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 - Thinking through tourism

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Tourism as an ethnographic field        (Plen2)

Location Henry Thomas Room
Date and Time 11th April, 2007 at 09:30


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Short Abstract

Papers by Nelson Graburn, and Jeremy Boissevain

Long Abstract

The anthropology of tourism involves ethnographic research on various levels and in a variety of sites. Amongst the existing corpus of work on the subject we have, to start with, methodologically ‘classical’ ethnographies of villages (Tucker, 2002), towns (Crick, 1989), stretches of coasts (Boissevain, 2004), and other tourist ‘destinations’. Then there are the studies of ‘tourist art’ (Graburn, 1976), museums and museum collections (Clark, 2004), tourist related objects, including souvenirs (Hitchcock, 2000) and maps (Scott, 2002). Such topics are closely related to semiological analyses of tourist imagery (Selwyn, 1996), promotional material (Dann, 1996) and other manifestations of tourist related symbolic structures and processes, including those associated with the body (Andrews, 2000). There is anthropological work on material and non-material ‘heritage’ (Palmer, 2003, Nadel-Klein, 2003) together with a genre of studies on travel related history (Adler, 1989) and travel writing (Chard, 1999). On another level, anthropologists have become increasingly involved in the analysis of the political economy of tourism both globally and locally (Meethan, 2001) and associated tourism policy related questions (Burns and Novelli, 2007). Policy studies have included research into social and environmental movements involved with tourism (Boissevain, 1998, Kousis, 2001) as well as with the relation between tourism and development (de Kadt, 1979, Harrison, 1992). Faced by the broad and complex nature of the issues involved, this plenary will consider the nature and boundaries of the field and the extent to which there is an anthropological language with which coherently to engage with it.

Chair: Michael Hitchcock
Discussant: Richard Fardon


The pleasures of inter-disciplinarity?

Author(s): Nelson Graburn (University of California, Berkeley)


Following 30 years experience of teaching undergraduate lecture courses and graduate seminars on ‘the anthropology of tourism’, it has become obvious that we often do not nor cannot differentiate between the ‘anthropology of’ tourism and the sociology, geography, cultural studies, and so on, of tourism. When readings are assigned we rarely care about the ‘disciplinary’ base of the author. What are the causes, the methodological and the long-term pedagogical implications of this interdisciplinarity? The paper commences with an examination of ways in which anthropologists first engaged in tourism studies: empirical discovery in the field, by seeing that other scholars were writing about tourism and thinking that anthropological models could do it better, or by seeing anthropology as a comparative discipline. It continues with a look at how the ‘anthropology of tourism’ is practiced now. The question is posed whether this by the anthropologically trained using ‘anthropological methods’ (participant observation, holism, ethnography), or by researchers trained in other disciplines using some version of ethnographic methods. It concludes with a brief attempt to understand which topics are least bound to particular disciplines and why this should be.

Malta and tourism: views from a long-term anthropological engagement

Author(s): Jeremy Boissevain (University of Amsterdam)


Tourism in Malta began in the 1960s with the arrival of a modest numbers of tourists together with retired colonial settlers in search of low taxes, sun, servants and picturesque Mediterranean houses. Rising affluence, fuelled by the tourist boom that began in earnest in the 1970s, enabled Maltese living in traditional cramped accommodation to build new houses or to move to new housing developments that sprouted around towns and villages. At the same time hotels and cheap apartment complexes for tourists mushroomed in disorderly fashion along the northern shore. Since the mid 1970s an increasingly frenetic building boom has raged on, consuming scarce agricultural land, open countryside and traditional neighbourhoods. The clientelistic political culture facilitated rampant abusive building and subverted the enforcement of building regulations. By the late 1980s a sense of nostalgia emerged for a way of life sacrificed to modernity and affluence. Traditional houses, the countryside and village rituals became heritage. Mass tourism and the building industry were blamed for their destruction. The government tried to develop a more sustainable (and profitable) type of tourism by attracting quality visitors interested in culture and up-market sports. To this end, it promoted the development of luxury accommodation, marinas and golf courses. From the mid 1990s onwards, environmental non-governmental organisations with increasing success mobilized civil society to challenge government and the building industry over these mega developments. During the past decade annual tourist arrivals, which had steadily increased since the 1960s, stabilised at about one million, and in 2006 declined for the second year running. Tourism in Malta is in trouble.

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