Title

The spectacle of saving: conservation voluntourism and the new neoliberal economy on Utila, Honduras

Abstract

Drawing on ethnographic research on Utila, Honduras, this paper suggests that conservation volunteerism suffers from “fictitious conservation”, surrounded by “spectacle”. The “spectacle of saving” associated with the promotion of conservation voluntourism advances the creation of new neoliberal citizens while further concealing the micropolitics of commodified nature. Volunteer conservation tourism creates value in the trade of experiences in or with “nature” while detracting from the labour and value produced through grounded local interactions with natural resources. While voluntourists are busy “saving” endangered species, they are also collecting the entrepreneurial skills and competencies to be successful as the new neoliberal economy. Thus, as a site of fictitious conservation under neoliberalism, conservation voluntourism advances the creation of new neoliberal citizens while justifying its own existence by furthering ecological devastation, obscuring uneven development processes and devaluing local labour and relationships to natural resources. The paper closes with a proposal to reconfigure volunteer arrangements to move nature-based voluntourism towards a rights-based conservation approach through three strategies: (1) collaborative programme design by embracing “friction”, (2) expanded understanding of local impacts, and (3) redesigning volunteer activities to embed a social justice pedagogy using the steps of transformative learning.

Publication Title

Journal of Sustainable Tourism

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