|Abstract or Summary
- The number of people traveling to other countries to volunteer for conservation or humanitarian projects has increased dramatically in the past three decades. Despite substantial interest in volunteer tourism, few researchers have examined: (a) the role of promotional material (e.g., brochures, internet websites) in motivating volunteers; (b) factors that attract volunteers and pull them to countries, organizations, and volunteer projects and sites, and how managers and volunteer coordinators perceive these volunteer motivations; and (c) how key terms (e.g., 'conservation') are used, interpreted, and affect human-environment relations at the volunteer project and site. This dissertation contains three separate articles that help to address these knowledge gaps. To collect my data, I conducted semi-structured interviews, engaged in participant observation, and examined promotional material at a volunteer project in a reserve in Ecuador. Findings showed that volunteers almost exclusively used the internet to search for volunteer tourism opportunities. Volunteer decisions to select the organization or project were influenced by both website appearance (e.g., organized, professional) and specific content (e.g., photographs, volunteer comments, project descriptions, buzzwords). Volunteers listed a range of motivations for selecting the country, organization, and volunteer project and site. Managers and volunteer coordinators correctly identified some of these volunteer motivations (e.g., travel, price), but mentioned far fewer reasons than volunteers and overlooked several major factors, especially altruistic and project-specific reasons. Ideological and cluster criticism revealed that participants interpreted 'conservation' differently and this affected characterizations of people and environmental issues, as well as participant behavior and interactions at the project and site. I created typologies for organizations and volunteer tourists based on differences. I suggest that rhetorical criticism can offer a method for conducting replicable and comparable analyses of environmental discourse in political ecology. I conclude with implications for managers, theory, and future research.