TOURISM AND CULTURE Cross Cultural Interaction The Acculturation Debate


Tourism is a cultural phenomenon and touristic activities are strongly connected with host/ destination cultures. Anthropological studies of people in tourist destinations and culture change have had two inter-related foci:

(a) the political economy of tourism and development; and

(b) cultural commodification, homogenization/ heterogeneity encompassing the associated processes of globalization. This unit would look at tourism and its interrelationship with culture. We shall begin this unit with the meaning of culture from an anthropological perspective and move on to understand the relationship between tourism and culture.

“He/She belongs to a cultured family”, and “So uncultured” are some of the common phrases we use in day-to-day life. How relevant are these phrases in the study of culture from an anthropological perspective? Let us bring this section with an anthropological understanding of culture, and the aspects anthropological studies deal with while studying culture.

Anthropology deals with culture as a way of life, as to how a group of people behave, think, how to interact, what and why they eat certain kinds of food etc. in their daily lives. Most importantly anthropologists look at culture as a trait that every human being possesses, an essential part of everyone’s lived experience of everyday life. From an anthropological perspective, culture has been broadly defined as behaviour observed through social interactions and the production of material artefacts. Singer (1968: 528) defines culture as ‘consisting of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behaviour, acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups including their embodiments in artefacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e., historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values.

Culture is seen broadly as either a system of meanings and a symbolic expression or as an assemblage of material and substantive goods and artefacts and rules and norms about their production and circulation. In other words, it is either understood ideationally or materially. However, both these aspects of culture are interrelated. Culture consists of behaviour learnt as members of a social group. And the knowledge, values and traditions so acquired are passed down through generations. Richards (1996) argued that culture is a complex whole and is both a process and a product.

Culture as a process includes the behaviour of the individuals of a specific group through which people make sense of themselves and their lives. Culture as a product includes the individual group activities to which certain meanings are attached. Richards further argues that in tourism both these overlap and are integrated. Tourist who engages in cultural experiences in search of authenticity is provided with a culture developed specifically for their consumption. Thus, tourism as such transforms ‘culture as a process into ‘culture as a product. Or it may be said that tourism itself is a cultural industry in that cultural products and experiences are promoted as tourist attractions (Prentice 1997).

Sir Edward Burnett Tylor is regarded as the father of Social Anthropology, in his book, Primitive Cultures published in 1871 stated “Culture or Civilisation, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, arts, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities acquired by man as a member of society” (Tylor, 1871 reprint 1958). From this definition of culture, it can be deduced that Culture comprises elements that make up the everyday life of human beings. Culture is not an abstract that can be generated in isolation but one acquires or learns the way of life by living with other group members- exchanging and sharing knowledge as a part of society. It is not an individual activity or hereditary but passed on from one generation to the other via the medium of learning through language and symbols.

There is a strong interrelationship between tourism and culture. Tourism impacts both culture and society and is shaped by cultures and society. There are a few basic elements when we study the inter-relationship between tourism and culture. Let’s outline the elements below for a better understanding: 

1. acculturation i.e. the cultural contact between the tourist and the host population

2. the ‘manufactured’ tourist experience versus authenticity

3. commodification of culture i.e. culture is seen as a commercial resource (culture is perceived to be unique or unusual by the tourists and marketing specialists).

4. image formation of a place to convert it into a potential tourist destination

Cross Cultural Interaction: The Acculturation Debate

Tourism and touristic activities facilitate interaction between people from different cultures. The lifestyle of the people, history of the host community, their traditional arts, architecture, religion and other cultural elements are motivating factors that prompt a tourist to visit a particular area. However, continuous touristic activities in the host region gradually affect its values and traditions and begin to damage the very attractions that bring tourists to that place. A key anthropological concept to explain how tourism affects cultures is ‘acculturation’.

Burns (1999: 99) defines acculturation as ‘the process by which borrowing of one or some elements of cultures takes place as a result of a contact at any destination between two different societies.’ To explain this further we can cite language as an example. In most of the places in India like Agra, Jodhpur and Jaipur which are frequented by tourists one would notice that the locals engaged in the tourism industry like the hawkers, folk artists, and guides, speak English, French and other foreign languages, even though many of them are not able to read or write.

Within the framework of acculturation theory, it has been argued that when contact takes place between a strong culture and a weaker one, it is usually the former that influences the latter (Petit-Skinner 1977: 85). The underlying assumption of the studies has been that culture changes occur mainly in the indigenous host society’s tradition, customs and values rather than the tourist group. This might lead to gradual homogenisation of cultures and local identity gets assimilated into the stronger visiting (tourist) group. As Nunez (1989: 266) states, when two cultures come into contact, each becomes like the other through the process of borrowing.

It is also assumed that tourists who are often western and wealthier are less likely to borrow from their hosts than their hosts would from them. The host societies are seen to adapt to tourism and make attempts to satisfy the needs of tourists and in this process may acquire the attitudes and values of the visiting group and may become more like their visitors.

But the assertions made by the acculturation framework are ambiguous in the sense that it is difficult to examine whether the cultural changes that have occurred in society are by tourism or a result of other processes of modernisation (Mathieson and Wall 2006: 265). Cultural drift is an alternative conceptualisation to explain the relationship between tourists and their hosts. It represents a new approach to studying the artistic effects of tourism. 

We know that the process of acculturation occurs as a result of continuous first-hand contact between host and guests, but in tourism, the relationship between host and guests is seasonal, intermittent and marked by cultural ‘distance’, so the term cultural drift is more appropriate to explain the changes. According to Collins (1978: 278): ‘cultural drift states that the role of guest differs from that of the host and that the temporary contact situation results in a change of phenotypic behaviour on both the hosts and the guests. The phenotypic change may be permanent in the host society/culture but temporary in the guest society/culture.’ 

The above suggests that normative behaviour of both groups is still produced but with additional actions. Sometimes, contact with both parties who are interacting and exploiting each other and the host environment results in personal satisfaction. This leads to a phenotypic change that might occur in both parties and are normally temporary changes. The host who adjusts to the needs of the tourists may return to previous behaviour when the tourists leave. As per cultural drift, it is assumed that the host behaviour is temporarily transformed and this perspective is different from that of acculturation. But when contact between the hosts and guests is more continuous or permanent, changes in the norms, values and standards of the host may occur which may be passed on to successive generations, and such changes are genotypic in nature. 

When the changes in which both the genotypic and phenotypic behaviours occur, it is called acculturation. Cultural changes that occur depend on the duration, permanence and intensity of interaction between the host and the guest population. For instance, in some countries where tourism is seasonal, many local people may involve themselves in the tourism and hospitality sector by working part-time in a hotel or resort, or renting out their houses for guests as service apartments during the peak season. During the off-peak season, they may engage in other forms of economic activities like agriculture. Studies on tourism by scholars like Nunez (1989), Smith (2001), Graburn (1976) and Burns (1999) anticipate that host culture and its identity may be assimilated into the more dominant culture of the tourist when the contact between the host and the guest is more frequent. 

The homogenisation of culture is often seen to be intensified when the behaviour patterns of the tourists are sometimes copied by the local residents. This has been called the demonstration effect. In this we see, for example, the host community adapting to wearing non-traditional clothes, consuming food and drinks not produced locally, or their desire to engage in the same form of entertainment as tourists, leading to moving away from the indigenous way of life. This may disrupt the social fabric of the host society or lead to intra-generational conflicts. For instance, the younger generation may aspire to live a western style of life whereas the older generation is keen to protect the traditional style of life. 

Discuss Questions

Define Acculturation

Acculturation can be defined as the 'process of learning and incorporating the values, beliefs, language, customs and mannerisms of the new country immigrants and their families are living in, including behaviours that affect health such as dietary habits, activity levels and substance use.

What do you understand by Cultural Drift?

Fads and styles are examples of cultural drift. For example, the change from the requirement to wear a tie to go into a formal business meeting to the acceptability of going to the meeting dressed informally without a tie. Drift is usually a generational phenomenon.

Define demonstration effect.

The demonstration effect refers to the consumption habit of the people to imitate the consumption trends adopted by other people.

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