Euro-African Association for the Anthropology of Social Change and Development
APAD Conference Program
Development, Liberalism and Modernity: Trajectories for an Anthropology of Social Change location:Tervuren & Louvain-la-Neuve date:13-15 December 2007
Anthropologies of development traditionally focus on fields like health, education, or agriculture, rarely considering tourism as part of development. However, local stakeholders in to-be-developed-localities are often excited about the possibility of drawing international tourists (and foreign currencies) to their region. A global issue like development through tourism becomes a proper object of ethnographic study because it is inseparable of the located re/dis/connections that form it; sometimes displacing it, sometimes diverting it. Tourism development is now commonly seen as one of the exemplary manifestations of global flows that blur traditional territorial, social, and cultural boundaries, and create hybrid forms. Tourism is not only a product of the tensions of global modernity; it is actually difficult to imagine a modernity without it, since tourism contributes precisely to a sense of ‘being modern’. As such, it is not merely emblematic, but an important vector in shaping modernity.
Tourism destinations are spaces where modernity meets itself in many shapes and forms; they are places of possibility where roles are changed and identities are experimented with. By way of a case study, this paper focuses on the liminal position of local tour guides, often the only local people with whom tourists interact for a considerable amount of time. This encounter privileges them within local communities and makes them frontrunners of modernity, often in the guise of modernization. They show others how tourism can become one’s ticket to modernity, a path to a more comfortable life, and what one actually does when one becomes modern. The successful mediation between host and guest cultures not only implies a profound transformation of the local guides’ own identities but also indirectly stimulates modifications of the cultures to which they bring foreign tourists. Their practices and discourses shape an officially invisible but fully lived ‘local’, a powerful social imaginary which influences tourists as much as it changes locals. While illustrating these theoretical points with ethnographic examples from the Maasai culture in Tanzania, the paper ends with a reflection on the wider implications this study has for our theorizing of development and social change.