Connection and Disillusion: The Moral Economy of Volunteer Tourism in Cusco, Peru
Tourists have increasingly been traveling to Cusco to volunteer in programmes that offer assistance to local poor children. This paper analyses volunteer tourism as a moral economy, exploring how tangled circulations of money, people, labour, and emotions create opportunities for connection and disillusion. Children and volunteers forge intense relationships, often based on physical attachment, dreams of sustained interaction, and idealistic goals of ‘making a difference’. I propose that the actors in this industry negotiate disparate perspectives on the relationship between affective and economic forms of care. Foreigners base their aid interventions on assumptions about childhood, poverty, and development, yet children challenge tourists’ constructions as they appropriate volunteer emotional and economic resources to fit their own needs. Situating the mechanics of this industry alongside narratives of diverse participants, I emphasise that connection and disillusion influence the possibilities for children’s assistance, volunteering, and tourism in Peru.