Entanglements in multispecies voluntourism: conservation and Utila's affect economy


Through a case study of conservation voluntourism this article brings together critical political ecology, multispecies ethnography, and studies of humanitarian tourism to advance a political ecology of multispecies conservation voluntourism. The article presents multispecies conservation voluntourism as a field that produces and is produced by an “affect economy”, or an economy based on the exchange or trade in the relational. Since the mid-1990s, life on Utila, Honduras, a popular discount backpacker scuba destination located along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, has been deeply transformed by the growth of dive tourism, the ecological destruction it has produced, and now the conservation voluntourism industry emerging in its wake. Seventy percent of Utila is comprised of mangroves and associated wetlands, home to several endangered and endemic species. Using examples of whale shark tourism, lionfish hunts, and iguana tracking, this article shows how conservation organizations operate as affect generators, enabling the privilege of engaging in multispecies encounters. Engaging in multispecies conservation voluntourism produces value in the form of cultural capital which is then exchanged for material outcomes by volunteers in the global economy; at the same time, this form of voluntourism obscures local relationships to nature and alters multispecies assemblages from past configurations.

Publication Title

Journal of Sustainable Tourism