In this section, let us try to learn about the growth and development of the study of tourism in anthropology. Anthropology’s entry into tourism studies was by accident if one may call it so. Valene Smith, the creator of the seminal work, Hosts, and Guests published first in 1977, was teaching geography and anthropology at the Los Angeles City College in 1946, when she was asked to develop a course on Tourism.

This was to teach the students about a completely new world that had arisen after the Second World War. Her expertise in the world of tourism made her a popular and much sought-after academic who conducted and assisted visits to different parts of the world including Europe and Asia during the 1950s and 1960s (Smith 2015). The events leading to Smith’s Hosts and Guests happened during the early 1970s. She invited anthropologists interested in the study of tourism to respond in one of the newsletters of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) and received a good number of respondents eager to participate in research and take this new field forward.

This developed into a session on tourism at AAA’s 1974 meeting in Mexico City where as many as 35 delegates, presented their thoughts and findings. Theron Nunez was posthumously honored in the session for his contribution to anthropology and tourism in his article “Tourism, Tradition, and Acculturation: Weekendismo in a Mexican Village” published as early as 1963. Finally, the main contribution in this session was the decision to bring together all the presentations in the form of a book, which finally developed into Smith’s edited classic, Hosts and Guests: The Anthropology of Tourism (1977). This was the landmark created by anthropologists making their foray officially into studying tourism.

 Smith also conducted a similar session in 1975 with the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA) in Mérida, Mexico. The proceedings of this session too were published. Such sessions on tourism grew with new anthropological work added every year. By 1987, Smith realized that the book, Hosts, and Guests needed a makeover with new and diverse changes being added to the earlier works. Many authors from the first version wanted their papers to be removed as new content related to their topics was no more available.

The third edition, with its name, was tweaked a little, and Hosts and Guests Revisited (2001) had several new chapters. With concerns and interests changing in the field of anthropology and tourism, it was pertinent to bring in these new investigations into the public domain. Other notable anthropologists who dedicated their lives to studying tourism during the 1970s and 1980s are Nelson Graburn, Dennison Nash, Oriol Pi-Sunyer, Erik Cohen, etc. They of course contributed to areas that were of significance then, more so in aspects of theory building, cultural encounters, cultural reconstruction, etc. As compared to Valene Smith, whose Hosts and Guests and its later editions began as work on tourism with a group of people involved, anthropologists like Dean Mac Cannell, propagated their theories and published them as single authors. 

Mac Cannell’s work on tourism in 1976 is significant for concentrating on its semiotic aspects. He said that signs and symbols are the first pointers connecting a tourist to a site. Dennison Nash and Nelson Graburn contributed to tourism studies (1977) focusing on it as a symbol of modern-day imperialism and as a transformative sacred journey, respectively. Both Nash and Graburn critically looked at Victor Turner’s The Ritual Process (1969) and placed tourism as a journey allowing transition from one stage to another. More on this will be taken up in section 3.4 on Pilgrimage.

As the popularity of studying tourism in anthropology grew, the Annals of Tourism Research devoted a complete issue to anthropological work on tourism in 1983 issue. So, the mid-20th century was a point of development where the main areas of concentration as nicely put forward by Nash, were: Development, Tourist transformation, and Superstructure. In the present century, tourism has placed itself safely within the gamut of anthropological studies and has moved beyond and further from the above-mentioned areas of interest.

The turn of the century saw Amanda Stronza, an anthropologist, who brought into the discussion of tourism a new area- ecotourism with a review of literature that social scientists had published in past on the topic. She called this branch fundamentally interdisciplinary whose main focus was on “political economy, social change, and development” (Stronza 2001: 261). Ecotourism as interest is connected to the growth of environmental anthropology, which is now a key branch of anthropology. After Stronza, many anthropologists followed suit in studying ecotourism of which the names of Paige West, James Carrier, Jim Igoe, Stocker, Robert Fletcher, etc., are worth mentioning (Wallace and Scott, 2018).

Discuss Question 

What did Mac Cannell’s work on tourism concentrate on?

Dean MacCannell: It is true that I have written and continue to believe that in secular society, tourism takes over many of the functions formerly performed by organized religions. My main argument is that the symbolic values clustered around each attraction in the global system of attractions (large and small) are more universal than those enshrined in any of the classic systems of religious beliefs. But what about morality and ethics? Organized religion has been the main source of these for the vast majority of people. Can tourism with its wider non-tribal appeal also be a source of ethical principles?

A fundamental ethical question that goes all the way back to Aristotle is: Can humankind enjoy being good? It sounds simple but it is very profound. It goes to the heart of who we are. Tourism is said to bring more understanding, generosity, kindness, etc. into the world. If this is actually true it would seem to provide a positive answer to Aristotle’s question. However, the travel industry has overplayed its enjoyment hand.

Enjoyment has shifted from simple human pleasure to an imperative “you must enjoy!”. We can see this everywhere we turn, in travel industry hype, in beer commercials, and in popular entertainment. If you are not mindlessly gyrating around with other beautiful young people, you are not a full-fledged member of late modernity. The imperative “enjoy!” has been pushed to the point of becoming sadistic. It is torture for us to keep trying to have as much fun as we are supposed to be having now.

Yes, I argue that the late capitalist demand to enjoy, especially as expressed in its sub-sector of commercialized tourism, actually blocks tourist enjoyment and any good that might come from it. If we can begin by setting aside all commercialization, tourism is not nearly as fragmented as it appears. Consider this. Tourism, considered globally, celebrates everyone’s heritage. It does not elevate one people’s heritage over the others. As such, it is in essence and in its totality, opposed to nationalism, xenophobia, and racism. It is impossible to hold these views in the face of the global ensemble of attractions.

Unless, of course, the tourist succumbs to the travel industry’s seductive promise of isolation from all the world’s cares in some all-inclusive cruise or resort where there are no demands on the guests beyond that they should relax and enjoy. Tourism in the thrall of late capitalism is pushing the tourist ever further away from any possible ethical concerns toward this sadistic demand, “enjoy”. Within my theoretical framework, the kind of tourism that involves lying on a beach doing nothing but getting drunk, dancing disco, and having sex are existentially, ethically, and in every other way, diametrically opposed to a trip to the Prado museum. I agree with your point that we must get closer to the essence of tourist desire, to “what tourism is exactly”, to sort these matters out. That is what I have been trying to do in all my writing on the subject.

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