University of St Andrews


Steven Owen

Photo of Steven Owen


Supervisors:  Professor Colin Hunter & Dr Emilia Ferarro


Research Title

Towards a new conceptualisation of volunteer tourism


I am currently completing my PhD in which I am investigating the perception of local community members to volunteer tourism.  This currently is an under-researched area with the majority of work being completed from the volunteer perspective.  The project aims to have both theoretical and practical applications.   To achieve this, a number of new conceptual frameworks are in the process of being developed, the first of which aims to bring to the fore how epistemology has shaped current scholarly work on volunteer tourism.  This approach thus aims to illustrate how volunteer tourism fits in with deeper theoretical debates surrounding the meaning of knowledge.  I aim to further conceptualise volunteer tourism in the field and will be spending time in a number of local communities hosting volunteer tourists in Ecuador.  I aim to use these new conceptualisations to see the extent that it is possible to improve the volunteer tourism experience for hosts and volunteers.    


I completed my undergraduate degree at Portsmouth University where I was awarded a 2:1 in geography.  It was during this time I first became interested in the issues surrounding eco-tourism, the result of which was I completed my dissertation on the impacts of eco-tourists on the Indonesian island of Hoga.  It was this project which sparked my interest in issues of community involvement and empowerment in sustainable tourism development.

On completion of my degree I completed an MSc in Sustainability, Planning and Environmental Policy at Cardiff University, for which I was awarded with a distinction grade.  My dissertation focused on local food systems in particular the economic impact of local procurement on the local area.  This project not only contributed to  the theoretical debates surrounding our understanding of the ‘local’ but also  had a number of practical implications; which I disseminated to the Local Government Association.

After the completion of my MSc I worked for a number of environmental organisations both within the private and public sector.  These roles provided me with interesting insight into how the often theoretical debates surrounding sustainability manifest in real world situations.  In addition I have spent a number of years travelling, particularly in South America, during which I have worked for a number of volunteer organisations.  The projects I have been involved with have had a clear focus on achieving environmental and social justice through the empowerment of local community members, which has been an interest of mine since my undergraduate thesis.  It was however always my intention to move back into academia.  As a result after securing funding as part of the 600th Anniversary scholarship, in 2013 I commenced my PhD in the Department of Geography & Sustainable Development at the University of St Andrews.