Disaster, Displacement, and Voluntourism: Helping Narratives of College Student Volunteers in Post-Katrina New Orleans

Smithson, Mary Elizabeth (2014) Disaster, Displacement, and Voluntourism: Helping Narratives of College Student Volunteers in Post-Katrina New Orleans. Undergraduate thesis, under the direction of Barbara Combs from Sociology & Anthropology and Southern Studies, The University of Mississippi.

Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (1MB) | Preview


This thesis is an ethnographic study of volunteer tourists’ motivations for contributing to the ongoing recovery of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, LA. While it has been nearly a decade since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, there is still much work to be done. The urgency that once accompanied the chaotic environment of a post-disaster landscape does not exist anymore. In effect, the strategies for recuperating from the hurricane’s impacts mirror this shift from an urgent disaster state to a stabilized recovery state. Instead of issuing direct relief to people, recovery efforts are presently focused on addressing long term concerns such as rebuilding communities and neighborhoods, attracting people to return to New Orleans, and protecting the city against future floods and hurricane damage. Arguably, the idea of voluntourism, or volunteer tourism, is relevant to the operation of long term recovery strategies, especially for organizations that rely on unpaid labor for completing their projects and goals. Additionally, voluntourism is an enterprise requiring deeper critical examination than the current literature has to offer. The relationship among disaster capitalism, displacement of people, and the Lower Ninth Ward form the contextual foundation for investigating voluntourism. The research question for this thesis asks: once urgent demands for relief subside after a catastrophic event (like Hurricane Katrina), what attracts volunteer tourists to continue contributing to recovery efforts, and how do their helping narratives create, perpetuate, or mitigate existing social power structures and issues within local communities? Analyses of individual motivations have shown that an altruistic desire to help is the most reported reason for engaging in voluntourism. This “helping” narrative appears in individual accounts, in the mottos of community organizations, and in tourism promotions of voluntourism. Despite altruistic intentions to “do good” and help others, the prevalence of helping narratives can potentially perpetuate the divisions between “us” (voluntourists) and “them” (locals/community members) which could have problematic implications for how voluntourists involve themselves in host communities.

Item Type: Thesis (Undergraduate)
Creators: Smithson, Mary Elizabeth
Student's Degree Program(s): B.A. in Anthropology
Thesis Advisor: Barbara Combs
Thesis Advisor's Department: Sociology & Anthropology and Southern Studies
Institution: The University of Mississippi
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Depositing User: Mary Elizabeth Smithson
Date Deposited: 07 May 2014 15:41
Last Modified: 07 May 2014 15:41
URI: http://thesis.honors.olemiss.edu/id/eprint/77

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item