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Do Some Things Never Change? An Analysis of Colonial Discourses of Trusteeship in International Short-term Volunteering

This research aims to explore to what extent and in what ways discourses of ‘trusteeship’, expressed in colonial discourse, are reflected in international short-term volunteering discourse. This involves exploring a sample from short-term volunteering discourse sourced from reports written by short-term volunteers and dispersed on the internet. I identify elements within the sample that are characteristic of a relationship of trusteeship. These elements (differentiation of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’, identification of needs, and proposed methods of development) are identified from a review of literature relating to development, volunteering, discourse analysis and discourses of trusteeship. I use content analysis as the research method and Critical Discourse Analysis as the research approach. The data is analysed, in light of the literature review, as to their similarities or differences to colonial and development discourses of trusteeship.

I find that discourses of trusteeship are reflected in short-term volunteering discourse today, but not to the same extent as colonial discourse. Volunteers convey intervention from outside the host countries as a requirement for solving their identified problems. However, unlike colonial discourse, the important subsequent argument of the responsibility of ‘Us’ for ‘Them’ is not explicitly made. So while the ‘Others’ are in need of ‘our’ help for meeting needs, the same sense of obligation on ‘our’ part is not expressed. It could be inferred that international volunteering, unlike colonialism, is understood to be a voluntary rather than an obligatory act of generosity. My findings show that short-term volunteering contributes elements of colonial discourses of trusteeship to development discourse in Ireland.


Catherine Behan 2009


Permanent link to this article: http://kimmagedsc.ie/dissertation/colonial-discourses-trusteeship-volunteering/