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Anthropological interventions in tourism        (Plen3)

Location Henry Thomas Room
Date and Time 12th April, 2007 at 09:30


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Short Abstract

Papers by Simone Abram, Heba Aziz and David Harrison.

Long Abstract

From the early days of tourism development anthropologists have become involved in various ways, and in a range of international (EU, the UN affiliated World Tourism Organisation, for example), national (government tourist boards and planning departments), regional (development banks, Mediterranean Action Plan), and municipal institutions (local authority departments engaged in tourism) in advising, ‘consulting’, and policy formation. Additionally there has been increasing anthropological involvement in political movements (such as Tourism Concern) mobilising public concern with the social and environmental implications of tourism development.

The purpose of this plenary is to discuss and evaluate the role of such anthropological interventions and to relate these examples of practical activity to theoretical debates.

Chair: Tricia Barnett (Director, Tourism Concern)
Discussant: Kevin Meethan


Intervention in policy-making

Author(s): Simone Abram (Durham University)


Anthropologists have long debated their role in relation to development. Whilst an ethical consensus has been reached, and sympathy with informants usually stressed, the agency of the anthropologist has remained problematic. From the critique of 'anthropologist as advocate' to a range of participatory action research models, anthropologists have been highly atuned to the relations of power between themselves, their informants, and the various kinds of authority (bearing in mind that the latter two are sometimes the same). Anthropologists have also turned their attention to policy and development, and often been involved in projects as participants as well as critical voices. However, what has been sorely lacking has been a coherent theory of governance that offers a realistic prospect of the opportunities for influence. This paper examines the idea of intervention in the context of existing governmental systems and debates on participatory governance. It questions what anthropologists 'do' and what roles they may adopt in policy-making in contemporary contexts.

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‘Anthropolicy’: Reflections on the relationship between anthropology and policy

Author(s): Heba Aziz (German University of Technology Oman)


The natural ‘home’ of many anthropologists is the (generally Western) academy. They venture out of it to immerse themselves in other societies, other languages. Their work is characterised by ‘difference’ - between the culture of their temporary hosts and the domestic perspectives of scholarship. It is a relationship that at best explores creative tension but at worst promotes the casual complacencies of ‘colonial’ superiority. This prevailing dynamic however is challenged when the originating ‘home’ of the anthropologist is the very society they are studying – the nomad returning to his tribe, the peasant to his village - or in my case the Arab woman seeking ethnographic data in relation to societies of the Middle East.

Such individuals often return ‘home’ to engage with social issues outside the academy – making another kind of ‘difference’ as they seek to improve the social and economic prospects of communities they have identified with all their lives. For some the most direct way to do this is to bring the discipline of anthropology to bear on the development and implementation of policy – within governments and NGOs. This paper reflects on my experience as senior advisor to a Minister of Tourism within the Arab world and explores the aspirations, challenges, and at times frustrations faced by an anthropologist seeking to inform the formulation of government policy with insights derived from anthropology.

Supping with the Devil? The anthropologist as consultant.

Author(s): David Harrison (Middlesex University)


Debates about the role of anthropologists in applying their subject in policy contexts and putting it and themselves in the service of government and development agencies are not new. They began in the colonial period and continue today. After presenting examples of these debates, and the conditions in which they arose, the focus shifts to the current role of the anthropologist in tourism, the relationship of consultancy to anthropological professional and academic training, and the stereotypes that exist of academic anthropologists, on the one hand, consultants, on the other. It is suggested that whilst there is a need for many more bridges between anthropologists and aid organisations to be made, the former need to become more involved in the practical aspects of tourism development. There is an equal need for government and aid agencies to recognise the value that anthropologists can bring to projects, especially aspects of these that relate to populations of areas about to be developed and the impact that development will have on them. Consultancy experience will be drawn upon in order to illustrate some of the problems involved in anthropological intervention rather than to convey a (false) sense of 'best practice'.

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Plenary List

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