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Tourism Research as "Global Ethnography"

posted Apr 16, 2011, 5:03 PM by Michael Di Giovine
An essay by Michael A. Di Giovine, posted on Anthropologies, an online collaborative project, makes the case for tourism research to be better integrated into anthropological studies of globalization and mobilites by outlining a number of methodologies for conducting global ethnographies of tourism.

Tourism Research as "Global Ethnography"
Michael A. Di Giovine

Tourism is a topic that has traditionally been treated with great ambivalence in anthropology, particularly compared to related issues such mobility and globalization. This is certainly curious considering that tourism continues to be the largest and fastest-growing industry in the world, even in the post-9/11 environment of terrorism fears and economic recession. This may explain why business schools, hospitality departments and management programs—particularly those outside of the United States—have embraced tourism studies, but it does not explain its relative neglect by, for example, economic anthropologists and others who are concerned with global flows of money, peoples, or information. (To be fair, tourism is so ubiquitous that many of us cannot but deal with the topic, but often in a tangential way). 

Indeed, it is even more curious that Malcolm Crick’s seminal exposé, “Representations of International Tourism in the Social Sciences” (Annual Review of Anthropology 18(1) 1989)—now some 20 years old—still seems relevant today: Crick pointed to a pan-literati prejudice towards tourism, which is often perceived as a (post-)modern bourgeois distortion of more honorable and edifying forms of journeying such as pilgrimage and Grand Tour-era travel (see, for example, Boorstin’s diatribe on tourism in his 1961 classic The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America). It probably doesn’t help that tourists (religious and secular) are often loathe to even consider themselves tourists, and often prefer to mark themselves out as different from the tourist masses. For example, those who walk at least 100 km along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela wear scallop shells to denote themselves as “real” pilgrims, as opposed to the other devotees who come by car or tour bus; and both low-end backpackers and high-end “FITs” (free and independent travelers) often try to avoid popular “tourist trap” destinations by visiting less prized, but presumably more “authentic” sites.

Fortunately, tourism may finally be taking its place as a legitimate realm of anthropological inquiry, if a recent issue of Anthropology News (November 2010) dedicated entirely to the topic is any indication. Articles dealt with heritage appropriation, the representation of material culture, “pro-poor,” community-based, and volunteer tourism, and especially the tourism industry’s growth in developing countries in Asia and Africa. But as classically situated in a particular “field site” as many of these articles were—the Chinese ethnic village, the African archaeological excavation, or, in my case, the World Heritage site of Angkor—it was evident that the field of inquiry was not local, but global.

In light of this, I propose here that anthropology can better embrace tourism’s relevance and dynamicism when research is undertaken as a form of “global ethnography.”

[Continue reading here]