International volunteering has become a popular way for students to travel, engage in rewarding service, and build credentials of global citizenship for a competitive job market. In this context, we explore a puzzling phenomenon: why would a group of students choose to end a seemingly successful international volunteer program legitimized by affirmation from their community partner in the global South, their peers, and their institution? Research has shown that international volunteering organizations, and development organizations more broadly, are resilient, even amid critique, as they continually reconstruct their legitimacy vis-à-vis donors. We argue, however, that student volunteer organizations that intentionally foster reflexivity in development work may choose organizational demise after grappling with the tensions inherent in international alternative breaks. These volunteer programs train students in critical perspectives on international development, yet the institutional conditions under which they operate, as well as some of their implicit neoliberal assumptions, frustrate the realization of this critique in practice. Students develop critical and neoliberal anxieties that lead them not only to indict the moral legitimacy of the organization but also to reject the credentials and career paths of global citizenship they initially sought to attain.
Autopsy of an International Alternative Break: Student Volunteers and the New Washington Consensus
Maya FarrHenderson is a master’s student in global health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health in Atlanta, Georgia. Her research interests include the impact of globalization on health inequities and the sociology of global health and its practitioners.
Amy A. Quark is an Associate Professor of Sociology at William & Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia. Her research focuses on global inequalities in the context of neoliberalism and hegemonic rivalry. She has written a book, Global Rivalries: Standards Wars and the Transnational Cotton Trade (University of Chicago Press, 2013), and numerous articles on these themes.
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Maya FarrHenderson, Amy A. Quark; Autopsy of an International Alternative Break: Student Volunteers and the New Washington Consensus. Sociology of Development 1 June 2022; 8 (2): 192–212. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/sod.2021.0012
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