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Tourism and politics in transitional societies 
Saskia Cousin (Université Paris Descartes)
Caroline Legrand (CNRS)
Series B: Political economy/development
Start time:
11 April, 2007 at 11:30 (UTC+0)
Session slots:

Short Abstract:

This panel questions the political frames of tourism in transitional societies, including post-conflict and post-socialists countries. It explores the way classifications, agendas and guidelines of politics and institutions both shape and meet tourists' expectations and concrete activities.

Long Abstract

What is anthropology of tourism all about? Formerly, anthropologists used to focus on the impact of tourism activities on geographical and cultural landscapes. Today's major trend is to questioning the relationship between tourism and the construction of identities. Tourism policies are usually pushed into the background or relegated to other disciplines. Yet, we believe that there is a need, first, to question the political frames of tourism (i.e. ways whereby governments, institutions and public agencies act towards tourism industry), and second, to explore the way their classifications, agendas and guidelines both shape and meet tourists' expectations and concrete activities.

The politics of tourism are particularly interesting to study in transitional societies (including post-conflict or post-socialist societies), where mass tourism is currently emerging. The commonplace view of such societies is that of a global (Western) wave of tourism sweeping through the local landscape and leaving standardised resorts and cultural accommodation/resistance in its way. But in fact, national institutions, state and market actors, and domestic tourists have their own agendas and preferred practices, often in the pursuit of particular agendas of modernisation and/or nation-building, that engage global institutions and practices with differing results.

We invite papers that analyse the way economic and political institutions think about, label and classify tourist activities (sex tourism, roots tourism, cultural tourism, …) in these specific societies. We are also interested in how institutions (private or public, local, national or transnational) try to regulate and control both the market of tourism industry and its participants (holidaymakers, professionals of tourism, and host population). We also welcome papers that question the way local pedagogical agendas (including ideas of national heritage and modernization) have interacted, in transitional places, with the agendas of international organisations (such as UNESCO, WTO, European Union).

Accepted papers:


Claudia N Campeanu (University of Texas, Austin)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examins the relationship between tourist development, historical preservation funding, and political and economic change.

Paper long abstract:

In 1999 the historical center of Sighisoara, Romania, joined seven of the surrounding villages on UNESCO's World Heritage list as a well-preserved example of the Saxon culture in Southeast Transylvania. Tourism development as well as international interest in heritage preservation and the German Saxon culture have already been present here for years, contributing to the local post-socialist transformations.

The heritage status of these sites has enabled and oriented multiple articulations between the state, various international organizations and institutions, the local as well as a globalized symbolic and material economy. Instrumental to these articulations were several of the local institutional and individual actors which have tactically doubled as both businesses and NGOs, business owners and members in the local council, as well as the local economic and political elite.

In this paper, based on eighteen months of fieldwork, I examine and untangle the formal and informal practices and flows linking these separate spheres. I pay particular attention to how tourist development—understood as preparing the site, in many ways, for tourist consumption—has been a mediator for drawing in state and international institutions and their resources, and introducing them in the local economy in ways that produce and reinforce local elites and hierarchies.


Eileen Walsh (Skidmore College)

Paper short abstract:

At Lugu Lake, in southwest China, county, provincial and national officials use pollution - environmental, cultural and moral - to justify their decisions regarding tourism development.

Paper long abstract:

As mobility and consumption link to create the rush of domestic tourists across China, more and more "remote" peoples are called upon to commoditize themselves - both to package themselves and their group identity for tourism consumption as well as to present a packaged space for the "golden hordes" of wealthier tourists descending on their locales. As these locales become better known and widely visited, local, regional, and sometimes higher level players become involved in the decisions and policies that frame the changes and the "preservation" of these areas. In Yongning, northwest Yunnan, the Mosuo at Lugu Lake have attracted hundreds of thousands of tourists, and the rural infrastructure and culture has been obliged to accommodate the weight of these visitors. Romantic tourist notions of the lake include both a land of wise matriarchs and a feminist paradise or a land of frolicking maidens and a place for quick and easy trysts. Meanwhile, Lugu

Lake itself becomes increasingly polluted from the wastes of visitors, and performed Mosuo culture becomes increasingly accommodating to the tourist demands. Within this paper, I take a CCTV expose on pollution and prostitution at the lake as a starting point to explore the strategies of using pollution - environmental, cultural and moral - as means of jockeying for control over the lake area, and how it acts as a trope that locals, as well as county, provincial and national officials use to justify their decisions regarding this space.


Thomas Carter (University of Brighton)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the tensions between state attempts to control Cubans' engagement in the tourism industry. Using Habana Vieja as a site of contested terrain, residents challenge state attempts to control their interactions & commoditize their very existence.

Paper long abstract:

Specifically drawing upon nearly a decade of ethnographic fieldwork in Havana, Cuba and the burgeoning tourist industry on the island, this paper examines the role(s) of the post-Soviet Cuban state in structuring, promoting, and restricting the tourist experience. The particular concern here is an exploration of how the state itself acts as the primary agent in transforming specific segments of the Cuban populace into commodities, and how some Cubans resist their commoditization or, at the very least, turn their commoditization into a process for their own rather than the state's benefit. These contested processes reflect broader contests between the individual and the state in a twenty-first century socialist society. In so doing, I suggest that broader questions regarding the distributive use of power in tourist practices requires more incisive and informative ethnographic techniques for the elucidation and understanding of both state sanctioned and unsanctioned tourism-related activities not just in Cuba but throughout the global industry of tourism.


David Geary (University of British Columbia)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on recent ethnographic fieldwork this paper will examine the political economy of tourism development in contemporary Bodhgaya, the seat of Buddha's Enlightenment.

Paper long abstract:

Within the last fifteen years India has been recast as a rising global super power through a mounting rhetoric of economic reform and increasing liberalization. This transitional narrative and optimistic horizon runs in contrast with the rural poverty, violent caste and class inflections and decaying state structures characteristic of Bihar. Although the state's rich 'civilizational' and spiritual heritage is the homeland of both Buddhism and Jainism, Bihar has remained ill equipped in its capacity to provide adequate infrastructure for the development of international pilgrimage and tourist sites. However, in recent years the site of Buddha's Enlightenment has seen a resurgence of transnational Buddhism and pilgrimage involving the (re)settlement of foreign monastic institutions which forge and sustain multi-stranded social relations that extend beyond national borders. These institutions have played a proactive role in recreating the site as a World Buddhist Centre and have also precipitated the rise of new forms of social polarization, exploitation and competition among local stakeholders intertwined with tourism as a source of livelihood.

Drawing on recent ethnographic fieldwork this paper will contextualize these postcolonial and local/global entanglements in contemporary Bodhgaya. In line with this panel session, emphasis will be placed on the recent activities and political agendas of national and state tourism authorities in their efforts to tap into its rich vernacular heritage and spiritual past to boost the economy of Bihar through brand Buddhism. The recent 2002 declaration of the Mahabodhi Temple as a UNESCO World Heritage site will also be discussed in terms of the politics of representation, management and implications of future conservation strategies.



Senija Causevic (SOAS University of London)
Paul Lynch (Strathclyde University)

Paper short abstract:

Dark tourism is a concept from developed societies and associated academic discourse. It rarely enjoys support from local tourism associations and communities. Study suggests "phoenix tourism" as an ascription of the process of tourism development after the conflict.

Paper long abstract:

Dark tourism is defined as "visitation to places where tragedies or historically noteworthy death has occurred and that continue to impact our lives" Tarlow 2005:48). Inherently, dark tourism conceptualises the consequence of a long-term conflict. This paper addresses the under-studied area of dark tourism in this context, focusing on its relevance in a re-emerging tourism economics. The fieldwork follows a qualitative methodological approach required in order to gather complex information concerning dark tourism issue in a post-conflict society. It involves in-depth interviews with tourism decision makers and tour providers and participant observation of the tours and sites in Northern Ireland.

Dark tourism is evidently a concept which emerges from a developed western society perspective and associated academic discourse. However, this type of tourism ascription rarely enjoys support from the governing bodies, official tourism associations and local communities in the specific society. This research points to polarised understanding of the concept between academic and developed societies on one side and tourism destination stakeholders on the other, who assess the concept as being detrimental in a process of destination image formation after a political conflict.

Excluding a small niche segment, this study finds that dark tourism is not a motivator for visiting the destinations. Yet once tourists are there, most of them would pay a visit to "dark tourism" sites. Therefore, "dark tourism" is not a part of the process of image formation after a conflict. The study suggests "phoenix tourism" as image formation tool instead. However, tourist interest in such sites suggests that "dark tourism" is a real chance for local communities to directly participate in tourism development. As it is managed now, tourists do not stay in the area where those sites are located, as they lack appropriate tourism infrastructure. The study concludes that official tourism bodies need to recognise the existence of dark tourism demand, fully integrate the local community in decision making and provide the area with appropriate tourism infrastructure. It will result in community revitalisation and regeneration. Regarding the academic discourse, the study finds the concept of "phoenix tourism" to be more appropriate in the process of re-imaging destinations after the conflict.

Key words: dark tourism, post conflict society, community development, phoenix tourism, Northern Ireland

E-paper: this Paper will not be presented, but read in advance and discussed