Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group


First Advisor

Kathleen D. Hall


In recent years, the phenomenon of Northern international volunteering has been conceived as an instance of post-collegiate “continuing education” and, as such, has been attributed to a neoliberal logic of self-enterprise. However, such accounts have neglected to interrogate how an entrenched logic of empire also animates the practice of recruiting and deploying Northern citizens to volunteer in the “developing” world. Also overlooked have been the particular intersections of these logics in the discourses of international volunteer programs, the related subject formations of Northern volunteers who come under their tutelage, and the ways in which these intersections engage broader geopolitical objectives of Northern states.

Focusing on the Ecuador operations of a major US-American international volunteer program that I call Global Community, this dissertation examines the interplay between imperialist injunctions of improving and touring a mythologized “Third World” Other and neoliberalist directives of self-enterprise and consumerism, among others. Drawing on one year of ethnographic fieldwork conducted with a cohort of Global Community Ecuador volunteers, this dissertation also examines the role of the international volunteer program in the application of a governmental technology that is both imperial and neoliberal in its rationale.

Recruitment materials, compendium texts, and training activities are examined as both discursive formations and governmental acts that index broader discourses of imperialism and neoliberalism, simultaneously constructing and instructing volunteers in relation to a discursively produced Ecuadorian otherness that the program frames as the cornerstone of the volunteer stint. Focusing specifically on three distinct “contact zones” (Pratt 2007/1992) through which the program attempts to guide the volunteer – the Ecuadorian public space, the Ecuadorian homestay, and the Ecuadorian classroom (where volunteers teach English to Ecuadorian students) – each ethnographic chapter explores the relational components of volunteer subjectivity vis-a-vis an imagined Ecuadorian alterity, considering how volunteer subjectivities index program discourses and behavioral injunctions, as well as a continual interplay between the imperial and the neoliberal. Additionally, I examine how volunteer subjectivity is constituted through their continual subjection to Ecuadorian discourses around gringo-ness, which, in unsettling the production of white US-American racial normativity, pose indirect challenge to some of the foundational assertions of international volunteering discourse.

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