Encountering Distant Suffering: The Culture, Production, and Outcomes of Transnational Immersion Trips on the U.S.-Mexico Border
AuthorAdler, Gary John Jr.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
EmbargoRelease after 20-Apr-2013
AbstractShort-term international immersion travel connects participants from educational and religious organizations with distant suffering to build solidarity and motivate transnational civic action. It is a distinct form of transnational social action that produces a personalized, embodied experience of transformation. Despite increasing popularity, and increasing evidence that this form of travel can facilitate civic action and activism, the mechanisms behind the production, experience, and outcomes are not well known. This research examines these issues through a focus on multiple cultural processes. The research site is BorderLinks, a faith-affiliated organization that promotes immigration awareness through travel along the U.S.-Mexico border. I use participant observation with different groups (colleges, seminaries, churches), pre/post surveys with 180 participants, and interviews with participants to examine why individuals participate, how transformative experience is produced, how group styles stabilize this moment of unsettledness, the difficulties of solidarity formation, and the specific patterns of outcomes. Short-term international immersion travel is a cultural strategy of transformation that provides participants with identity shaping experiences and fits the goals of feeder organizations that prioritize personal transformation and social engagement. Recruitment through feeder organizations creates groups with distinct demographic profiles, motivational repertoires, and emotional orientations: the "toolkits of travel." An immersion trip sits in a liminal space of culture, yet the institutional origins of groups generate group styles that guide groups through this unsettledness (Eliasoph and Lichterman 2003). Some groups "sleuth" while others "story build," resulting in different imaginations of possible future action. The encounter with migrants addresses a central question of how solidarity between international travelers and distant suffering is formed. I show the importance of two strategies of solidarity, one relational and one imaginative. Through a hike in the desert, I show the conditions for producing evoking symbols that moralize the experience into the future. I examine change in economic behavior, attitudes, and some civic activity. I use Qualitative Comparative Analysis to show which aspects of immersion travel are most responsible for change: emotional intensification, moralized situations, cognitive awareness, and/or group affiliation. For participants' narrative construction, differences in group use of reflexivity resources affect the moral extension into the future.
Degree ProgramGraduate College