Drawing from ethnographic fieldwork and using Actor-Network Theory (ANT), the authors trace the interactions of a primary actor and other agents within the context of the volunteer tourist experience at a children's home in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. This paper has two key objectives; first to sketch the volunteer tourism reality as it is shaped by the actions of different actors, and second to showcase how this sensitively balanced ecosystem was significantly disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Staying true to the ANT approach and ‘following the actor’ (Latour, 1993), the authors demonstrate how the volunteer tourist setting is relationally reproduced through the incessant alignment of different human and non-human actors and their sometimes conflicting interests and actions. By taking this radical approach, we reveal the need to reconsider the narrative that views all children in orphanages in the global South as victims and pawns of the ‘orphan industrial complex’ and how the children's home in the study offers much-needed support to children and people that have no safety net. The study shows that these actors sometimes unknowingly become part of the network and serve a good cause while acting in pursuit of their own interests.
- volunteer tourism
- actor-network theory