‘Poor children on Tinder’ and their Barbie Saviours: towards a feminist political economy of volunteer tourism

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Leisure Studies, 2018, 37 (5), pp. 500 - 514
Issue Date:
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© 2018, © 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. Barbie Saviours is a satirical Instagram account and linked Facebook page that depict white western Barbies volunteering in Africa with the bio, ‘Jesus. Adventures. Africa. Two worlds. One love. Babies. Beauty. Not qualified. Called. 20 years old. It’s not about me… but it kind of is’. Drawing on emerging theories of feminist political economy, we address the growing backlash against volunteer tourism in the popular media and argue that critiques against these images reflect an anti-hegemonic project that highlights the role of sentimental colonialism in contemporary forms of international popular humanitarianism. Widely described as a critique against the ‘White Saviour Complex’, Barbie Saviour is used to popularise a negative image of western female volunteer tourists which currently comprise more than 75% of the industry. These critiques question the morality and legitimacy of female volunteer tourists as well as related spaces of western forms of development in the global south. These satires shine a spotlight on the neocolonial aura of the practice. However, we argue that while this critique is a productive reminder of the symbolic violence of racialised inequality, the critique itself also, albeit inadvertently, perpetuates the ahistorical and apolitical racial, ethnic, gender and class-based binary thinking that it seeks to condemn.
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