"Nourishing ourselves and helping the planet": WWOOF, Environmentalism and Ecotopia: Alternative Social Practices between Ideal and Reality
A growing number of people around the world are becoming familiar with the phenomenon of ‘World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms’ (WWOOF). This movement originated forty years ago in England, but has since spread around the world. Estimations suggest that WWOOF currently has more than 90,000 signed-up members internationally. Over the last four decades WWOOF has developed as part of an environmentalist social trend in contemporary, although predominantly Western, societies. The members of WWOOF largely share a green, “ecotopian” attitude towards nature, living in the country, and the sustainable use of resources, health and nutrition, anti-consumerism and anti-capitalist ideals. This thesis is the first comprehensive ethnographic study of this international phenomenon. In it I provide an analysis of the complexities of this environmentalist social trend, and the interconnections between environmental, socio-economic, and political processes within WWOOF. By applying a combination of methods, including participant observation as a WWOOFer in Austria and New Zealand, interviews and informal conversations with WWOOFers, hosts, directors, and voluntary organisers, as well as the founder of WWOOF herself, and the analysis of documents produced by WWOOF groups, and e-mail interviews with a number of WWOOF directors, I was able to gain a multi-sited and multi-layered perspective of the international WWOOF movement. In this analysis I ask where the ideals of WWOOF originated and how the morality of “ecotopian” thinking informs the lifeworlds of the participants. The aim of this thesis is to investigate the international WWOOF movement as it is experienced, narrated, and negotiated by its members. It demonstrates the tensions between ideals and lived reality, the contradictions and compromises, and the vast range of interpretations of their ideals that lead to internal conflict. In trying to overcome these tensions, social practices emerge that blur the boundaries between “ecotopian” green values and mainstream attitudes. I argue that by engaging in a range of alternative environmental, social, political, and economic practices the members of the WWOOF movement feel that, despite some contradictions and necessary compromises, they at least partially succeed in achieving the aims and ideals of WWOOF and their visions for a greener lifestyle and ecological society.