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Pedagogical Encounters and Volunteer Abroad in Nicaragua Open Access


Other title
transnational feminism
volunteer abroad
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
MacDonald, Katherine M
Supervisor and department
Dorow, Sara (Department of Sociology)
Examining committee member and department
Luhmann, Susanne (Women and Gender Studies)
Ruetalo, Victoria (Modern Languages and Cultural Studies)
Caine, Ken (Department of Sociology)
Shultz, Lynette (Education)
Andreotti, Vanessa (Education, UBC)
Department of Sociology

Date accepted
Graduation date
2016-06:Fall 2016
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This dissertation examines encounters in volunteer abroad programs in Nicaragua from a transnational feminist perspective. Focussing on these programs as pedagogical projects, I outline the distinctly different pedagogical logics that inform Nicaraguan hosts, North American volunteers, and volunteer-sending organizations, respectively. I suggest several factors are at stake in these encounters. By focusing on encounters, we can begin to see the possibilities in volunteer abroad encounters that the critical and well-established literature often overlooks. Drawing on in-depth interviews of Nicaraguan and North American participants as well as analysis of institutional structures and discourses of volunteer abroad, I look at how both hosts and volunteers experience volunteer abroad as it happens. This focus provides three main contributions to the current literature. The first is to trace the move from development discourses to those of self-actualization and transformation through cultural immersion. I demonstrate that volunteer abroad programs imagine their efficacy through a neoliberal lens of individualized transformation of the volunteer, rather than through location within and relationship to community. This neoliberal, individualized perspective of pedagogical transformation positions volunteers as those who are transformed, and hosts as objects that provoke this transformation. Yet, hosts see the possibility for political transformation and I trace how these two perspectives encounter one another. Second, I show that hosts and volunteers both emphasize the importance of “proximity” to volunteer abroad experiences, yet hold quite different understandings of proximity and its purported promise of transformation. The focus in volunteer abroad programming on volunteers, on cultural immersion and being close-to as a method for learning, and on the narrowly cast caring role of local hosts obscures the emotional and intellectual labour that hosts put into volunteer abroad. Finally, this dissertation draws on both critical pedagogy and psychoanalytic understandings of education to trouble the learning in volunteer abroad as linear and predictable. While much of the current literature concerned with learning in volunteer abroad traces “outcomes” of learning this dissertation troubles the idea of learning as that which we can easily plan for through encounters, or can easily predict. I draw both on volunteer and host experiences to demonstrate the ways that neat, neoliberal frameworks of transformation are troubled in the context of encounters themselves as they are lived. Importantly, this troubling of pedagogical frameworks was noted by both hosts and volunteers. Each of these critical interventions is made possible through the inclusion of hosts’ voices.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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