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Anthropology and Tourism - Group 1

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    Anthropology and Tourism

    Zinnia Guittin, Fia Wahlbäck, Nastassia Yaramchuk, Vjaceslav Alekseev



    The word "anthropology" comes from the Greek 'anthropos' which means 'man', by opposition to 'god', and from the Latin word 'logos' which means 'the study'. Thus, anthropology can literally be translated as the study of Humanity (Larousse and Nimmo, 2014). Nash (1991) describes anthropologists as being "interested in everything human, whenever and wherever it occurs". However, although anthropology isn't either a new or recent field of study, it has only recently been acknowledged in the industry of tourism and has gained significant importance since 1970 (Nash, 1991). Economic and political changes throughout societies led to a rising need for anthropological studies, especially in regard of historical events such as the end of WWII, industrialization and more recently, the effects of globalizations. The roots of anthropology in tourism lay in a desire to understand how pre-modern – meaning low tech societies – behave, from how they write to their marriage rites and languages (Holden, 2006); but the rise of tourism in emerging countries also led to a rising interest in anthropology and tourism, mostly to discover the impacts of interactions between two very different cultures (Western vs. non-Western) (Holden, 2006).

    Anthropology can thus be termed as the study of cultures. However, what is meant by culture? Several definitions arise when talking about culture; during Victorian times, culture was considered as something that was possessed by a group of people that made them different to other people (Holden, 2006). Smith (2003) explains that culture can be seen as how distinct groups of people live with particular systems that involve all forms of social, intellectual and artistic activities. Becker et al. (2005) explain cultures by using a three dimension model, where culture can be divided into artifacts (visible), norms and values (partly visible) and basic assumptions (unconscious).

    For tourism, sociocultural anthropology is the most relevant field of study, as it focuses on people's behaviour and can help predict how people are going to react in certain situations (Holden, 2006).


    How does anthropology in tourism work?


    Ethnography comes from the Greek word 'ethnos' which literally means  'all beings of same origin' and of the suffix 'graphy', coming from the Greek word meaning 'to write'. Thus, ethnography can be understood as the 'description of people' (Larousse and Nimmo, 2014). This term can be first related to Malinowski, who explained that in order to understand a different society optimally, one had to be in close contact (intimate) with them for several years, living with the communities that are being studied (Nash, 1991). Ethnography allows researchers to gain trust from the researched community and thus to obtain truer responses and a better understanding of the culture being studied (Holden, 2006). However, several problems can arise with ethnography, such as ethnocentrism – this happens when a culture is judged from the point of view of a different culture, leading to subjective bias. Nash (1991) describes this problem by using the example of Cohen, who did a study about the impact of tourism on local Thai populations and expected to find only negative impacts, whereas the truth was quite different, leading him to revise his previous judgment. As Nash (1991) further explains, there is a need for more objective studies and the involvement of non-Western researchers to avoid typical Western bias.


    Another way to look at the study of anthropology is through a holistic approach. Holism considers "all aspects of the human condition that are inextricably linked (economic, social, order, technology, etc)" (Burns, 1999, p.12). Holism looks at every aspect of a system and its properties and considers them as a whole and not something that should be studied separately.


    Why study anthropology?

    One might wonder how the study of anthropology can benefit the tourism industry. Nash (1991) raises three interesting points about it:

    -         First, anthropologists show a clear and precise idea of what touristic activities impacts are, which in turn will allow to make tourists aware of the effects their actions will have on local communities;

    -         Second, by studying political economics, industry and social scientific interests, anthropologist can lead tourism promoters and researcher to be more aware of their actions and their possible impacts on a destination's culture;

    -         Finally, anthropologists can promote an "ethical sensitivity" that accentuate people's duties to other people, the growth of science, and so on.

    Anthropology can also help tourism marketing; indeed, anthropologists can draw conclusions from their research that enable to predict tourist penchants and thus enable advertisers, transportation companies and the like to address their clientele adequately (Nash, 1991). "As far as host situations are concerned, anthropologists can determine the basic requirements for particular developmental scenarios" (Nash, 1991).


    'Sacred Journey' – the tourists' experiences and motivations

    One aspect of the study of anthropology in tourism focuses on the tourist itself. According to Holden (2006), people travel to escape their reality and go back to something they consider as being their 'roots', something they also romanticize – such as in the case with rural tourism (Skuras, 2006), but also with 'tribe' tourism (such as visiting Himbas in Namibia, for instance). This chasing of something that can be considered as 'lost' to Western cultures can be assimilated to a search for authenticity (Holden, 2006); so much that some tourist do not want to be considered as tourist and can even become violent when called the ‘t-word’ (Harkin, 1995).

    Holden (2006) explains tourism as a need to construct one's own identity by becoming a 'bricoleur' (derived from French and designs someone who assembles pieces together in order to build something). People are described as 'bricoleur' when they assemble pieces from different cultures and 'create' their own culture this way.

    Many anthropologists have seen similarities between pilgrimages and leisure tourism, so much that authors such as Selwyn (1990) and Holden (2006) refer to tourism as a "sacred journey". Nash (1991) explains how similarities between pilgrimages (as seen by Turner) and Club Medterannée tourism in a Spanish village could be seen during a famous festival. Indeed, according to MacCannell, the "spontaneity, personal wholeness, and social togetherness" witnessed and experienced during this festival could be related to what Turner referred to as "communitus" – or the feeling people have when going on pilgrimage. Thus, tourism could almost be seen as part of a ritual in human societies, almost becoming a modern replacement for religion (as cited in Nash and Smith, 1991, p.17).

    The meaning of religion comes from the Latin word 'religare' which means ‘to bind together’ in a social sense (Larousse and Nimmo, 2014). According to Selwyn (1990), there are three reasons that explain why tourism is a form of scared journey. First, tourists want to experience a sense harmony with fellow humans; second, the whole preparation process - from assembling luggage to travelling – resembles ritual rites where people have the feeling of being close to a "transitional state". Finally, the destination often represents 'symbolic centers', either from the travelers own culture or from the host culture (such as the Taj Mahal). This can be related to Harkin's (1995) explanation of the semiotic system, where a set of signs marks the object or place as 'authentic', both to the eye of the tourist and the rest of the world.


    The tourism of authenticity

    Commoditization and acculturation

    It is widely accepted that tourism contributes to cultural change (Cohen, 1988), mostly by an acculturation process and through commoditization. Acculturation is the process by which a given culture appropriates elements from a different cultures when two societies meet (by the process of tourism, for instance) (Holden, 2006).This can have negative impacts on a culture as it can lead to a loss of 'authenticity' and change the fundamentals of a culture, but as will be seen further in this article, it can also have positive effects. In the same vein, commoditization – which can be defined as the process by which a culture is selling its rites and traditions for tourism – can lead to a loss of the importance of certain rituals to the culture performing them for tourists (Holden, 2006). However, it can also have positive impacts, as will be see further.

    Staged authenticity– Cohen, 1988

    As has been previously discussed, tourists are looking for authenticity when they travel. However, it is not always guaranteed that the places where they will travel will satisfy their need for 'reality'. Indeed, 'staged authenticity' is about showing a facade of the host's 'real' culture to tourists, most often to protect their culture. Although there are negative impacts about staged authenticity, such as the destruction of cultural products and the selling of fake images to tourists, and the thwarting of a real desire of tourists who genuinely want to see something real (Cohen, 1988), staged authenticity also has many positive aspects.

    Indeed, Esman (1984) explains how tourism can lead to a renewal with cultural traditions and a strengthening of identity. By using the example of the Cajun people in Louisiana, she explains how Cajun people became tourists to their own culture, which in turn allowed them to renew with their roots and preserve their language, music and traditions. The last sentence of her article shows how tourism has been the promoter for identity preservation. A similar statement can be presumed from Grünewald (2002) and his study of Indian populations in Brazil. Grünewald (2002) explains how authenticity should be regarded from different points of views; indeed, tourists might not experience staged authenticity as ‘authentic’, whereas it might actually have become the new authenticity of the culture performing it, hence becoming authentic (and real). This idea is enhanced as well by Cohen (1988) who says: “Just as a new cultural product can become with time widely accepted as “authentic,’ so it can, although changed through commoditization, acquire a new meaning for its producers”.


    The study of anthropology to protect cultures

    Boissevain (1996) has established several ways locals used in order to protect their cultures, going from hiding to fencing to other methods. One such method is called covert resistance and shows in people taken personal actions to try and preserve their values, by gossiping, insulting or just bad mouthing authorities. The host community usually expresses its discomfort towards tourism by bad mouthing tourists and narrating ridiculous stories of tourist behavior. Sexual humiliation is common but mostly aimed towards women since they are consider the weaker sex (Boissevain, 1996).

    Another way of protecting one’s culture is by having 'front' and 'back' regions, as has been described by MacCannell but can be found back in papers from Nash (1991) and Cohen (1988). The 'front' region is used as a cover for tourists to satisfy their needs for authenticity (while earning money for the local community), while the 'back' region is the place where locals really live and perform their rituals and traditions as they always have until the arrival of tourism.



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