Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Janet L. Jacobs

Second Advisor

Leslie Irvine

Third Advisor

Sara Steen


Over the last 50 years, the United States Peace Corps has remained a symbol of the democratic ideals and humanitarianism core to U.S. citizen's collective identity. Peace Corps volunteers offer the people of the United States and the larger world a vision of hope and justice. In this dissertation, I unpack these nationalistic and benevolent discourses through exploring returned volunteers' reflections on their service with the Peace Corps. I problematize the notion that altruism is central to their commitment to living and working among the poorest of the poor around the world. I call for an understanding of how Peace Corps volunteers' success in managing the cross-cultural experience and working to improve life in their respective communities necessitates an individualistic approach to their mission. I posit that this allows volunteers to have the requisite emotional distance from the organization to critically consider their unique position in the field of international development. Further, I describe what volunteers thought about the Peace Corps and its effectiveness as a means of addressing world poverty. Lastly, I contextualize volunteer insights about the Peace Corps with respect to the current global political climate.