated subjects, through experiences of ‘helping’ and working hard. Thus, two ‘neocolonial’ currents run through the trips: firstly, diffuse ideals of charity in the global south which reflect a renewed ‘popular humanitarian’ imaginary (Mostafanezhad, 2013); and secondly, the pernicious drive to reform young people in the global north who are understood through classed and racialised tropes as deviant and apathetic ‘urban youth’. But in practice, did young people accept the call to transform themselves through hard work and helping needy ‘others’?

This paper argues that young people's ‘friendship politics’ (Wood, 2012) and performances around fun questioned neocolonial logics in multiple ways. Young volunteers claimed they deserved leisure in the face of pressures to reform. Their investments in friendship with fellow volunteers spoke of collectivist emphases which exceeded ideals of individual betterment. Through nascent friendships with African youth, volunteers moved beyond charitable relations to connect through affinities of gender, age and personality, and shared experiences of urban vulnerability. However, questions remain: did fleeting, resistive desires for equality and justice reconfigure power geometries, or were they subsumed into logics of oppression? Through ambivalent reflections around whether to claim these performances as ‘decolonial’, we can explore how performance, affect and politics relate.

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