Intrepid white saviors - international development in contemporary travel writing
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Drawing from tourism studies, travel literature, and cultural studies, this dissertation uses textual analysis to explore the implicit ideological agendas of international development in a selection of popular narratives written to describe efforts of Spanish individuals to combat poverty in “developing” countries: Pura vida (1998) by José María Mendiluce, Una maestra en Katmandú (2002) by Victoria Subirana, Sonrisas de Bombay (2007) by Jaume Sanllorente, and Los colores de un sueño (2013) by Alba de Toro. This study provides a sociological framework for understanding the politics of production, distribution, and reception of such narratives and examines the discourse of individual altruism by juxtaposing the fields of mass tourism, international development and contemporary popular literature. Although development-themed narratives present themselves as depictions of charity work, they are also stories of touristic exploits. This dissertation explores how the colonial myth of the explorer is refurbished in narratives of altruistic development within the postmodern mood of “global consciousness”, which is triggered by globalization, commodification and a sense of uncertainty—factors that produce a relentless drive to “save the world”. Despite the postmodern gloss, however, these narratives exoticize “non-modern” scenarios in which the narrators (adventure development tourists) represent themselves as intrepid white saviors in the style of explorers, missionaries and survivors of the past. In this sense, these narratives depend on traditional travel literature tropes. The deliberate status of these popular narratives as commodities is highlighted, exposing their utility as marketing tools for NGOs. To this end, this dissertation connects the idea of “a good story” to a publishing objective. Reception is approached by exploring the role of interpellation: the subliminal ways in which readers become financial supporters within the context of “global consciousness” wherein altruistic impulses are commodified and incorporated into lifestyles. In this sense, literature plays a key role in formulating and naturalizing the discourse of development. This dissertation exposes the double mechanism at work in development-themed narratives: the pursuit of progressive development used to veil complicity with exploitation.