ASA09: Anthropological and archaeological imaginations: past, present and future
Bristol, UK

Imagineering the past: the (mis)uses of anthropology and archaeology in tourism
Location Wills 3.30
Date and Time 8th April, 2009 at 14:30


Noel B. Salazar (University of Leuven)
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Short Abstract

This panel presents empirical case studies that critically analyze how (often outdated) anthropological and archaeological knowledge is (mis)used by tourism stakeholders to create easily sellable interpretations of heritage and, in the process, transforming local peoples' lives.

Long Abstract

In a bid to obtain a piece of the lucrative global tourism pie, destinations worldwide are trying to play up their local distinctiveness. This is sometimes done by borrowing from traditional ethnology an ontological and essentialist vision of exotic cultures, conceived as static entities with clearly defined characteristics. Ideas of old-style colonial anthropology and archaeology - objectifying, reifying, homogenizing, and naturalizing peoples - are widely (mis)used in international tourism by individuals and organizations staking claims of identity and cultural belonging on imagined notions of place and locality. Ironically, this is happening at a time when anthropologists and archaeologists alike prefer more constructivist approaches to human heritage, taking it for granted that cultures and societies were never passive, bounded and homogeneous entities.

Of course, academic writings (often outdated ones) are only one source of inspiration that shape tourism imaginaries of peoples and places, but they are an underestimated and under-researched one. While there is a growing literature on how fieldworkers engage with tourism, at their research sites or on a theoretical level, there has been little systematic investigation of how archaeological and anthropological knowledge is (mis)used, à la carte, by tourism stakeholders to produce easily sellable interpretations of heritage (and, in the process, transforming local peoples' lives). This panel presents empirical case studies that critically analyze which aspects of the two intertwined disciplines are used in tourism to create nostalgic essentializing imagery of so-called authentic traditions and cultures and what the ascribed and self-identified roles and responsibilities of scholars are in these processes.

Chair: Jackie Waldren (University of Oxford)
Discussant: Nelson Graburn (University of California, Berkeley)

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Disciplinary anthropology? Amateur ethnography and the invention of local 'heritage'

Author: Matthew Hodges (University of Kent)


'Amateur' anthropology and ethnography are categories proposed by anthropologists themselves (Grimshaw & Hart 1992), seeking to critique a perceived culture of 'professionalism' within the discipline. Yet they have arguably been practised extensively by individuals in rural communities oblivious to such academic debates. On the one hand, this has ostensibly occurred with a view to 'pastoral' conservation of records of 'local history', 'traditions' and 'customs', or empowerment of local identities. However, further objectives have been the 'disciplining' of the intangible cultural heritage (UNESCO 2003) of indigenous populations by entrepreneurial locals and incomers for use in heritage tourism. This paper analyzes several projects from a coastal village in Mediterranean France, that have 'borrowed' discursive forms from French ethnology, and historiography, to convert predominantly intangible local heritages into disciplined archives and booklets with a view to their utility in heritage tourism practices.

From one perspective, incomers and entrepreneurial locals are emulating the living traditions of collectors of 'folk' customs, who contributed to the French ethnological tradition. The extent to which academic and 'amateur' are thus conjoined within French anthropology and recent heritage tourism is a further exploratory area of the paper. The paper will analyze how 'anthropological' investigations can reveal the character of such disciplinary programmes; the nature of their approximation to the discipline; and indeed the disciplinary character of anthropological research itself - such as my own - which has arguably contributed to, and been invoked in such disciplinary programmes.

The ghost of anthropologists past: the exotic and the uncanny in Salvador da Bahia (Brazil)

Author: Marta Magalhaes Wallace (Cambridge University)


Salvador da Bahia is today one of Brazil's main tourist destinations. A series of "unique features" are said to endow the city with an irresistible character. Salvador is a UNESCO World heritage site but, for most of its inhabitants, there is a lot more to its allure than meets the eye. On the first page of the governmental tourist agency website, one quickly stumbles upon a hint of what this may consist of: 'famous for its history, for the legacy left by people from other continents, for [its] religious syncretism, [Salvador] has been the object of several studies, conducted by professionals from different fields.' Anthropologists have figured prominently among the aforementioned professionals. Indeed, some have become nothing short of local celebrities— Pierre Verger being the most notorious case. That anthropologists should have flocked to the city is no coincidence: Salvador once harboured the Americas' busiest slave port and is, even now, "known" mostly for its large population of African descent's distinctive cultural makeup. However, the process whereby ethnographic representations have fed tourism stakeholders' portrayals of the city has not been properly addressed. Neither have anthropologists engaged with the mediated knowledge that feeds back onto narratives of the city by its inhabitants, who talk of its appeal in terms of it being really a tangible extension of their intangible selves. In this paper, I aim to address the distinct senses of knowing, incompatible scales (of knowledge) and orders of representation that both underpin this process and continuously reconstitute it.

Revisiting Time and the Other (Fabian 1983)

Author: Stephanie Koerner (Liverpool University )


"What has happened that has made images the focus of so much passion?....To the point where being an iconoclast seems the highest virtue, the highest piety, in intellectual circles? (Latour, Iconoclash. 2002: 14)."

Until rather recently, few anthropologists and archaeologists are likely to have been receptive to suggestions that answers to these questions might relate very directly to problems Fabian (1983) summarised as the "denial of the coevalness of the West and the Rest." The situation may be changing. Especially researchers working in situations where controversies over the relative value to expanding tourism industries of 'lived cultural heritage' are embedded in deepening inequalities with regards to exposure to techno-science risk, unsustainable development and political conflict, are becoming interested in the deeper historical backgrounds of conditions under which it is possible for some to deny the coevalness of diverse historical trajectories.

In this presentation, I illustrate with examples from the history of circumstances summarised by the expression 'iconoclash' (Latour and Weibel 2002) something of relevance to this session's concerns of inquiries into historical backgrounds of "temporalising devises" that "deny the coevalness" of cultural differences (Fabian 1983).

Recycling 'old' anthropology and archaeology in 'new' tourism

Author: Noel B. Salazar (University of Leuven)


The role of anthropology and archaeology in seeding tourism imaginaries - especially about remote destinations - goes beyond stereotypical Indiana Jones representations and is far more extensive than most scholars want to acknowledge. In this paper, I draw on ongoing ethnographic fieldwork in Indonesia and Tanzania to critically dissect the (mis)use of anthropology and archaeology in local tour guiding narratives and practices. A fine-grained analysis of tour guiding for both domestic and international visitors shows how outdated scholarly theories prevail in the widely circulating imaginaries of global tourism and how these conceptualisations are strategically (mis)used by local entrepreneurs to represent and sell places and peoples as 'authentic' travel destinations, untouched by extra-local influences. This, of course, is highly paradoxical because the phenomenon of tourism itself is a global force producing constant change and cultural hybridity. How do we deal with the fact that tourism stakeholders on various levels legitimize their representations of peoples as passive, bounded, and homogeneous entities by referring to old-fashioned scholarly theories, while the majority of academics have long accepted that these discourses and ideas do not reflect reality and often silence the voice of the powerless? Reflecting on these ethnographic findings, I advocate more attention of colleague anthropologists and archaeologists to the widespread (mis)use of scholarly productions outside academia and their real impact - whether beneficial or damaging - on people's daily lives. Taking up this ethical responsibility becomes even more pressing as knowledge in general has become key to the interconnected world in which most of us live.

Challenges associated with interpreting gold rush archaeology for visitors: a case study of the Bendigo Chinese Heritage Precinct

Authors: Jennifer Laing (Tourism Research Unit, Monash University)
Keir Reeves (Monash University)


The discovery of a mid-nineteenth century Chinese kiln in Bendigo, Australia, believed to be the only one of its type still in existence outside of mainland China, provides an opportunity to present the lives of the Chinese in Bendigo to a wider audience. However, this archaeological site will require ethnographic analysis and historic interpretation to make it accessible to visitors. Given its location adjacent to a Chinese 'joss-house', the site is intended to form part of a heritage precinct that can be read as a cultural landscape and understood as a driver of cultural memory and identity for the local community. This paper, based on a program of research aimed at understanding and interpreting the Bendigo goldfields region, examines numerous challenges faced in melding the cultural stories and historical themes associated with the kiln site into tourism opportunities for various audiences. These include issues of authenticity related to site development and choice of interpretive media and heritage dissonance linked with contested themes of diaspora, migration/displacement and colonialism. The paper advocates an approach to heritage interpretation based on ethnography of place, where our understanding of material objects or artefacts is illuminated by uncovering the associated intangible layers of history and meaning, so as to reveal an archaeology 'of knowledge and imagination' (Mayne and Lawrence, 1998). This approach is argued to contribute to richer and more meaningful tourist experiences, as well as acting as a conduit for building social capital, place/multicultural identity and connections with the past.

'Sharing in the life of Sami reindeer herders': how the ethnographically created image of Sami reindeer herding becomes a tourist attraction in the Russian North

Author: Vladislava Vladimirova (Uppsala University)


Two academic traditions give life to the concept of Sami reindeer herding in the European North of Russia. The first, imported from the Fennoscandic ethnopolitical debate, posits reindeer herding as the symbolic base of Sami culture and identity. Transposed to the Kola Peninsula, this idea presents the Russian Sami population as intrinsically connected with reindeer herding, and consequently - reindeer herding on the Kola as an exclusively Sami way of life. The second tradition originates from Russian Ethnography, and, specifically, Soviet reindeer herding typologies which single out Sami herding as a highly distinct type. Local people tend to use the phrase "Sami herding" in a variety of ways too, thus contributing to the general polysemy. All of these multiple and context-dependent senses, associated with Sami reindeer herding, tend to popularise the misconception that Kola reindeer herding is a synonym for Sami reindeer herding - i.e. one practiced today by ethnic Sami people. This image, most often used in ethnopolitical rhetoric, has also been increasingly employed for business purposes, particularly in tourism. This paper presents contemporary ethnography from tourist businesses in Northwest Russia. It investigates the patterns and practices of reproduction and economic exploitation of the concept of Sami reindeer herding, and the social tensions that such practices create.

La belle creole: heritage, tourism and the politics of representation in St Lucia

Author: Jennifer Lutton (CUNY Graduate Center)


Heritage tourism in St. Lucia developed in the last decade in response to the economic shift from agriculture to tourism prompted by the ending of European trading preferences. This uncertain political economic context creates an urgency among heritage specialists and cultural activists to preserve, (re)define and (re)assert St. Lucian heritage for St. Lucians and tourists alike. St. Lucian heritage becomes linked with tourism marketing agendas which support constructions of historical, cultural, and ecological distinctiveness in a quest to remain competitive in regional tourism. Emphasizing uniqueness presents an opportunity for St. Lucians to tell their history and celebrate culture on their own terms. However, goals of private tourism concerns and general public perception over the uses of heritage are often at odds with cultural and historical interpretations constructed by local cultural and historical heritage organizations. While cultural activists and heritage specialists subscribe to anthropological views of culture, in public debates about the role St. Lucian creole culture should play in development, some charge that emphasizing creole culture—for St. Lucians and foreign tourists— shows a nation stuck in the past, frozen in time, putting it at a disadvantage in the global economy. At historic heritage tourism sites, most recent archaeological and historical interpretation has been approached from the paradigm of history from below, yet many heritage sites mask or omit colonial history and its effects, privileging romanticized versions of colonial history. This paper examines the substance of debates over the uses of creole culture and the multiplicity of representations of colonialism, slavery, and resistance in St. Lucian heritage tourism. I argue that these vibrant debates and varied representations reveal complex processes of national identity construction in a nation still coming to terms with its colonial past and the fragility of its present political sovereignty as it confronts, accommodates and challenges globalizing processes.