A Cultural Study of Volunteer Traveling, Transnational Civic Participation and Youth Idealism: The Case of Voltra

  • ERNI, John N. (PI)

    Project: Research project

    Project Details


    This research examines whether there has been a revival of “youth idealism” in the age of neoliberalism, through examining youth groups’ transnational civic participation in “volunteer traveling” (hereafter, VT) in Asia. Today, many sociologists, economists, and cultural analysts have called young people the “precariats” who are caught in socioeconomic processes that saw them pushed and pulled in and out of employment, causing considerable anxieties. Have all young people become despondent, lethargic, or indifferent to social affairs? Studies indicate that youth voluntarism has not necessarily diminished. Their interest in volunteer work may be indicating a renewed idealism for social change, precisely at a time of their own personal and collective insecurities. The notion of the “precariat” carrying complicated sentiments is taken as a conceptual hypothesis for investigating the personal, emotional, ideological, and structural shifts in youth idealism. Voltra, a Hong Kong-based VT organization established in 2009, represents a uniquely significant case for in-depth analysis. It is a rare VT organization of its kind in HK; there is no other comparable organization like it operating out of HK. Up till 2016, Voltra has provided, coordinated, or linked up over 4,000 international workcamps and voluntary service projects in over 55 countries each year. Since its inception, more than 4,000 “Voltrateers” from HK have participated in workcamps mainly in Japan, Mongolia, India, Nepal, Cambodia, Taiwan, Thailand, and also in Europe, Latin America, and Africa. Our core research objectives are: (a) to critically examine Voltra (its history, ethos and philosophy, institutional development (local and transnational), impact assessment, etc.) as a strong representative case to see whether a renewed transnational youth idealism has emerged in recent years; (b) to document and analyze qualitatively the firsthand experiences, motivations, aspirations, and challenges arising from VT among youth participants; and (c) to produce a data set of qualitative cultural indicators for measuring and evaluating the link between youth’s transnational civic participation and their social idealism at a time purportedly marked by precariousness. Methods include a thorough historical and institutional review of Voltra, in-depth interviews with 100 Voltrateers, firsthand fieldwork immersion in a Voltra- coordinated workcamp in Asia, and a cultural indicator survey. The research results will provide important insights for mapping, for the first time, the development of “cosmopolitan civic citizenship” among HK youth during “hard times”, thus bearing implications for resource allocation for the development of international civic participation as a positive youth movement for Hong Kong.
    Effective start/end date1/01/1930/06/21


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