Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The hero and the plot of mobility

Photo: Inner Journey by Hartwig HKD
(Flickr/Creative Commons)

Tourism scholarship has always sought to prioritise the two ends of the leisurely system of global mobility: at one end stands the tourist, the person that moves across borders and through time and space to reach the desired destination, the holiday, the accommodation, the beach, the sightseeing complex. At the other end stands the system itself, the hotel, the resort, its labour organisation and bureaucratic structures. In terms of narrative, a dated business model placed the tourist at the centre of research for reasons other than scholarly investigations (customer satisfaction, maximisation of profit). Beyond this model, social scientists sought to elucidate the nature of individual experience in terms of authenticity, originality and adventure (e.g. Cohen 1979). Cultural anthropologists took an extra step towards examining communal constructions of experience as perceptions of authenticity, but with the individual as a starting point, contemporary tourism theory did little to bridge the collective with the individual in terms of plot.

By this I mean that the prioritisation of human capital (the tourist, the tourist group, the host community) constantly shunts aside the actual scheme of movement. The urgency to rescue the human from the pressures of ultra-modernity, post-modernity or trans-modernity (Ateljevic 2008) – no doubt, humanism’s offspring – suggests that the ways the travel’s quotidian aspects are assembled into a ‘plot’ are less important – nay, they are parts of an evil structure preying on human agency. We tend to forget that even hermeneutic movements by people sit on the structural lattice of experience. However, the belief that, by shedding light on the tourist-subject as the journey’s hero (Tomazos and Butler 2010), we manufacture a ‘Holy Grail’ to narrate social research plausibly does no justice to the social webs of movement as such. There is a ‘stronger program’ (Alexander and Smith 2001) of tourism analysis still waiting to be discovered, investigated and developed as an epistemology and methodology of mobility – the politics and poetics of movement (Cresswell 2006, 2010) enacted by everyday heroes but with movement claiming centrality in the narrative and humans populating it with meaning. Should it be passed in silence?    

Alexander J.C. and P. Smith (2001) ‘The strong program in cultural theory: Elements of structural hermeneutics’, in J. Turner (ed.) The Handbook of Social Theory. New York: Kluwer.
Ateljevic, I. (2008) ‘Transmodernity: Remaking our (tourism) world?’. In J. Tribe (ed.) Philosophical Issues in Tourism, Bristol and Toronto: Channel View Publications.
Cohen, E. (1979) ‘A phenomenology of tourist experiences’, Sociology, 13 (2):179-201.
Cresswell, T. (2006) On the Move. London: Routledge.
Cresswell, T. (2010) ‘Towards a politics of mobility’, Environment and Planning D, 28 (1):17-31.

Tomazos, K. and R. Butler (2010) ‘The volunteer tourist as “hero”’, Current Issues in Tourism, 13 (4): 363-80.

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