ASA conference 2007
 - Thinking through tourism

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Focal points and talking points: objects of desire in tourism        (F1)

Location GCG09/10
Date and Time 13th April, 2007 at 10:00


Mike Robinson (Leeds Metropolitan University)
Alison Phipps (Glasgow University)
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Short abstract

This panel examines the ways in which contact/encounter with the material world 'in visu' and 'in situ' generates, mediates and challenges tourism and tourist narratives and discourses. It explores ways in which tourists negotiate objects and the wider physical world and how such processes contribute to self-making, notions of identity and exchange.

Long abstract

Material culture (as well as more intangible cultural expressions and forms) provides a longstanding focus for tourism. When, how and why culture is 'owned' relates to issues of utility, symbolic and exchange value that are increasingly expressed through tourism and discussed / reflected upon by tourists. This panel seeks to examine the ways in which contact/encounter with the material world 'in visu' and 'in situ' generates, mediates and challenges tourism and tourist narratives and discourses. Social and political orchestrations / constructions of the material world and the ways in which culture is 'owned', together with how objects and tourists are positioned / juxtaposed, can expose or obscure truths and silences. We wish to explore the ways in which material culture - objects, souvenirs, buildings, edifices etc. - which are both in and out of their cultural contexts, in highly structured environments and in ad hoc, dislocated and precarious settings, are able to feed the processes of self-making and exchange in which the tourist engages.

Papers are welcome which address the following:

- Concepts of material desire in tourism - wants, needs and fixes
- Objects as tourist talking points - control and controversy
- Politics of presentation - notices, labels, guides and audio-guides and
- Ownership of narratives and memories - spaces of display and discourse, cross-culturalism
- Carrying the material world through tourist language - truths and distortions

Propose a paper


Packaging nature and place: the transformation of Chios' Mastiha into a global commodity

Author(s): Vasiliki Galani-Moutafi 


Τhis presentation exploreσ the interaction of different representations and 'uses' of place and nature through the focal point of mastiha, a natural monopoly commodity of the Eastern Aegean island of Chios. It examines how realities and senses of place certify and maintain distinctiveness in a context of global flows of commodities, ideas and information. A central focal point relates to the content (meanings) attributed to the concepts of 'local' and 'place' by powerful discourses that inform entrepreneurial initiatives as well as tourist representations. Furthermore, the case made in the presentation concerns the definition and construction of the "authentic" and the "natural", as abstract representations, a set of resources and qualities existing both within and outside of space and time, which are drawn upon in both discursive practices and visual images.

The paper poses questions such as: how is place-specificity constructed with regard to a regionally distinct product that has in the last several years been transformed into a global commodity? Are varied natures produced through the indirect processes of different 'expert' (knowledge and information) systems? Another related issue the analysis opens up for discussion concerns the ways of hierarchizing and allocating time and space by agents involved in or mediating the interaction between the 'global', the 'national' and the 'local' as expressed in unequally empowered discourses. Overall, the case study offers material that "is good to think with" by critically questioning of taken-for-granted statements about 'nature" and "place" and their 'appropriate' uses (representations) by different agents.

These agents are:

• the prefecture of Chios and a long-established Chian newspaper, both of which have published tourist guide books for Chios,

• the Union of Mastic Growers Cooperatives, which has turned to the manufacturing and trading of a large variety of eatable and health-care mastiha products in the last several years, and

• a private Chian firm that specializes in the production of toiletries and cosmetics containing mastiha

'Un-cultural' objects in a 'cultural' space: the disruption of tourist expectations in a Bornean village museum

Author(s): Liana Chua 


This paper examines how a collection of objects in a village museum in Borneo mediates and destabilises the concept of 'culture' for different people. Kampung Benuk, a Bidayuh village in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, has been a small-scale tourist destination since the 1960s. A key attraction within the village is Paka's 'mini-museum', a private collection of old ritual paraphernalia, local crafts, family heirlooms, and more intriguingly, gifts and other items that the late owner (Paka) received from his visitors. Most of these were acquired in the 1960s, when visitors (often British, Australian and American servicemen) came specifically to visit Paka and his family, rather than a prototypical 'Bidayuh village'. The objects which they left behind - ranging from British naval plaques to an Australian boomerang - now remain in the mini-museum alongside the other more obviously 'traditional' items on display.

My paper will assess the significance of these objects in the present-day context of Paka's mini-museum, which many visitors now see as a repository of traditional 'Bidayuh culture'. Contemporary (Euro-American) tourists often find their expectations of 'cultural authenticity' confounded by the presence of these distinctly 'foreign' additions: lingering material traces of others like themselves who arrived decades before. Such objects, I argue, disrupt the cultural essentialism that commonly underlies tourist discourses by historicising the mini-museum. At the same time, it is precisely these items - both proof and substance of the family's privileged relationship with foreign visitors - which alienates the mini-museum from other villagers, who feel very little affinity for its collection. Through a focus on such objects, my paper thus depicts a mini-museum which, far from being a 'straightforward' cultural attraction, has - partly through its history of interaction with tourists - become a contested space for different parties' conceptions of 'culture' and 'communal identity'.

Cuban museums and Afro-Cuban heritage production in socialist Cuba

Author(s): Michelle Flikke 


In 1959 there were six museums in Cuban, but today there are nearly 300 state museums. Since the 1960s, the state has created new museums, collections and heritage narratives that reflect its socialist values. Museums have became official theatres of Cuban heritage and contributed to public discourses on national identity.

In this paper I examine how Cuba's socialist state redefined Afro-Cuban religions as national heritage through heritage and museum policies in the 1970s and 1980s. In Cuba's Republican era, politicians and social scientists perceived Afro-Cuban religions as obstacles to Cuban social development. For most people Afro-Cuban religions represented a primitive, criminal underworld left over from slavery and the colonial society.

Furthermore, I argue that by defining these practices as national heritage and exhibiting them in public museums, the state also created discursive space for creative interpretation by religious practitioners. A growing number of Afro-Cuban practitioners are using their homes as exhibition spaces, opening their private collections of religious objects to the gaze of public and international tourists.

Palace of the Orishas is one example of private Afro-Cuban religious exhibitions, which illustrate how individuals take advantage of the government's appropriation and display of their practices in state museums. The proprietors of these private exhibition spaces reassert ownership of their personal heritage by maintaining autonomy from the state museum system. Furthermore they emphasise their entitlement to participate in the state-dominated heritage industry, which has nationalised intimate aspects of their personal and family history.

This paper illustrates how Cuban museums have produced Afro-Cuban heritage and how private museum proprietors challenge the state's monopoly over the production of Afro-Cuban heritage.

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Cigars as mediators: tobacco and its deployments with tourists in Cuba

Author(s): Valerio Simoni 


In the course of their journeys, tourists are confronted with extra-ordinary objects, unusual and novel 'things' which they can hardly take for granted, and whose complexities acquire a mysterious and 'opaque' character. Some of these objects become focal 'talking points', legitimized 'tourist spots', sometimes even 'emblems' of a given destination, and act as protagonists in tourist interactions, images, and narratives. Such is the case of cigars in Cuba, certainly among the first objects that tourists come to associate with this Caribbean island as one of its' central features. A privileged tourist object, cigars act as powerful mediators in a wide range of situations and interactions. More precisely, the multiple layers of Cuban cigars - from heterogeneous tobacco leaves to the holographic stamps of their packaging - their complex properties and wide-ranging connections - from the manufacturing skills of tobacco farmers and cigar makers to the evocations of Che Guevara's and Fidel's favourite brands - act as resources which both tourists and Cubans deploy in variegated ways and from different perspectives. For instance, cigars can help Cubans catch the tourists' eye, giving shape to relationships between them, or may generate processes of informalization/formalization and authentication connected to cigars' brands or the sellers' status, producing 'cheatings' and 'good deals'. The action of cigars as mediators between Cubans, tourists and other entities such as 'money', 'authenticity' and the 'State', contributes to shape and transform not only the relationships between these various elements but also their own qualities and properties. The examination of the different roles played by Cuban cigars in a wide range of touristic situations and interactions shows the importance of considering such tourist objects as crucial mediators, as multi-layered and complex protagonist whose actions should be recognised and retraced in order to gain a more 'object-inclusive' understanding of tourism.

e-paper Borders, battles and authority at a symbolic battlefield site

Author(s): Mads Daugbjerg 


Just north of the present-day border between Denmark and Germany lies the former battlefield at Dybbøl, the spot where the Danish army was defeated by the Prussians in 1864. The defeat was a defining turning point in Danish foreign policy, shattering former ambitions of European influence and leading to introspective small-state political thinking. Also, the Prussian victory was heralded by German historians as the first of a 3-step series of victories leading to the unification of the German Empire in 1871.

Over the past century, the Dybbøl nametag has held an almost sacred status in the eyes of generations of Danes, who have ascribed strong national sentiments to it, fuelled by anti-German emotions in the wake of the world wars.

This paper analyses the dominant ways that the Dybbøl stories are narrated today. Focusing on present-day tourism in the shape of a so-called Battlefield centre, the paper argues that a constant negotiation between interpretation forms and narratives is taking place these years. Two dominant and competing modes of heritage interpretation, differing in form as well as content, are identified in the unfolding of the logics underpinning a key part of the guided tours at the heritage centre. Both of these modes, it is argued, are predicated on their own claims to authority, authenticity and community.

Drawing upon theoretical insights from tourism and museum studies, the paper suggests that recent turns towards 'eyewitness' and 'post-heroic' approaches to heritage interpretation does not entail a completely ungoverned and anti-authoritarian stance, as radical postmodernists would have it. Instead, as social analysts we must strive to unravel new and emerging logics and sense-making in the tourism of war heritage.

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e-paper The commodification of Dogon culture: objects of desire and the production of a material identity

Author(s): Laurence Douny 


As grounded into a long term fieldwork undertaken in the Dogon land (Mali/West Africa), this paper addresses the issue of the material culture of tourism and in particular, the process of commodification of Dogon culture as an object of tourist desire. This occurs through the production and selling of 'traditional' objects that are crafted by one of the blacksmith of a village located in the Bandiagara escarpment, a highly touristified place classified in 1989 by UNESCO, as a world cultural heritage site. The art of the blacksmith who paradoxically is not of a Dogon origin, consists of the duplication and subsequently the treatment of Dogon 'traditional' material forms to increase their value and therefore to meet the expectations of the tourists in quest of authenticity. His work is displayed in the village 'shopping centre' and more recently in its craft centre or 'centre d'artisanat'. This constitutes an initiative of the Mission Culturelle of Bandiagara (a governmental organization) that deals -in that particular project- with the promotion of the craft of cast people of the village. Hence, by focusing on the carving and smithing of a series of artefacts as well as the sites of their display, I propose to examine the reshaping process of Dogon material culture and therefore the making of a Dogon material identity. This is based upon the wants, expectations and desire of the tourists as well as it responds to a national economy that consolidates through tourism.

e-paper The touristic gaze at the Lahore Museum

Author(s): Shaila Bhatti 


One cultural institution that is frequently visited and consumed as part of local and global tourism is that of the museum and likewise for the museum one sector of visitors is equally important - that of the tourist. In response to this demand many societies invest in the creation of museums and cultural centres where they can convey their own identity and history through the display of material artefacts and at the same time create an archive of their history for future generations of visitors and their own society. This investment in the museum as an icon of culture that can be appropriated cross culturally makes it an interesting cultural arena in which to assess the process of curating this space and also consuming it within the framework of tourism.

In a side step from the norm I want to attend to a museum culture outside that of the west where the world famous museums thrive on their global fame that attracts large numbers of tourists through their doors. Here I am concerned with the Lahore Museum; with little being known about its displays or those who visit. My analysis will examine the collections, display strategies and the discourses that are generated around the material objects exploring what they are used to express - is it a sense of nationalism, regional identity, ideas of art, history or something else? This will then be offset against the understanding of the museum visitors at the Lahore Museum who largely are local tourists and have the desire to see something of the curious and wondrous. The disdain that the museum staff have for such visitors and their wish for foreign tourists adds to highlighting a different mode of museum consumption within the sphere of tourism and the touristic gaze. Many questions arise in the discrepancy between what the museum is interested in doing and what it actually achieves for its visitors who essentially are tourists on a simple day out in the city of Lahore. The dialogue that takes place, or its lack, is what I am hoping to elucidate to reveal a new dimension to the museum that is considered a must see place for most tourists.

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