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Doctoral Studies

Kelsey Johansen completed her PhD in Tourism at the University of Otago (Dunedin, New Zealand. Her dissertation, entitled Exploring the Culture of WWOOF Participation in New Zealand: An Ethnographic Approach was co-supervised by Associate Professor Anna Carr (Otago) and Professor Tara Duncan (Dalarna). Kelsey received a prestigious International Doctoral Scholarship and Stipend, including a fieldwork grant and international conference grants (valued at a combined $95,000) from the University of Otago to support her studies.

Kelsey's doctoral work focused on the exchange of cultural, food, and sustainable lifestyle related knowledge through the Willing Workers on Organic Farms program in New Zealand. Drawing on seven months of phenomenology-based ethnographic fieldwork, Kelsey's research examined the culture of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) participation in New Zealand,  and explored the convergence and divergence of organizational, host and guest values, and the role of food and cultural exchange in shaping participants' experiences of WWOOFing while drawing on theory and literature from the fields of tourism, anthropology, and geography. 

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Doctoral Thesis

Copies of Kelsey's doctoral thesis are archived in the University of Otago Library. Interested scholars and practitioners without institutional access may request a .pdf file version by email. 

Thesis Abstract

This thesis presents a critical examination of the culture of World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) in New Zealand through a phenomenology-based ethnography. It critically explores the culture of WWOOF participation, including how participants make sense of their engagement while examining how their interests converge and diverge. As such, this work generates new understandings of how the core values of the WWOOF programme and its participants are expressed including how participants co-construct and understand these values, and their subjective experiences of, and the meanings attributed to, being a part of WWOOF culture, and their relationships with producing and consuming food.

Grounded in a phenomenological ethnographic approach, data was collected using participant observations and interviews. Participant observations, including ethnographic accounts of the Researcher-as-WWOOFer’s experiences and observations of daily life and interaction, informed the writing of fieldnotes. Insights from fieldnotes grounded in the academic literature informed the development of interview guides administered to WWOOFers, WWOOF Hosts and WWOOF NZ. Interviews were used to elicit thick descriptions of the meaning and significance participants attributed to their engagement in WWOOFing and how it intersects with aspects of their daily lives and identities. Inductive thematic analysis enabled themes to emerge from participants’ lived experiences while providing meaningful themes for analysis.

The views and voices of individual participants are privileged in the presentation of the study’s findings through narratives interwoven with interview quotes and vignettes from fieldnotes. The researcher remained aware of, and incorporated reflexive writing throughout the thesis, including reflection on her historicity, and personal attributes as a researcher and WWOOFer, throughout the fieldwork and the associated thesis writing.

This thesis draws on insights from the fields of tourism, hospitality and anthropology to contribute to new ways of understanding and theorizing the WWOOF exchange. Starting with an exploration of host-guest interactions in WWOOFing, the thesis draws on the concepts of ‘authenticity’ and ‘intimacy’ to discuss the nature of host-guest relationships, ‘backstage access’, and boundary work in WWOOFing shedding light on the importance of authentic identity performance, ongoing impressions management and emotional labour as mediators of host-guest interactions. This gives rise to a greater understanding of the importance placed on intimacy and connectedness within host-guest interactions in WWOOFing.

Food was found to serve as a mechanism that built and mediated host-guest relationships. Through discussions of shared meals and ‘Kitchen Table Tourism’, the importance of commensal eating as a driving force behind the social and cultural exchanges of the WWOOF programme was illuminated. Insights into participants’ changing relationships with and perspectives on food, based on WWOOF participation, also highlighted the role of WWOOFing in reconnecting producers and consumers, and shortening their food chains.

Converging and diverging ideas were explored through a comparison of stated and observed values at the organisational, Host and WWOOFer level. The impacts of the convergence and divergence of values on individual exchanges was considered, as was the potential impact of values conflict for the achievement of wider organisation objectives. The official conflict resolution process was detailed and a recent, well-publicised breach of the WWOOF Ethic was discussed, leading to a discussion of the power structures inherent in WWOOFing.

This thesis more accurately describes the boundaries of WWOOFing as a touristic activity. As such, it provided insights into the culture of WWOOFing through the eyes of WWOOFers, Hosts and WWOOF NZ. WWOOFing is categorised as an activity ‘other than tourism’, including as lifestyle (lived and travelled) and non-economic exchange.

When analysed, the above findings provide insight into the culture of WWOOFing through the eyes of WWOOFers, Hosts and WWOOF NZ. In so doing, it established the existence of a shared, and unique, culture of WWOOFing in New Zealand, and the role of this culture in (re)connecting participants with: food; farm, rural life and communities; the path that food takes to reach their table; and, the larger Organic Agriculture and Slow Food Movements.

Keywords: WWOOFing, Agricultural Tourism, Non-Commercial Hospitality, Exchange, Host-Guest Interactions

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Publications from the Thesis

A list of the papers and conference proceedings arising from my doctoral dissertation can be accessed here.

Please note, links are provided to access these publications via the publisher's website or through Institutional access. If you have trouble accessing them please contact Kelsey via email to request an open access copy.

Fieldwork Recipes

One of the main themes explored in Kelsey's Doctoral thesis pertained the role of food in the WWOOF experience, namely, as a mechanism that built and mediated host-guest relationships. Copies of the recipes referred to in the thesis can be viewed here.

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