The dilemma of mobility : on the question of youth voluntourism in times of precarity

John Nguyet ERNI, Daren Shi-chi LEUNG

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


In this essay, we ask whether there has been a revival of ‘youthful aspirations’ in the age of precarity, by examining youth groups’ transnational civic participation in the form of ‘volunteer tourism’ (hereafter, VT). Mobility is central to VT practice, yet is often tainted to various degrees by an associated complex of commercial, extractive, neoliberal, and even racialized interests. Understanding the ‘perils of mobility’, we argue, helps us clear the way for a critical inquiry of VT, rather than closing it down. Without discounting the reality of neoliberal complicity, we want to look a little harder at the possibility of youth enacting change within the contradictions of voluntourism. This project is based on a case study of a Hong Kong-based VT organization called Voltra (established in 2009), especially thirty in-depth interviews with the ‘voltrateers’. We reflect on their first-hand experiences, motivations, challenges, and aspirations to discover a ‘strange synergy’ that is expressed through complex affects that, on one hand, still hold on to the state to be responsible for social change, but on the other hand, develop their own aspirations to freedom generated by a sense of existential authenticity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)915-943
Number of pages29
JournalCultural Studies
Issue number6
Early online date8 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2 Nov 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work described in this paper was fully supported by a Faculty Research Grant from Hong Kong Baptist University (Project no. 30-16-289), and a General Research Grant from the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China (Project No. 12607618).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, © 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • existential authenticity
  • politics of sweating
  • precariat
  • Voltra (Hong Kong)
  • Voluntourists


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