American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting edition:113 location:Washington D.C. date:3-7 December 2014
While the anthropology of tourism historically gained strength by paying attention to both “guests” (tourists) and “hosts” (local communities), one of Bruner’s contributions involves his stress on the importance of cultural brokers in shaping the tourism encounter. This is most obvious in his writings on the narratives and practices of tour guides. In fact, Bruner himself acted as an anthropologist-guide numerous times and reflects on the experienced friction between these two roles. One of these occasions even turned out to be a defining moment in his theorizing about tourism. Tour guides, especially those operating in cultural tourism, are widely believed to be textbook examples of brokerage: they facilitate encounters between tourists and “Others,” protect the local “backstage” from external intrusion, and partially act as “mechanics of glocalization.” As Bruner points out, the benefits guides reap from their intermediary roles go far beyond the purely economic (e.g. commissions and tips) and include, among others, the accumulation of cultural capital. My own ethnographic fieldwork in Indonesia and Tanzania reveals that none of the attributed middleman functions is uncontested and that guides mediate not only sociocultural differences but also the interests and imaginaries of a variety of tourism stakeholders. As Bruner’s work has shown, analyzing the complex role of cultural brokers is key to understanding the rapidly changing dynamics of tourism and raises important questions about anthropological brokerage too. I continue his inspiring reflections by exploring how these insights may be of importance beyond the anthropology of tourism.