Holy Cross Sociology Professor Receives Fulbright Grant to Explore 'Couch Surfing' Trend

Tourism expert to teach and conduct research on new modes of hospitality in Finland

Jennie Germann Molz, assistant professor of sociology at the College of the Holy Cross, has been awarded a Core Fulbright Scholar grant to teach a course on the cultural study of tourism and conduct research on sustainable hospitality and tourist dwelling with colleagues at the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland.

Germann Molz, of Douglas, Mass., is one of approximately 1,100 U.S. faculty and professionals who will travel abroad through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program in 2012-13.

As a Fulbright Core scholar, Germann Molz will pursue a qualitative research project titled "Socially Sustainable Tourism: Informal Economies of Hospitality in Finnish Lapland." The project extends her work on hospitality and mobility in tourism studies and is designed as a point of collaboration with research currently being conducted at the University of Lapland.

Germann Molz studies the social and ethical implications of tourism mobilities and mobile technologies and she is particularly interested in alternative forms of tourism that seek to mobilize new technologies to create more meaningful, collaborative and sustainable encounters between people from different cultures.

Her empirical research focuses on the online hospitality exchange site CouchSurfing.org. Launched in 2003, CouchSurfing now has more than three million members worldwide.

"Hospitality exchange networks like CouchSurfing raise several questions of sociological concern," says Germann Molz. "What are the ethics of welcoming the stranger? How do people 'do togetherness' with strangers both at home and abroad? In other words, how do we live with difference in socially sustainable ways?"

During her time in Finland, she will explore the informal economics of hospitality and tourist dwelling that characterize couch surfing encounters. As one of several websites that coordinate the free exchange of goods and services, CouchSurfing is emblematic of an emerging "sharing economy," she says.

"I plan to explore how hospitality is produced and consumed by couch surfers, how hosts and guests 'host' one another in ways that potentially challenge conventional power structures associated with hospitality, and how they 'dwell' together in way that reconstitute the home as a space of familiarity and difference. More broadly, I ask how the informal arrangements of couch surfing might inform socially sustainable commercial hospitality initiatives in the Finnish tourism context."

Germann Molz earned her Ph.D. in sociology from Lancaster University (U.K.), her M.A. in popular culture studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, and her B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. She is co-editor of "Mobilizing Hospitality: The Ethics of Social Relations in a Mobile World" (Ashgate, 2007) and author of "Travel Connections: Tourism, Technology and Togetherness in a Mobile World" (Routledge), which was released on March 27.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. The program operates in over 155 countries worldwide.

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