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Towards a non-human anthropology of tourism 
Ignacio Farias (Humboldt University of Berlin)
Series D: Mobilities
Start time:
10 April, 2007 at 16:30 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short Abstract:

This panel seeks to gather and discuss new perspectives, first, on tourist agency as distributed through hybrid assemblages of human and nonhumans and, second, on tourism, not as a form of physical mobility, but rather as a social practice, performance, frame, ordering, or systemic communication.

Long Abstract

The panel seeks to gather and discuss new theoretical perspectives for the anthropology of tourism and, thereby, discuss two extended assumptions in contemporary tourism studies.

First, tourist agency cannot be longer understood as an exclusively human property and, therefore, the tourist not longer treated as independent variable, cause, or origin of tourism. Papers are welcomed that reassess tourist embodiment, perfomances and mobility as phenomena mediated and constituted by materialities, nature, technologies, and texts. Ethnographic, visual and theoretical contributions elaborating on the experience of being a tourist as a relational effect of large assemblages of humans and non-humans might focus on a variety of topics, such as material cultures (clothing cultures, souvenirs, tools), technological devices (photographic and video cameras, double-deckers), textual constructions (guidebooks, novels), animal cultures (from pets to monsters).

Second, it is necessary also to reconsider the traditional association of tourism with physical mobility. Papers are welcomed that explore tourism from new theoretical frameworks focusing on social practices, performances, interactional frames, performative orderings, systemic communication, etc. Ethnographic, visual and theoretical contributions might focus on a variety of phenomena such as the blurring boundaries between home and away, the expansion of forms of non-touristic global mobility, as well as new forms of tourism at home, particularly tourism within the city.

Not exclusively, but this panel especially welcomes contributions tuned with what might be called 'the non-human turn' in the social sciences, based on rhizomatic (such as Actor-Network Theory) and communicative (ethnomethodology, systems theory, etc.) understandings of the social.

Accepted papers:


Lucia Allais

Paper short abstract:

Paper long abstract:

In his recent "Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory," Bruno Latour remarks that the word "social" has come to mean "a type of material," used "in a comparable way to an adjective such as 'wooden' or 'steely'," which "rather than indicating what is assembled together, makes assumptions about the nature of what is assembled."(1)

This paper offers an architectural perspective on the social definition of tourism by examining the reverse semantic operation: when architectural materials—wood and steel, but above all, concrete and sandstone—are injected with "social" assumptions that make the monuments they substantiate suitable for tourism.

Taking an ANT-inspired approach to architecture in the context of post-war development in Egypt, I see architectural monuments as "things" in the Latourian sense: hybrid assemblages whose social agency lies in their material construction. I concentrate on the monolithic temples at Abu Simbel: hewn in a sandstone cliff along the Nile around 3000 B.C., these colossal structures were carefully dismantled and displaced during the international campaign, launched by UNESCO in 1959, to "salvage" the Nubian monuments threatened by the construction of the Aswan High Dam. The paper proceeds through an analysis of the competing engineering schemes proposed by France, Italy, England and Egypt, for this salvage operation.

Even as they were cut into blocks, moved, then re-assembled into an artificial concrete hill, the temples at Abu Simbel retained their value as authentic monoliths, because a set of aesthetic codes ensured their continued material "integrity." The paper analyzes these codes, tracking their passage from specialized discourses (architecture, archaeology, conservation) into the language of tourism. Paramount among these tropes is the placement of the temples in the "universal heritage of mankind"—and the attendant assumption that the hospitality of this hypothetical "mankind" legitimizes tourism as a basic pattern of development.

The paper distinguishes three forms of mobility as constitutive of Nubia's regional identity: the imagined mobility of future tourists (able to navigate Pharaonic Egypt as a proto-internationalist heterotopia); the forced mobility of local populations (relocated to make way for the flooding of the Nile); and the engineered mobility of the monuments themselves (re-assembled in the Nubian desert, or sent to Western museums as "gifts in return.")

(1) Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).


Sung-Yueh Perng (Tunghai University)

Paper short abstract:

Less literature takes up the aspect that technologies become body extension and participate in the embodied engagement of tourist places. In this paper, I identify the ways in which digital photography become crucial in connecting food, its taste and its relationships with the knowledge of a place.

Paper long abstract:

The development of mobile media technologies has prompted rhizomatic networking of technologies and tourists and in turn brought about the knowing of a place with embodied imagination through various photographic practices.

Although more literature has been focusing on how photography is related to sociality through memory, less literature has taken up the aspect that technologies become body extension and participate in the embodied engagement of tourist places. Therefore, in this paper, I identify the ways in which media technologies become crucial in connecting food, its taste and its relationships with the knowledge of a place in Taiwanese context.

The rhizomatic interconnections between the human and nonhuman is enabled firstly by the technological designs and strengthened by technological practices which aim to overcome the gap between technological development and ordinary lives. Such kind of interconnections is best exemplified in the companionship of cameras and tourists. They perform a mutual embeddedness so that cameras become the body extension of tourists and join in tasting tourist places.

Photography should then be understood more with embodied imagination than the crystallisation of tourist experiences. Photography no longer is a distilled reflection upon journeys but involves, food, various elements that influence the experiences of tasting food, the knowledge of documenting food tasting process and various ways to present the photos. Such photographic practice distances tourist photos from viewers as on the one hand the proximity that photography obtains through homogenising tourist experiences is challenged by the heterogeneous process of tasting and photographing foods. On the other, to grasp the delightfulness or disgust of toured and photographed foods requires the working of embodied imagination to connect past experiences of tasting similar or that particular foods and the embodied process of approaching them.

The aforementioned hybrid of tourists and media technologies has therefore suggested that tourist photography nowadays does not only consist of visual appreciation and consumption but require the working of embodied imagination to connect absent, past experiences with the present.


Emma-Reetta Koivunen (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Paper short abstract:

Analysing the representations of a Shetland island community on tourist websites and comparing these to the tourist experiences shows that promoting tourist services on the Internet can give tourist business providers in rural locations more freedom to decide how their community is represented

Paper long abstract:

The use of the Internet for tourism is a widely recognised phenomenon, calling forth the attention of the academic community. The Internet has made it easier for tourists to find information about travel and locations, as well as for the tourist sector to take control of promoting services directly to consumers. The paper presents and analyses empirical data of verbal descriptions and the imagery used on tourist websites on a Shetland Island. The paper explores in particular the representations of the island community in tourist websites. Even though the websites use the familiar descriptions and iconography of rurality for tourists, such as beautiful scenery, it is remarkable that the websites lack certain aspects of the usual way of representing Shetland, such as community life. These representations will be analysed in relation to the practices of tourism and the everyday life in the community.


Elsa Vivant (London School of Economics)

Paper short abstract:

Could off cultural places be tourist places by corresponding to the 'tourist gaze' expectations? How do guidebooks mark them as tourist sites?

Paper long abstract:

Could off cultural places (such as artistic squats) be tourist places by corresponding to the 'tourist gaze' expectations? In this paper, I discuss an analysis based on guidebooks, considered as city-image and tourist-image makers. Do off places appear in the guidebooks? Are they considered as places to visit such as museums? How are these places presented by the guidebooks? Which meanings do the guidebooks give to them? Are they a part of a city's imaginary? In other words, are off cultures a part of the city imaginary ? Actually, off scenes are becoming tourist attractions in some cities, such as Berlin, while they are ignored in other places like Paris.