Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and Commonwealth
ASA09: Anthropological and archaeological imaginations: Past, present and future
Annual Conference location:Bristol, UK date:6-9 April 2009
In a bid to obtain a piece of the lucrative global tourism pie, destinations worldwide are trying to play up their
local distinctiveness. This is sometimes done by borrowing from traditional ethnology an ontological and essentialist vision of exotic cultures, conceived as static entities with clearly defined characteristics. Ideas of old-style colonial anthropology and archaeology - objectifying, reifying, homogenizing, and naturalizing peoples - are widely (mis)used in international tourism by individuals and organizations staking claims of identity and cultural belonging on imagined notions of place and locality. Ironically, this is happening at a time when anthropologists and archaeologists alike prefer more constructivist approaches to human heritage, taking it for granted that cultures and societies were never passive, bounded and homogeneous entities.
Of course, academic writings (often outdated ones) are only one source of inspiration that shape tourism imaginaries of peoples and places, but they are an underestimated and under-researched one. While there is a growing literature on how fieldworkers engage with tourism, at their research sites or on a theoretical level, there has been little systematic investigation of how archaeological and anthropological knowledge is (mis)used, à la carte, by tourism stakeholders to produce easily sellable interpretations of heritage (and, in the process, transforming local peoples' lives). This panel presents empirical case studies that critically analyse which aspects of the two disciplines are used in tourism to create nostalgic essentializing imagery of so-called
authentic traditions and cultures and what the ascribed and self-identified roles and responsibilities of scholars
are in these processes.