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Title: More Good Than Harm: Moral action and evaluation in international religious volunteer travel
Authors: Probasco, LiErin
Advisors: Wuthnow, Robert
Contributors: Sociology Department
Keywords: development
social interaction
volunteer tourism
Subjects: Sociology
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: How do people learn interaction rules for bridging vast differences in culture, class, and interpersonal power? I study transnational encounters during religious volunteer tourism between the U.S. and Nicaragua. Analyses draw on two years of fieldwork with two Christian relief and development organizations and over 220 interviews with U.S. and Nicaraguan aid participants. Personal connections between donors and recipients generate resources for international development programs. They can also disrupt efforts to distribute aid effectively and equitably. I argue that private transnational aid provision operates as a balancing act between a desire for interpersonal connections and a conviction that aid should be systematic. Chapters explain how orienting practices frame cross-national contact, how travelers and Nicaraguans experience and interpret humanitarian interactions, and how encounters shape claims of personal and social change. "Episodic" orientations promote the idea that spontaneous personal connections liberate individuals from the constraints of social inequality. Yet efforts to counter systematic inequalities shape these encounters, as when girls receive more long-term material and emotional support than boys. "Embedded" orientations emphasize the need to monitor and manage interpersonal intimacy to avoid reproducing patterns of dominance and dependence. I find emotional intimacy can both undermine and catalyze systematic aid provision programs. Nicaraguan responses to aid gifts appeal to travelers as either economic patrons or as fellow religious actors. Aid recipients using patron-client language emphasize their helplessness, while those using a religious model express personal agency. Finally, orientations shape claims about post-travel behavior. Travelers with episodic orientations speak of self-directed changes like spiritual growth, while those with embedded orientations focus on future engagement with a Nicaraguan partner community. Contrary to previous research, I find neither orientation helps travelers connect their experience to insights or action about poverty alleviation in their home communities. While aware of travel's reputation to "transform" lives, U.S. respondents largely use other language to describe its impact. They view travel as an opportunity to step outside their daily routines and re-examine the alignment of their values and actions. For adult travelers, religious volunteer tourism is both a means of assessing one's moral identity and an action taken to alleviate poverty.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Sociology

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