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Anthropology and Tourism

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    Group 3: Moa-Lee Fast, Ida Selemo, Frederick Duodu, Luis Hancco


    Tourism, through out the years has evolved as a forceful sector and as the tourism industry keeps growing several distinctive phenomena emerge to help understand the sector better. Anthropology developed as an academic subject when an alliance of industrialising and changing society as well as the expansion of Europe unfolded (Holden, 2005). The enlargement of European colonial devised ways for societies and communities to have a broad contact between each other. This provided anthropologists with favourable circumstances to work in colonial areas, to commence social organisation, customs and religion researches (McLeish, 1993 as cited in Holden, 2005). The tourism sector has a versatile and subtle significance as its one of the world’s most vigorous industries (Tisdell, 2000). Regardless of tourism becoming more influential, anthropological researches and studies just recently became a centre of attraction or a subject worth studying (Nash, 1996). A research method used by anthropologists is Ethnography and its established on a simple notion that in an attempt to interpret the actions of human beings, one needs to observe them by having an intimate interaction or communication with them over a lengthened time frame, sometimes several years (Holden, 2005). Thus, this is the reason given as to why anthropologists habitually dedicate lengthy times, sometimes several years, inhabiting or living in an area they study or make research on (Holden, 2005). According to Monaghan and Just (2000), Ethnography is the essential part of what characterises anthropology from other social sciences. They further explained that in order to understand the ways of the anthropologists, we should first consider to look at what they do. Ethnography is what anthropologists do and what laboratory research is to the biologist, or what archival research is to the historian is the same as what Ethnography is to the cultural and social anthropologist (as cited in Holden 2005). Even though the interests of anthropologists may sometimes overlap several disciplines such as sociology, anthropology has progressed to take up a distinctive approach to its study and this was further explained by Nash (1996) that an anthropologist is obliged to live together with the community it is studying, and also communicate in the language of the culture or community without using a translator. A benefit of ethnography is that when an anthropologist lives with different people or cultures, and affirms the framework of social and environmental human actions, it helps with having a deeper understanding to gradations that were perhaps initially noticed through the use of research techniques of other disciplines (Holden, 2005). Culture is an important issue for anthropologists although the word culture has many semantic meanings (Holden, 2005). For example, in the Victorian times, an individual who sips champagne, goes to opera and reads Proust is considered as cultured than the one who goes to the stadium to watch football match, drinks beer and reads pulp fiction books. Anthropologist have dismissed this perception of culture being based on who is superior and who is not by looking at their lifestyle choices. Though there are many definitions to culture, Monaghan and just (2000:35) states that there is an agreement between anthropologists that culture has to do with those parts of human understanding and activity that are obtained from what we learn as being part of a society, taking into account that we learn a lot even though we have never been taught (as cited in Holden, 2005).


    The Application of Anthropology to Tourism

    The tourism industry’s increase in international tourism in the mid twentieth century led to the application of anthropology to tourism. As tourism began to amass to the less-developed and developing world and as more tourists were now taking keen interests in visiting these countries where anthropologists had been and perhaps carried out research work and so on (Nash, 1995 as cited in Holden, 2005). Three main inquests that coincide in the study of anthropology according to Crick (1988) and Selwyn (1996) is social and cultural change, political economy of tourism and semiology of tourism. The study of anthropological inquiries in tourism can focus on two extensive subject matters; the tourist and the tourist destination. Anthropological research on ‘the tourist’ and ‘the tourist destination will help birth into understanding of other significant aspects of anthropology and tourism for instance mythology, ritual, authenticity, development and cultural change. Ethnography is the methodology used to accentuate these aspects of anthropology mentioned above (as cited in Holden, 2005).


    The Tourist

    It is without a doubt that ‘the tourist’ plays an extremely important role in anthropological research in tourism and although most of the focus of anthropology research has been based on the impacts of tourism on communities in less-developed and developing countries, there is a recent aspiration to study the tourist as it is the tourist who conceivably the one who plays the main actor of cultural change. Anthropologist have become more interested in the comprehension of the processes that physically guide people to turn into tourists and this has led to the birthing of diverse theories and suggestions of what motivates tourists. (Holden, 2005).

    Types of Tourists

    Cohen (1979) established an important typology based upon tourists’ experiences. Five distinct types of typology of experiences are classified. By looking at the psychological and emotional attachment a person has to their domestic environment anthropologist are able to make clear the differences of the five distinctive types of experience and this instigates the magnitude of intensity and the depth of meaning of the experience the person desires as a tourist. Cohen's typology of tourist experiences (after Cohen, 1979):

    The Recreational Mode– Emphasis is placed on enjoyment and recreation. This type of tourist is not searching for authenticity, instead emphasising entertainment. He thrives on what Boorstin (1961 referred to as ‘pseudo-events’. This type of tourism may be little more than a form of escapism from the pressures of daily life. 

    The Diversionary Mode – The tourist lacks focus or meaning, they are alienated from their environment both at home and a foreign destination.

    The Experiential Mode – A search for the meaning away from one’s home society although the intention is to return to it. The meaning is to be found through having new experiences. This type of tourist still has his spiritual centre or sense of belonging at home.

    The Experimental mode – This type of tourist no longer has their spiritual centre in their own society. They are therefore searching for an alternative one. They may engage in others’ ‘authentic’ life but refuse to fully commit themselves to it.

    The Existential Mode – This type of traveller is fully committed to an ‘elective’ spiritual centre away from his own culture., for example having to return home, is akin to living in ‘exile’.


    Mythology, Ritual and Authenticity

    According to MacCannell (1976, 1989) tourism can be interpreted as a reaction to the perceived inauthenticity of modern societies (Holden, 2005:139). Selwyn (1996) point outs that the tourist is someone who ‘chases myths’ and in this case myths are seen as a mechanism for dealing with intellectual and emotional disharmony which is a way of producing a sense of stability and an interpretation to our lives (as cited in Holden, 2005).

    Another distinguishing anthropological perspective of tourism is the notion that the tourist is engaging in a ritual or sacred journey (Holden, 2005). Tourism can be appreciated as a ritual in which the unique moments for relaxation and travel stands in antagonism to normal everyday living at home and work (Graburn, 2001 as cited in Holden, 2005). Tourism in this spectrum takes a worldly or non religious ritual, adapting to objectives or activities that have dislodged the clerical or supernatural experiences of more historic societies. These rituals are very relevant as they guide us to pinpoint and give description to what is ‘ordinary’ (Graburn, 2001 as cited in Holden, 2005).

    Authenticity is a key issue of the utilisation of culture for the tourism industry as tourism plays a role in cultural change. Assuming that authenticity is considered not to be true in the past and in more traditional or primitive communities, a favourable circumstance for the tourism industry to provide or help for this authenticity evolves (MacCannell, 2001 as cited in Holden, 2005). Therefore, even as tourists may desire culture to be authentic and original, customs and other rituals will be ‘staged’ or acted out to help meet the needs and perhaps demands of the tourism market. This is however known as ‘staged authenticity’ (Holden, 2005). There are several impacts of staged authenticity on the culture of the local destination both positive and negative. According to Cooper (2012), some positive impacts of staged authenticity include cross culture exchanges, public awareness and cultural appreciations. Cooper (2012) also argued that staged authenticity often brings some negative impacts to the culture of the local communities. Some of these negative impacts includes the loss of identification and somewhat the commodification of culture (Cooper, 2012).


    The Tourism Destination

    Cultural changes at the tourism destination is another considerable focal point of anthropological research. The geographical spotlight of anthropological research directly brings an awareness that anthropology of tourism aims its attention mainly on cultures in less-developed and developing nations. Anthropological research at the tourism destination mainly looks at two queries; the political anthropology of tourism which looks at the economic, political and social connections that exist between the place the tourists originate and those they visit. Political anthropology of tourism examines the paraphernalia that produces tourism in developed countries, besides the effects of the tourism industry upon the cultures of people in destinations. The second query places emphasis on the substantial cultural change immersed in the societies of destinations by the tourism industry (Holden, 2005)


    The Preservation of Culture

    A viable backlash from a society where tourism takes place is to pursue ways and means to preserve and protect their culture from tourism while at the same time living alongside it by establishing a ‘back region’ which is safeguarded from tourism (Robinson, 1999 as cited in Holden, 2005). A number of local communities devise a strategy which uses an assortment of methods.; Covert Resistance made up of day to day encounter of the weak against the powerful, but bypasses direct defiance or provocation. Examples of the covert resistance are the gossip, interference, grumbling, secret insults that the weak extend toward the powerful. That is, as employees in the tourism sector depends on the tourists’ goodwill, they are not likely to encounter them face to face and therefore show behaviours such as being rude, grumbling etcetera (Boissevain, 1996 as cited in Holden, 2005). Also, some societies who do not want to publicly demonstrate all the parts of their culture to the tourism industry may intentionally hide elements of it from tourists, for example some communities might decide to keep some clothes or even food for themselves. The strategy of fencing is when an area in a community is left free from tourism. Fencing can be explained by using a metaphor semantic approach as well as literally, fencing is the space in a community that is most times known as disputed territory, where the needs and wants of the locals is contested by the the needs and wants of the tourists as well. Usingritual in the local community can help curb the stress of change and perhaps ambiguity. Ritual is important because it has in the past, through its use, helped to challenge the danger of exposed change for example sickness outbreaks or foreign invasion. Currently, however very rarely, the negative impacts that tourism brings to the culture of the local communities may prompt organised protests by the local people against the tourism sector. As more communities become dissatisfied with the impacts of the tourism industry, they tend to organise protests and demonstrations to speak against tourism. The ultimate or extreme end of how local communities react to the negative impacts of the tourism is aggression (Holden, 2005).



    Cooper, C., (2012) Essentials of Tourism. Essex: Pearson Financial Times/Prestige Hall

    Holden, A., (2005) Tourism Studies and the Social Sciences. New York: Routledge

    Nash, D. (1996) Anthropology of Tourism. Pergamon: Oxford







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