Paper short abstract:
This paper addresses the social role of the tourism encounter in rural Poland. It argues that in a moment of late post-socialist social stigmatisation and paralysis, the tourism encounter can generate moments of empowerment and reconciliation with contemporary Polish society.
Paper long abstract:
How do tourism encounters shape people's social relations, and their experiences of self and other in the shifting (leisure) economy and stratifying society of the New Poland? Based on the cases of rural tourism entrepreneurs in the Masurian Lake District, a popular Polish tourism destination, this paper argues that the encounter with tourists and tourism offers temporal, cyclic, or permanent escape from to the social and moral paralysis of the rural communities in the deprived Northeast of Poland. The tourism encounter generates culturally self-standing relationships and performances, which follow their own rules and have their own histories.
I show that the stark systemic ruptures since 1989 have produced radically different ideas of the good tourism encounter in the close neighbourhood of three villages: Ideas based on socialist ideals of the tourist, on the early post-socialist tourism market, and on late post-socialist tourism authenticity. Despite these different concepts of the authentic nature of the encounter, the tourism encounter plays a similar role for the rural entrepreneurs. It offers the performative space of the touristic borderzone (Bruner 2005), and empowers rural agents through a heterotopic social relation. In this flexible space, in which they renegotiate their roles as cultural performers and social personae, rural residents experience moments of social healing and moral reconciliation with late post-socialist Polish society.
Tourism in (post)socialist Eastern Europe (Anthromob; IUAES-TOURISM; EASA Europeanist Network)