Scholars have explored the ways that hierarchical North–South relations are preserved and reproduced in the spaces of international volunteering. Global structural inequalities are widely understood to permeate relations between volunteers and hosts where even the intimacies of empathy and care are ascribed values drawn out of North–South divides. This article has two objectives. First, to explore the affective experience of volunteering for development as a potential realm in which more equitable volunteer–host relations unfold, and second, to include hosts (not just volunteers) in writing on international volunteering. Negotiating the politics of representation, the main body of the article draws on empirical data from fieldwork in India to write a performative account of volunteer–host relations. As the narrative progresses, volunteer-host relations from outside the dichotomies imposed by the very uneven patterns of development that make hosts hosts, and volunteers volunteers. The article thus makes the argument that affective life in the spaces of volunteering opens up new possibilities for subjectivity that are insubordinate to – and therefore transcendent of – the subject positions delineated by the uneven flows of global power and privilege. The article closes by moving the discussion from transcendence to potential, suggesting that we might research further the potential political agencies that emerge from affective experience in volunteering and development.