Privilege Purpose and a Guilty Pleasure: An Explorative Study of the Rationales behind the Consumption of Voluntourism

Sofia Artursson & Marthe Tungodden

Student thesis: Master thesis


Voluntourism is an emerging trend that combines traditional leisure travelling with volunteer work in an organised fashion. In the present study, we are guided by a curiosity to explore this phenomenon and understand why consumers decide to devote time and effort working without getting paid during their vacation. Hence, this thesis aims to investigate the rationales behind going on a volunteer trip abroad.
The problem statement is clarified by three sub-question that follows a modified version of McCracken’s model Movement of Meaning. Consequently, this research investigates both what meanings that are attached to voluntourism, how individuals are assigning these meanings to the consumption and how it affects consumer’s self-concepts. Thus, this study contributes to research within the field of Consumer Culture Theory and, particularly, to the domain of Consumer Identity Projects.
This research explores Scandinavian consumers’ thoughts, feelings and behaviours regarding the consumption of voluntourism. Following the philosophy of science and theoretical foundation, it was deemed relevant to apply a mix of qualitative methods, including both a focus group and three in-depth interviews. The logic behind this was to get insights both into the subjective world of consumers that have experienced a volunteer trip but also to get a profound understanding of individuals that have not engaged in this type of alternative tourism.
By analysing the dynamics between cultural meanings, modes of meaning transfer and individuals self-concepts, the findings conclude that there are several rationales behind consuming volunteer trips abroad. Aside from the desire for an authentic experience, this study highlights that the main rationale to engage in voluntourism is connected to a wish to give back and contribute with something valuable during the vacation. In relation to this, it was found that consumers are driven to participate in a volunteer program to enforce and construct their travel identities.

EducationsMSc in Brand and Communications Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages214
SupervisorsDiana Storm