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Tourism, political economy and culture 
James G Carrier (Indiana University)
Donald Macleod (Glasgow University)
Series B: Political economy/development
Start time:
12 April, 2007 at 16:30 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short Abstract:

The panel concerns culture in its various guises and its relationship with tourism development as a disputed process. Culture may be the dominant factor in development, or used as a tool and commodity. As a primary focus of anthropological study, this relationship deserves further consideration.

Long Abstract

The focus of this panel is culture in its various guises and the ways it is implicated in tourism development, seen as a disputed, political-economic process. Culture can be seen as shaping tourism development and as a focus of it. In addition, it can be seen as a tool in political-economic strategies concerning tourism, something that those in tourism and those opposed to it invoke or manipulate to achieve their objectives. Culture and its relationship with tourism development deserves further investigation, and anthropologists can play an important role in understanding the ways that elements of culture shape and are shaped by people in host communities and by those who seek to influence them, including ordinary community members, governments, those in tourism and tourists themselves. Possible themes for this panel include:

The ways that tourism and those involved in it shape the host community, intentionally or not. Things shaped can include the ways that those in the host community understand themselves and others in terms of gender roles, cosmologies, political organisations, morality and so on.

The relevance of aspects of the host society’s culture for tourism development: as facilitator (to be encouraged), hindrance (to be overcome) or commodity (to be presented), or as contextual factor shaping that development. Pertinent aspects can include: religious beliefs and differences, political organisation and assumptions, economic values and orientations, or attitudes towards tourists.

Accepted papers:


Elena Calvo-Gonzalez (Federal University of Bahia)
Luciana Duccini (Universidade Federal da Bahia)

Paper long abstract:

In this paper we explore the continuities and discontinuities of the use of racial and cultural ideas about "Black culture" and "Black bodies" in the crafting of public policies of tourism in Bahia, while assessing the impact that successful policies in the field of tourism can have in other areas of statecraft.

The ideas of racial difference in Brazil were always to a certain extent enmeshed with ideas about cultural difference. However, from the 1930s onwards, and particularly since the 1960s, one can trace a definite shift from an emphasis on the biological "race" to an emphasis on "culture" as the basis of State discourses that deal with "difference". By the turn of the 21st century, and particularly after the participation of Brazil in the UN Conference Against Racism, held in Durban in 2001, racialised public policies resurfaced in Brazil.

By analysing how the idea of "Black Culture" was deployed in the crafting of a "uniqueness" of Bahia that formed the basis of public policies in the field of tourism in this brazilian state, we aim to show not only how this ideas of "cultural" difference was implicitly in dialogue with ideas about "biological" difference, but also how the relative success of tourism policies in Bahia allowed to bring through the back door the notion of Blackness as biological difference in other fields of public administration.


Dimitrios Theodossopoulos (University of Kent)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper I examine indigenous cultural presentations by an Embera community in Panama. I argue that the very process of making their culture available to tourists contributes to the definition of Embera identity, as this is experienced by outsiders, and embodied by the Embera themselves.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper I examine indigenous cultural presentations for Western tourists in an allegedly 'inauthentic' Embera community in Panama, which entertains tourists on a daily basis. I challenge the idea, introduced by several travellers who seek authentic experiences, that the community in question is 'unreal' and its repetitive representations of Embera culture are mechanical, sterile and unoriginal. I argue instead that repetitive cultural performances for tourists, through their recurring reproduction, provide opportunities for culture experimentation: new possibilities for defining tradition and indigenous identity, new culturally established routes for escaping economic isolation. Cultural presentations for tourists, in this context, connect the indigenous community with the wider economy and enhance the visibility of the Embera both internationally and within Panamanian society. In this respect, the host culture is not merely the focus of tourist development, but also a facilitator of political representation. And as such, the very process of making their culture available to tourists contributes to the definition of Embera identity, as this is experienced by outsiders, and embodied (through daily performance) by the Embera themselves.


Michael Hitchcock (University of Chichester)

Paper short abstract:


Paper long abstract:

Michel Houellebecq's controversial novel 'Platform' (2002) manages to combine an account of sex tourism with an horrific terrorist attack in Thailand. Whatever the merits of the book, which was originally published in French in 1999, the author is eerily prescient about how tourist resorts could become terrorism targets in Southeast Asia. Houellebecq may be concerned with Thailand, which has suffered attacks on nightclubs and centres of entertainment, but has not experienced the same level of terrorist violence as other Southeast Asian countries, notably the Philippines. There the militant Islamic group Abu Sayyaf took 21 hostages, including 10 foreign tourists, from a diving resort in the Malaysia state of Sabah. The worst outrage to date occurred in Bali in 2002 where over 201 people lost their lives when three bombs were ignited. In this case the bombers were rounded up relatively quickly and on admitting their guilt where quick to point out why they had acted as they did. Thailand, however, is arguably one of the most iconic of tourism destinations and the fact that the real terrorist outrages have happened elsewhere does not detract from one of the main messages of the book: tourists are easily attacked and some of what they engage in may be used as a justification for attacking them.


Veronica Strang (Durham University)

Paper long abstract:

This paper is concerned with the political economy and the different sub-cultural perspectives that lead to conflicts between recreational water users and farming communities in Queensland. Drawing on recent ethnographic studies of the Mitchell and Brisbane River catchment areas, it observes that in the last two decades, farming has declined as a central aspect of the state and national economy, while tourism has boomed. Within the same landscape, the aims and aspirations of farming and recreational water users are often diametrically opposed. Farmers are anxious to protect (and if they can increase) their water allocations, while tourists and tourist industries tend to support the efforts of environmental groups to persuade governments to cut allocations for irrigation and enforce more draconian regulations with respect to water management and the maintenance of 'environmental flows'. Farmers and recreational water users not only have opposing ideas about what constitutes positive developmental directions, but also widely differing interactions with water, which in themselves serve to inculcate values that may be irreconcilable.