Research towards a better future
: Neoliberalism, global citizenship and international volunteering

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis discusses the British government’s construction of global citizenship on its recently launched (2011) International Citizen Service (ICS) programme that sends volunteers abroad to work on international development projects. The thesis has two objectives. The first is to understand global citizenship on the ICS programme as it takes shape in a climate of neoliberal policy making. The second is to produce a piece of ‘socially engaged’ research that looks towards a better future. The thesis unfolds as an account of global citizenship as it is produced through the discursive rationalities and circulated affects that have come to define contemporary modes of neoliberal governance. This part of the discussion argues that through ICS the government constructs a markedly neoliberalised version of global citizenship, based on “soft” understandings of development and a heavy emphasis on self-advancement. The inquiry then moves on to consider research performances and how best to conceptualise the relationship between power and people. The case is made that power-centric accounts can reinforce the dominance of power and consequently ‘a better future’ in research might explore the aspects of social life that do not defer to expressions of power. Taking this position to ethnographic data collected from ICS project sites in India the thesis then examines the ways that volunteers contest, subvert and resist the government’s version of global citizenship. As a response to the earlier exploration of rationalities and affects, the presentation of the data illustrates the ways that volunteers on the one hand critically engage with development issues while on the other establish strong affective relationships with host communities. Together, these perspectives show volunteers capable of resisting neoliberal iterations of global citizenship. Instead, the volunteers on the ICS programme practice creative and affective interpretations of global citizenship that, in important ways, transcend the impositions of power and, in so doing, look towards a better future.
Date of Award2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorAlan Cribb (Supervisor) & Sharon Gewirtz (Supervisor)

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