'I've paid to observe lions, not map roads!' - An emotional journey with conservation volunteers in South Africa

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As fundamental as emotions may be in our experiences with wildlife, very little research addresses this topic. The following paper provides insight into the emotional responses of conservation volunteers participating on conservation holidays through four ethnographic case-studies. Six common emotional responses were identified: anguish, disappointment, frustration. exhilaration, awe and compassion. These emotional highs and lows shaped the volunteer experience, as the realities of wildlife conservation in South Africa upset the culturally constructed, emotionally appealing vision of African wilderness that the volunteers expected. While the positive emotions associated with idealised expectations of African wildlife provide an ideal basis upon which to commercialise nature conservation, they generate a series of tensions in practice. The paper makes an important empirical contribution to current debates surrounding the economic exploitation of affect, showing how emotions underpin the commercialisation of conservation, both through the configuration of the volunteers' wildlife experiences and the scope of conservation that is practised. (C) 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1069-1080
Number of pages12
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2009


  • Conservation tourism, Wildlife experiences, Ethnography, African wilderness, Affect, Commodification of nature