This thesis describes a social phenomenon called volunteer tourism where nongovernmental organisations and charities offer volunteers a chance to travel to the south for volunteer work. What makes the volunteer concept anthropologically interesting is that these volunteer programs seek to combine the hedonism of tourism with the altruism of development work. The main question I seek to answer is how the merging of contrasting interests affects the western volunteers, their work, and the encounters and relations between hosts and guests. To best answer the problem statement, the thesis starts by examining the major arenas of empirical findings in Vietnam, namely the town Hoi An, and the surrounding volunteer organisations. Further, the volunteer actors constructed realities and the everyday development activities that unfold in the volunteer placements are examined. As will be apparent the different understandings of what happens in the encounters and the consequences these encounters entail, such as misunderstandings, are essential for the relations between different actors within the volunteer sphere.
By examining the origin of the conflicts that arise in the volunteer sphere, a connection between the way development and the south are presented and sold to volunteers becomes apparent. What starts out as a seemingly free gift from the Western volunteers to the Vietnamese receivers is transformed into reciprocity relations, and conflicts grounded in two opposing ideological fields of interest, which can have negative effects on the development work the volunteers are supposed to be doing. The relations between the different actors of development are further affected by the fact that the organisational staffs perception of development often consisted of seeing results in terms of material things, interlinked with the modernisation theory. While the Western volunteers on the contrary were convinced that development was achieved by placing emphasis on the empowerment of the individual, and thereby more soft values in comparison with the alternative development theory. In-between, the organisational interpreters intermediate position was played out with their personal aim of decreasing conflicts, which thus implicitly evolved as a form of culture interpreter between the hosts and guests perspectives. Development has therefore, seen in light of Pigg (1992), become a local category for the different actors, and the encounter of two different knowledge systems of how to do development is causing the local knowledge to become superfluous.