Journal of Global Citizenship & Equity Education, Vol 2, No 2 (2012)

What Kind of Global Citizen is the Student Volunteer?

Clare Talwalker


College students in the United States, and other countries of the Global North, are signing up in growing numbers to volunteer with aid and human rights organizations around the world (and also domestically). Yet in so doing, many students experience their best intentions muddied by the inefficiencies or profit-motives of the aid world volunteer industry. To explore the dilemmas raised both for students and for faculty and staff supporting them, this essay reaches beyond the instrumentality of the aid world (its focus on doing something concrete and good) to other possible outcomes of the encounters between volunteers, aid workers, and aid beneficiaries. I conceive of the "volunteer-aid beneficiary" encounter in ways that draw simultaneously on the anthropological approach to "gift economies" as well as related concepts and arguments made by social psychologists, a philosopher, and a literary critic. The goal here is to contribute to the pedagogy supporting college students' service learning or volunteer experiences (mostly international, but also domestic) and to explore possible meanings of the term "global citizenship" in this context. I argue for the need to foreground the political selfhood of aid beneficiaries, alongside (or not merely) their economic or biological selfhood.


aid world, volunteering, global citizenship, gift economy, political selfhood, collective interdependence

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