E1


The 'sex' of tourism? 
Convenor:
Susan Frohlick (University of British Columbia)
Stream:
Series E: Enchantment
Location:
GCG09/10
Start time:
12 April, 2007 at 11:30 (UTC+0)
Session slots:
1

Short Abstract:

This panel explores how anthropologists studying tourism have (not) addressed sexuality, and thus examines the reticence to study pleasure, desire, fantasy, sensuality, consumption, and corporeality. It aims to incite possibilities for thinking about intersections between tourism and sexualities.

Long Abstract

This panel will explore how anthropology has (and has not) addressed sexualities in the context of tourism, and in turn to critically examine the reticence of anthropologists to study a number of formations including pleasure, desire, fantasy, sensuality, consumption, and corporeality. How and why do anthropologists studying tourism and tourists shy away from sexuality as an analytical and ethnographic focus? Might anthropologists more resolutely engage issues of sexuality with the study of tourism in attempt to broaden the scope of a new embodied anthropology of tourism? Might anthropologists glean insights about global processes and formations of global tourism by looking at how sexuality and desire for intimacy in a globalized world play out in different contexts and places? The growing global phenomenon of sex tourism demands much more anthropological attention, especially with regards to the production of nuanced, culturally sensitive, and empirically grounded accounts. Yet "sex tourism" dominates the scant body of literature in anthropology on sexuality and tourism when there is such a wide range of intersections between formations of tourism and formations of sexuality to be explored! These few questions posed here are meant to incite new possibilities to think about the intersection of tourism and sexualities, and thus to suggest that sexualities is an important lens through which to comprehend contemporary tourist formations, tourism phenomena, and globalization/transnationalism. More broadly this panel seeks to examine ongoing taboos within anthropological fields to do with both sexuality and tourism as pleasure-oriented social relations and practices.

Accepted papers:

Author:

Donna Chambers (University of Surrey)

Paper long abstract:

Gay tourism can arguably be seen as an increasingly lucrative form of niche tourism because of the growing economic wealth of the gay visitor and the increasing legitimisation of homosexuality particularly within the developed world. However, despite this apparent importance of the gay consumer in general, and specifically within the context of tourism, to date there has been a dearth of studies on homosexuality and tourism. Undeniably, for researchers in tourism who seem to be already unwilling to address issues of sexuality and corporeality, the subject of homosexuality seems to present an added complexity and sensitivity. The lack of studies in this area might also lie in the difficulties associated with definitions of homosexuality and consequently with identifying the gay traveller as a distinct market segment. This paper seeks to, in some way, contribute to the limited discussion on homosexuality and travel through a focus on the attitudes of host societies towards homosexuality, and by extension, towards gay travel, with particular focus on the Caribbean island of Jamaica. The paper presents an exploratory argument which is grounded in a postcolonial theoretical context and which draws on evidence from an eclectic mix of secondary sources including newspaper articles, journals, magazines and the internet. Two issues are explored in the paper: The first interrogates the argument that the negative attitudes of many Jamaicans towards homosexuality are a reflection of a wider post colonial political struggle. This wider struggle is against colonial legacies of poverty and violence against a largely black male 'underclass' with homophobia emerging as an exaggerated masculinity in the face of this emasculation of the black male. The second exploration undertaken in this paper is related to whether the pressure exerted on the island to conform to the more 'liberal,' 'enlightened' attitudes of the developed, capitalist world towards homosexuality can be viewed as a form of postcolonial imperialism which is increasingly being played out in and through tourism.

Author:

Susan Frohlick (University of British Columbia)

Paper long abstract:

In an era of 'tourist mania' (Adams 2005), researchers in tourist settings are situated in pre-existing stages of drama where our traffic in touristic representations may collide with locals' own. The 'sex' of tourism is problematic for local residents whose lives are impinged upon by sexual tourism in their community. In this regard, my fieldwork in a Caribbean tourist town in Costa Rica presented dilemmas both in the field and while writing up. Sexual relationships between European and North American female tourists and local men are hidden by narratives of sin, shame, and secrecy yet at the same time women wanted to tell their stories, as do locals. I was challenged to consider various complications presented by sexual secrecy, including the question of 'context' and how to situate the drama and conflicting narratives in a diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-national, and somewhat 'closeted' sexual town, which is also, ironically, a global stage for tourist-local sexual encounters.

Author:

Amie Matthews (University of Western Sydney)

Paper long abstract:

Long understood as a transitional moment significant to identity formation, travel is not only a sensory experience of sights and sounds, but also a space wherein individuals may be freed from the socio-cultural norms and expectations that govern interpersonal interactions and everyday behaviour. As a liminoid space, travel often incorporates moments of heightened sociability and corporeality. Subsequently, in the backpacking community hedonistic desires and touristic impulse tend to rule in equal (albeit sometimes conflicting) measure.

Situated within a larger research project, which examines the role of extended international travel in the lives of young Australians, this paper explores the significance of some of the more hedonistic elements of the backpacking culture as they are witnessed in ethnography, relayed in travel narratives and evoked in the media. While it would be easy to dismiss (as many travellers do) what one interviewee dubbed the 'sex, drugs and alcohol trifecta' as being culturally void and inauthentic, I would argue that these hedonistic elements common to the backpacking lifestyle are more rightly conceived as products of globalised transience. Further, they are undoubtedly influenced by young travellers' concerns with freedom and authenticity - that is with 'real living' - and desires for experiential knowledge.

While issues of sexuality, desire and intimacy are infrequently addressed in academic studies of tourism and often downplayed in travel narratives, they are nevertheless subtextually present within the backpacking community. These are, if you will, the words left unspoken in emails or phone calls home, the photo captions left unwritten. Notwithstanding, interpersonal encounters and corporeal experiences are equally important as traditional tourist sites and experiences in the construction of place, self and other.

Author:

George Paul Meiu (Harvard University)

Paper long abstract:

Beginning with the 1980s, female tourists from Europe, and to a lesser extent from North America, Australia and Japan, started visiting Kenya driven by an erotic nostalgia for the now famous prototype of the Maasai or Samburu "warrior". The image of tall, slim bodies, dressed in red, wearing spears and carrying clubs led to a stereotypical 'aesthetization' of the Samburu men. As my on-going research in Kenya reveals, the relationships between female tourists and Samburu ilmurran (warriors) engage a plurality of often incompatible sexualities and notions of pleasure. Herein, various forms of recursive communication through sensorial interaction become an important way of negotiating new paths of pleasure between partners. In this paper, I suggest that an emphasis on higher order learning (Bateson, 1987) can allow for a conceptual acknowledgement of the intersection between various embodiments and sexualities in the context of tourism. I propose that studies of sex tourism need to move beyond mechanistic analyses, and engage with some of these deeper channels of contextual aesthetic communication.