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Openness as an antidote to nationalist closure among Couchsurfing hosts in Serbia
CouchSurfing (CS) is a free global online hospitality exchange network. Bringing together members as hosts and guests in the intimate everyday spaces of the home, CS leans on a cosmopolitan ideology that celebrates diversity. It aims to overcome stereotypes and even contribute to global peace. Yet the CS project is marked by a potential tension between the ‘culturalisation’ of differences between members and the stress on their ‘unique individuality’ (culminating in the personal profile). And while members worldwide enjoy stimulating experiences and connections, bridging differences isn’t always easy practically speaking. Moreover, for all its cosmopolitan and universalist rhetoric, CS takes on distinct localised forms. This article focuses on the ambivalence Serbian members of hospitality exchange network ‘CouchSurfing’ experience as hosts. Members drawn to CS as an alternative to widespread nationalist ‘closure’ struggle with being cast as Serbian ‘locals’ when hosting. As such, they are constantly at risk of being viewed through Balkanist lenses, of being identified with precisely those elements of life in Serbia they distance themselves from. In this paper, I distinguish several ways these members have of dealing with their relation to Serbia and the way visiting couchsurfers frame them. While overall couchsurfing encounters in Serbia constitute – often successfully – an attempt to work around problematic elements of tourism by using the internet to connect willing others, the set-up of the network doesn’t succeed in avoiding the continuation of the very patterned (stereotypical) views that Serbian members seek to escape.