September 25, 2005
For a humorous look at narrative and tourist experience: http://www.theonion.com/content/node/34198
In Culture on Tour Edward Bruner provides a “postmodern” approach to viewing tourist productions and experience that is based in constructivism, where each participant (e.g. tourist, “local”, producer, agent) constructs the meaning of the experience with their own narrative. As opposed to MacCannell’s idea of “authenticity”, which investigates tourist sites in terms of various degrees of “front stage” and “back stage” (referring to the existence of an authentic, postulated original culture that tourists strive for but almost always cannot achieve), Bruner speaks of a constructed “tourist realism” that is authentic in that it exists in real life but which is depended upon the narratives assigned to it by those participating. This space becomes a “tourist border zone” where multiple new realities exist at the same time, and the binary of “authentic” and “unauthentic” breaks down.
Bruner also points out how touristic narratives and culture in general are rooted in multiple influences, including history, politics, economics, ethnicity, and the postmodern forces of globalization. These roots and specifics act of tourism impact the very culture that one presents or experiences. For example, Massai culture in Eastern Africa has been presented and experienced very differently depending on the players involved. Bruner utilizes three different productions to show this: Mayers Ranch, Kenya’s Bomas cultural center, and the Sundowner.
The Mayers catered to tourists yearning for an ahistorical, “primitive”, “tribal” view of the Massai, where the culture is carefully presented as completely separate from that of the tourists. The production provided a colonialistic view of the “native” unspoiled by modernity, and contrasted untamed wild nature with that of safety and civilization in the form of British genteel. While the described reenactment of colonialism can be seen as quite disturbing, Bruner points out that the production wasn’t exactly “inauthentic.” It carefully omitted much of Maasai culture which would “spoil” the narrative the tourists (and producers) sought. This “touristic untold” material included Western products of modernity and normal Massai cultural behavorial that that did not fit into the narrative (e.g. injured warriors who could not jump, the act of touching strangers or engaging in Maasai norms of personal space.) What was left were remnants of original cultural expression; but one may question what true culture becomes when it is separated from the touristic untold.
Bomas cultural center presents a narrative of the preservation of the disappearing Maasai tradition as well as that of nationalism and multiethnic unity. Unlike Mayers, which carefully removed as many markers of the tourist production as possible, Bomas emphasizes that what is being seen is a curated show and attempts to separate cultural practices from their sources (i.e. the actual people), much like a museum in London may show Egyptian antiquities. This narrative can be seen as successful or unsuccessful depending on the pre-narratives brought to the site by tourists.
The Out of Africa Sundowner production appears to not be so concerned with authenticity or presenting an unspoiled Maasai narrative, but rather is happy to offer an image that is a mixture of how Maasai see themselves, and a pop-culture narrative of Africa brought by the tourists and world community. One example is the performance of Hakuna Matada, a song borne out of globalization and recycled pop images. How “real” or “appropriate” the song is depends on the narrative one views it through. For tourists coming to see a Disneyfied or “New World” view of Africa, the song fits the bill. In the Sundowner production, conflicting narratives juxtapose themselves without concern. In the morning a Maasai man may work as a waiter in western garb (and be of little or no interest to the tourist gaze) while in the evening put on his ceremonial garb and perform a dance, satisfying the tourist narrative of the “raditional African warrior”.
I found Bruner’s book clear, engaging, and full of ready examples of this “postmodern” approach. Such a narrative approach highlights the complexities of conflicting interpretations, agency, and cultural property rights. For example, the history of Elmina Castle in Ghana spans five hundred years. People coming to engage with it bring different narratives. These narratives are not completely compatible in the sense that different people want and need different things from the site. Should the castle be a source of income for Ghanaians, a spiritual marker for diaspora blacks, or a museum of British colonialsm? Culture on Tour shakes up the question of “authenticity” by showing how tourist productions and culture are dialogic and ever-evolving. Balinese dance that once was developed for the tourist gaze has now become a full part of cultural identity and practice.
The more I read about tourism, the more I question my own experiences as a tourist, as well as behaviors that I never identified as belonging to tourism. For example, I worked and lived as a Peace Corps Volunteer for three years in a developing country. During that time I was quick to differentiate myself from tourists who came to vacation, stay in hotels, engage in the “inauthentic” tourist productions, and have superficial encounters with people. After all, I was living with host country nationals at their standard of living, striving to acculturate, and working with them on projects they owned and valued. While I still believe in a differentiation, I can’t help thinking that perhaps the Peace Corps experience is perhaps one extreme pole of an ideal touristic narrative.
Posted by Scott Wallin at 10:13 PM
Tourism: Creative, Dialogic, Narrative
I applaud Bruner’s ethnographic approach to tourism. He tackles the monolithic field by approaching specific situations. This is the only way to produce data and, eventually, knowledge on tourism that does not merely reproduce modernist totalizing “masternarratives” or the pessimistic postmodernist critiques that likewise are based on universalizing categories rather than the actions or experience of real, specific actors. The debates over “authenticity” and quest to understand grand themes results in myth-making about tourism that, in many ways, reinforces the very power relations the critics of modernity (who are often also the consumers of the exotic) wish to contest.
Like MacCannell, Bruner acknowledges the “differentiations” inherent in the tourism industry –the tourists are usually the privileged consumers of spectacles provided by people who need money. However, he does not let this political-economic given blind him to cultural creativity that is produced in the liminal “border zones.” His respectful attitude toward both the tourists as well as those who provide tourist spectacles is refreshing and insightful. The model of culture proffered by Bruner is one that is emergent, dialogic, and ever-changing. Regardless of the provenance of the cultural phenomenon, it is all part of local culture.
Some tourist productions, such as the Balinese frog dance, originally created for international tourists, subsequently have become reincorporated into their own culture. Rather than bemoaning the destruction of local culture by Western modernity, Brunner’s approach to these cases dignifies the cultures that adapt to the global flows. Where other’s see the apocalyptic triumph of the West over the rest, Bruner sees the birth of a myriad of creative responses. While tourism may not be the panacea that cures the ills of underdeveloped economies, it motivates the formation of important stages on which to perform local and national identities.
Another important move Bruner makes is to treat the messages of these performances as dialogic. In several of his essays, Bruner’s object of analysis is “narrative,” which he treats as an open-ended process of construction. He discusses the stories that are told before, during, and following the touristic experience by different actors involved in it. According to him, narratives, (like Turner and Bell’s idea of “ritual”) do not merely reiterate and reproduce hegemonic messages; rather, their retelling can contest dominant messages with other interpretations of the same story, as well as personalize them, incorporating the teller into the broader context his retelling depicts. In the context of tourism, the essence of a people (or historical period) are defined and dramatized for both internal and external consumption –with the aims of building nationalistic solidarity, distinguishing local identity from global or foreign influences, or to produce the experience of nostalgia for a lost paradise. Contests over meanings occur in the process of defining the nature of local identity and ideal lost states.
Bruner’s approach to creativity and meaning-making in tourist productions is very similar to Edensor’s approach to the tourist audience’s contestatory significations. However, in contrast to Edensor’s cynical, half-hearted response to the cultural impotence produced by postmodernist critiques of simulacra, Bruner’s case studies of sites such as New Salem and Masada drive home the point that these performances are aspects of everyday life that are experienced as real and that do matter to the people who participate in them.
Personal Observation on an Asian Phenomenon
Bruner, unlike MacCannell focusing on the structurality within tourism, is more interested in a reflexive way of reading touristic phenomenon (Bruner 2). In addition, Bruner introduces the concept of narrative offering an explanation of how travel agencies construct tourist attractions as well as how they manipulate the perceptions of tourists while they visiting certain destinations. Still different from MacCannell, Bruner does not presume that the tourists are in search of authenticity. Instead, he suggests that tourists might be fully aware of the constructiveness of cultural performances presented to them. Tourist, in Bruner’s point of view, might just want to enjoy “a good show” (Bruner 3).
Bruner contends that there are interactions between tourists and locals/natives, and the Mayers. He sites the Maasia as an example of how native people perform them selves to fulfill tourists’ expectation of Maasia (61). Yet Maasia, in many aspects, have control over their tradition and their way of living. It is unjust to say that they are controlled by tourists’ desire or the Mayers’, the ranch owners. This case offers a symbiotic model of the natives, the ranch owners, and the visiting tourists. In this model, there is no such group that has full control over the others. Interestingly, they reach certain kind of balance.
In “The Role of Narrative in Tourism,” Bruner applies the pre-tour, on-tour, and post-tour narrative model to elaborate how destinations are constructed and modified. I am especially interested in the master narratives and the pre-tour narratives provided by travel agencies and/or presented in various media, including brochures, internet journal, etc.. The existence of these pre- tour narratives, and/or master narratives seems to imply that tourists actually, to some extent, have understandings of their destinations and have certain expectation of the tour they are going to take.
In the following paragraphs, I intend to discuss an Asian touristic phenomenon, which, I personally think, is an example of the effective use of the pre-tour narrative to construct the tour and manipulate the emotion of the tourists.
In recent years the growing popularity of Korean TV series makes rise to a kind of tours based on the plots of such series. In those series, the male characters are depicted as devoted lovers who, for some irresistible force, have to part with their princess-like girlfriends. Such TV series are especially appealing to the middle-age, married Asian women who play the role as loving mothers, perform their duty as home-makers and devoted wives. Now travel agencies in Asia offer tours on the “authentic” shooting locations of such TV series to provide the tourists, most of whom are fans of Korean romance TV series, with the romantic settings, within which the tourists can experience the romantic atmosphere. Like any other tours offered by travel agencies, there will be a tour guide introducing the sites to the tourists. However, unlike other tour guides focusing on the cultural and social aspects of tourist attractions, the guides of such TV series tours emphasize the romantic elements of the sites by referring specifically to certain romantic scenes appearing in TV series.
I find such TV series tours, to some extent, follow Bruner’s pre-tour, on-tour, and post-tour narrative theory. Tourists’ watching TV series, I presume, can be read as receiving pre-tour narrative. Tourists acquire basic information from the series and gradually develop empathy with the suffering lovers. They might, in many cases, identify with the female protagonists and desire to pay a visit to the “actual” sites where they encountered their lovers.
Television is a very powerful medium for story telling, for it provides spectators with animate images which other media such as, brochures and travel books are unable to provide. The powerful medium, the easy-to-follow structure of the romance, and the desire of escaping from the mundane and searching for romance make such TV series tours popular among this group of people.
As they visiting those shooting locations in person, the tourists inevitably project their romantic thoughts on the sites. In this moment, the tour guide’s introducing the sites, which could be interpreted as on-tour narrative, in reference with the TV series reinforces the sentiments of the visitors. The sensory experiences of such tours are likely to be added to the post-tour narrative after taking such tours. The recount of the touristic experiences is likely to circulate among people who have similar back ground and interests, but have not yet taken such tours. This post-tour narrative could serve as an advertisement of TV series tours to encourage those who have not actually been there to pay a visit.
In these cases, the tourists are not interested in “authenticity”. They are, according to my personal observations, “willing to suspend the disbelief” and intend to enjoy “a good show” presented by the medium and the travel agency (Bruner 3).
I am ware that my analysis of this Asian touristic Phenomenon might be a naïve oversimplification. However, I think this might be the direction in which my project might go into.
Posted by Stella Yu-Wen Wang at 4:31 PM
Edward Bruner’s, Culture on Tour departs from McCannell’s structuralist tourist study theories that define tourism strictly as a relationship between authentic and real by emphasizing the role of narrative in tourist encounters. Representative of new tourist studies, Bruner debunks typical tourist study binaries, exposing a more dynamic cultural experience that emerges between the space of tourists and toured subjects. In un-Bruneresque fashion, it can be stated that McCannell represents a rigid strucuralist view of culture and tourist activities while Bruner defines an emergent cultural form worthy of investigation. Circulating around notions of narrative and performance, new tourist theorists must debunk the commitment of structuralists to reality because performance is an art form, art departs from reality and for the performance of tourism to be understood, it too must depart from a rigid commitment to reality.
Bruner’s theory highlights the limitation involved in McCannell which assumes something inauthentic is covering realness inside. McCannell’s view implies some form of stasis or a lack of flux and change and activity natural to human behavior. Rather than place weight on the binary between real and fake and place judgment on the binary of real as good and copy as bad, Bruner chooses to see the events and environments that develop around tourism as new. Looking at the new resulting or “emergent” culture allows for observations and conclusions on the actions and relationships without implying some sort of unfolding loss or grossness in tourist activities. Instead of seeing what is labeled as “inauthentic” as a phony lacking copy of reality, Bruner sees it as a new form of ritual, a new act, a new performance that is worthy of “serious anthropological inquiry” (Bruner, 5).
Definitive of Bruner’s theory is the relationship between narrative and performance in tourist activities. On the first level, narrative stands in for perspective, or the underlying story that gives an event and the person involved in an event a way to think about the event. Narrative bestows upon a tourist site its value. Narrative determines the form a tourist space takes as well as the way in which one receives the information of the tourist space. Bruner utilizes three different performances involving the Maasai in Africa to exemplify how different narratives dictate the forms with which a tourist experience is constructed. Narrative then correlates with power and control and is seen as an object of ownership that should be examined from the perspective of the owner. Whoever controls the narrative controls the space. This reveals the construction evident in culture as well as the forces that impact cultural construction. Since control comes out from narrative ownership, it is possible for the the culture on display to own the narrative and through such ownership, exploitation is moot. Bruner demonstrates that the Maasai understand the tourist engine and work to create space tourists will positively interact, success measured in economic terms. Such a clear comprehension of the dynamics of exchange dissolve any notion of a naive, unknowing group being exploited. Through Bruner, tourism can be understood as a much more sensitively dynamic ecosystem of events that reveal practices of cultural control exploitative more of the viewer than the viewed.
In Bruner, performance is the process by which the narrative of the event connects to the tourist. In performing culture, systems of the past can be reintroduced as events to be witnessed for economic exchange. Where narrative relates to the power of the storyteller to define the story, the experience, and in turn the memory or future telling of the displayed narrative, the role of performance dynamically shifts between the viewer and the viewed throughout tourist encounters. In last week’s readings we understood touring as a performative act of role play connected to the everyday act of mask wearing. Through Bruner, performance is understood from all sides of the tourist encounter with emphasis placed on the performance of the real, or the unfolding of invisible stages in tourist environments. When the Maasai’s go to the Mayers’ village to work, a new space and a new form is created which borrows its form from that which it represents (borrows, doesn’t own or duplicate, but takes reference from). The Maasai dances on display take form from Maasai practice but are not Maasai practices per se. The Mayers' village is an invisible stage without a confined rectangle. The culture on display is performing but so too are the tourists as they navigate within the space. A contradiction appears in Bruner when he states, “my conceptualization …. sees tourism as improvisational theater with a stage located in the border zone, where both tourists and locals are actors” (Bruner, 18). As he continues to prove throughout the book, though, the performance created by the toured group is less an improv role and more a predetermined role born of the dominant narrative constructed previous to any tourist encounter taking place.
Posted by Erin Madorsky at 3:02 PM
Tourism and Profit
In his text Culture on Tour, Edward Bruner skillfully outlines his research of the tourist industry and locals, contrasting their interests in proper and profitable representations of culture. Though their views obviously differ, they do share one common characteristic—they’re interest in profit.
Issues of exploitation, abuse, and invasion of personal space have been always been negative aspects of the tourist industry, but this hasn’t stopped tourism from becoming one of the top money-making industries in the world. One thing is for sure, tourists have always been willing to put out the bucks to be entertained. Tourist industries have taken this into account—and surprisingly (at least to me) locals have too. Locals have learned how to play the game, learning how to deal the cards and receive their share of the profit. Are locals making it easier now for a tourist to be a tourist? Are locals still being exploited?
Exploitation has become difficult to distinguish with locals agreeing to work for the industry, but it is not impossible. As Bruner mentions, Mayers Ranch was closed down in the late 1980s due to the exploitation of the Maasi (Bruner, 75). The government might have closed down Mayers, but the Maasi were forced to find other means of income in the same industry. Bruner mentions that some went on to work for hotels or other tourist productions, some Maasi chose to get involved in the sex industry (Bruner, 76). A couple of questions came to mind when reading the text: How did the Maasi receive income before tourism? Do the Maasi enjoy their jobs?
The Maasi might be able to profit from their picture being taken, but others do not have that privilege. Bruner mentions that Ghanaians find it very offensive when their picture is taken without their consent. One concern is the negative representation of their culture, and the other is profit (Bruner, 117). It appears that the Ghanaians are more concerned with profiting and representation than the invasion of their privacy. When a culture is willing to expose themselves for a few bucks, something is not right—a lot is not right.
Who is truly the pawn, the tourist or the local? As long one is being entertained or making money out of it, is tourism becoming more acceptable? It is obvious that one is more disadvantaged than other. Should we praise the locals for making profit, or are locals just encouraging the exploitation of culture? Should we express our gratitude to tourists for providing income opportunities to locals, or are tourists (and tourist agencies) just finding new and better ways to cover up exploitation?
Posted by at 1:29 PM
Agency, mobility and the borderzone
In _Culture on Tour: Ethnographies of Travel_, Edward M. Bruner presents a lucid analysis of tourism grounded in fifty years of research and ethnographic fieldwork. This study elucidates and dispels much of the mystification around popular themes of tourism. Bruner brings tourism studies, which have been “chasing anthropology’s discarded discourse” (4), up to date.
His examination of tourism moves beyond a binary discourse of polarized opposites such as authentic - inauthentic, front stage - backstage, introduced by MacCannell (1976), and considers tourist productions “for what they are in themselves” (5) as authentic in their own right. Bruner rejects MacCannell’s sociological approach with its emphasis on “deep structuralism” and instead analyses tourism through the lens of what he identifies as the performative mode of ethnography (6). The view of culture as emergent, processual, constructivist and performative, shapes Bruner’s study and conclusions.
In the introduction to Culture on Tour, Bruner signals important political themes surrounding the question of narrative and metanarrative. Writing about contested sites he warns against “monolithic interpretations that are static and ahistorical, that homogenize meaning” (12) and emphasizes a need for a deconstruction of the “official” story or version of a site. Bruner asserts that contested sites “raise the key narrative question of who has the right to tell the story.” (12) In this regard, it is also crucial not to omit the question of who has the agency or political power to be heard. It is true, as Bruner writes, there are no persons without agency, but it is vital to remember that agencies are not monolithic. Bruner argues against fixed and “irreversible slots” of tourist and “native” and contends that local people who are subjected to the tourist gaze may subsequently travel to Europe or America and reverse the gazing process. The notion of reverse mobility is not so simple, however. The emaciated children of Tanzania running after cars full of tourists (98) have very different agency and are in no position to reverse the tourist gaze.
Bruner’s theatrical model employed for the examination of tourism is broader that those of MacCannell and Edensor. He moves beyond the metaphor of a proscenium stage to include an environmental theatre with the potential for improvisation. This playing field or space, he calls the borderzone. It is here that all players enact their “proper collaborative role.” (18) Yet it is also this site that gives rise to new meanings and relationships and where new culture can emerge. Bruner sees parallels between his borderzone and MacCannell’s notion of the empty meeting ground (1992, 2), which is a place of potentiality. The borderzone is a place where tourist productions are enacted but also a place of transgressions and resistance where tourist productions can be contested (19).
Posted by Dominika Bennacer at 1:25 PM
Sarah Zoogman Responds
Whereas MacCannell in The Tourist used the notion of authenticity as an organizing principle for his research, Bruner in Culture on Tour posits that authenticity is not a helpful mode of analysis. Bruner proposes looking at touristic experiences as “tourist productions,” realizing that all tourist experiences are constructed and therefore analyzing how, why and with what effects they are constructed.
For Bruner, letting go of the notion of authenticity and adopting a constructivist theoretical perspective, “which sees culture as emergent,” (9) opens up new ways of looking at tourist productions. Bruner “analyzes tourist performances not as representations, metaphors, texts, or simulacra of something located elsewhere, but as social practice to be studied in its own right, grounded by the methods of ethnography. This is taking tourism seriously.” (7) Bruner, Franklin and Crang in The trouble with tourism and travel theory and Edensor in Performing tourism, staging tourism, all advocate a more reflexive approach that looks at tourism through the lens of performance and lets go of notions of authenticity.
For MacCannell performance is an organizing idea that supports his notion of authenticity. He uses Goffman’s notion of front and back stage to illustrate there is an authentic experience that the tourist is striving for, but is always hidden from her. As Bruner articulates in Culture on Tour: “MacCannell sees modern tourists as being on a quest for authenticity but argues that what is frequently presented to them is ‘staged authenticity,’ a false front that masks the real back stage, to which they do not have access.” (93) For MacCannell there is a “real authentic culture” (93), obscured by performance. In contrast, for Bruner “real authentic culture,” is non-existent because culture is always changing.
For Bruner performance is both an object of analysis and an organizing idea. As an object of analysis, he examines specific performances for tourists. For example, Bruner examines three contrasting tourist productions of the Maasai in Kenya - Mayers, Bomas, and The Sundowner - in terms of the different types of theater they create: realist theater at Mayers, nationalist theater at Bomas and postmodern theater at the Sundowner. Bruner examines how these various performances are created and controlled. He also uses the organizing idea of performance to discuss the metaperformance of tourism: the constant negotiations between producers, actors, and tourists in constructing experience and making meaning. For example, at the Sundowner, Bruner describes how the Maasai workers were well aware of different ways to behave when “playing different roles,” i.e. waiter vs. Maasai warrior, so as to fit into the desired and expected narrative of the tourists: “each party to the drama performs an assigned role.” (89)
For Edensor performance is an invaluable lens for analysis to “explore why we carry out particular habits and practices and consequently, reproduce and challenge the social world.” (59) Edensor encourages examining tourism through the lens of performance in the context of the everyday. Franklin and Crang highlight how performance can be both an organizing idea and an object of analysis. For Franklin and Crang there are not only many staged tourist productions, but tourist behave according to set scripts of behavior, which “suggest a Goffmanesque world where all the world is a stage.” (18)
For Bruner, performance and narrative are intimately linked. Tourist productions help to augment, solidify, and sometimes disrupt a tourist’s narrative. In “The Role of Narrative in Tourism,” Bruner discusses the notion of metanarrative, or the master narrative told about a particular area and group, i.e. Bali as a South Sea Island paradise (2): “The master narrative is a perceptual framework that works as a filter which excludes as much as it includes, and offers the tourist an interpretive frame within which to understand the destination culture.” (4) For Bruner, this pre-trip metanarrative is articulated in guidebooks, tourist agencies, travel programs, and other media. Often information gained by tourist on their trip often simply fleshes out the pre-trip metanarrative.
The metanarrative is important because it organizes how touristic construct their own personal narratives of their experiences. Moreover, experiences that do not fit the metanarrative are often viewed as inauthentic, even though the metanarrative itself is an extremely biased lens to begin with: “the tourist’s conception about what is “authentic” may be based more on pre-understandings than one what occurs on site, primarily because most travelers have no way of knowing what is real or true or authentic or genuine in a foreign culture.” (3)
For Bruner there is some space to create alternative narrative, although the possibilities of those narratives becoming firm is slim because tourists lack the knowledge base with which to ground these new narratives. Tourist often dismiss occurrences that don’t fit into their narratives as cultural oddities (11), which contrasts which the ethnographer, who relishes these moments of incongruity as an invitation for further research. (10) Creating narrative is an active process, which happens pre-trip, during the trip and post-trip.
MacCannell is more interested with authenticity than with narrative. MacCannell’s interest in narrative lies in the way that authenticity is staged for the tourist ¾ the way the distinction between front stage and back stage is constructed or how tourists see the staged back region. (The Tourist, 99)
Edensor notion of narrative is focused around the framework of performance, with its directors, stage managers and the like, and can be used to understand different tourist encounters, tourist productions. Edensor discusses how different narratives, or for him “stories” are made available to the tourist, for example he talks about guidebooks as a “kind of master script for tourists which reduces disorientation and guides actions.” (73) Edensor is looking more at set narratives, rather than how Bruner examines opportunities for tourists to actively construct narratives. Franklin and Crang deal with narrative within the framework of Edensor idea about scripted performance.
Bruner is the most upfront about the ethical dilemmas inherent in his research, which makes sense because he is the only one talking about his ethnographic fieldwork. While it is important for all tourist scholars to acknowledge their prejudices and baggage, it is vital that those doing field work admit their prejudges because of ethnography’s long history of acting as monolithic interpreter of a particular culture. Bruner states: “Many postmodern ethnographers still struggle with the inequitable colonial relationship and vast differentials in wealth and power between themselves and the people they study. Further, ethnographers, as those who write, control how culture is represented.” (95) Bruner’s reflexive approach mirrors the shift in anthological research away from distanced looking as a supposedly authentic culture to an acknowledgement of the ethnographer’s presence and the continually changing nature of culture.
Franklin and Crang address the ethical dilemmas indirectly, by encouraging a moving away from the old tourist studies that “privileged the exotic and the strange,” (7) such as practiced by MacCannell and rather to “deal reflexively with the social arena of which it [tourist studies] itself is a part.” (8) In order to de-exoticize tourism and adopt a more reflexive approach Franklin and Craig advocate looking at the tourism of everyday life, bridging the gap between the touristic and everyday experience. Edensor also advocates this de-eroticisation and embrace of the study of the everyday.
In terms of the positive possibilities for tourism, Bruner, Franklin and Crang and Edensor all posit that it is possible for a community to gain a better understanding of their history and a firmer sense of their own identity as a result of communities becoming tourist destinations. However, the other side of what can happen when communities market themselves to tourism is rather than solidify and strength an existing identity, new cultural practices emerge for tourists that blur the boundaries between pre-tourist cultural practices and practices that emerged to be performed for tourists. For example, at the post-modern Maasai performance at the Sundowner resort described by Bruner, the Maasai perform the Hollywood version of themselves to tourists. Bruner ask: “How well will the Maasai continue to compartmentalize themselves and separate performance from life? The line separating tourist performance from ethnic ritual has already become blurred in other areas of the world with large tourist flows, such as Bali. The Balinese can be longer distinguish between performances for tourists and performances for themselves, as performances originally created for tourism have subsequently entered Balinese rituals.” (92) In Bali, the tourist production has become part of the cultural rituals. Here tourism has shaped Balinese culture towards a Westernized version accessible to tourist.
A key ingredient for tourism to be positive, seems to revolve around with how narratives are constructed. Who has the power to create narratives? The Maasai at the Sundowner are catering to the tourist existing metanarrative, playing the role of the “primate for profit.” (89) Tourists think the primate Maasai is “authentic” because it fits into the master narrative.
People travel to see difference and yet with globalization the world is becoming increasingly homogeneous. Are we setting up a situation in which third world cultures, which relay on tourism for their livelihood, must perform cultural difference for tourists even as they do not necessarily practice this difference in their everyday lives?
Posted by Sarah Zoogman at 1:09 PM
A Tale of Two Narratives
While reading Edward M Bruner's CULTURE ON TOUR, and keeping in mind a constant running comparison to Dean MacCannell's THE TOURIST, I was consistently struck by Bruner's use of the pronouns "I" and "we." Whereas in MacCannell these words appeared infrequently and fleetingly, mostly when he was introducing a new theoretical lens and explaining his own viewpoint of it, Bruner is not only the author, but also the narrator/protagonist of his own substantial work. He is constantly aware of himself as ethnographer, no matter what the situation is, either as a guest, tourist, tour guide, or "good-ole-fashioned ethnographer." Essentially, CULTURE ON TOUR is, using his own terminology, Bruner's massive post-tour narrative of a series of tourist and ethnographic encounters, one fashioned out of a lifetime of ethnographic experience, several decades of self-conscious tourist experiences, and a bit more in-depth knowledge than the average member of the Western "leisure classe."
What seems most important/crucial to me, though, is the fact that Bruner's PRE-TOUR narrative is radically different from that of the average tourist. He is more knowledgeable of, and sensitive to, the political and sociological issues that surround the areas he goes to visit, as well as the histories and narratives of those particular locales - this is why he more often serves as tour guide than as a "proper" tourist. It is only this pre-tour knowledge that really seems to enable him to pull away from his experiences enough to write these analyses, these personal narratives that are also ethnographic explorations. However, as Bruner himself admits - "I have had fun doing these studies and putting them together in this book, as I enjoy traveling and observing other cultures" (29) - he LIKES being a tourist, he is increasingly "appreciative of upscale travel and of making ethnographic observations from a more comfortable setting" (29). Essentially, he does not try to avoid the fact that he, himself, is a tourist, while I had a sense from MacCannell that he wanted to remove himself entirely from his analyses/observations, and serve as the bodiless theorist uninfluenced by the very factors he was writing about. Bruner, on the other hand, is completely aware of the effects upon himself of his own objects of study.
As I thought about this differentiation between the two writers, I found the key to it (for my own peace of mind, at least), within Bruner's focus on narrative. He is constantly aware of personal narratives, pre-tour, on-tour, and post-tour (this is especially expounded upon in his unpublished conference paper, fascinatingly expanding the brief sketch he provides in the introduction to CULTURE ON TOUR), both those narratives of the tourists he travels with, those he studies, and, most importantly, those of himself and his constant travel companion, his wife. I am extremely hesitant to invoke "post-modernism" here, but it is the best term I am able to think of right now to use as an admittedly-reductive binary opposition to MacCannell, who invokes narrative but only in the sense of the overarching uber-narratives of modernism (marxism, structuralism, etc.). Bruner isn't looking at narratives of the world and of societies, though, he is looking at individual, fragmented, personal narratives of lived (or soon-to-be-lived/already-lived) experiences.
In thinking about Bruner's idea of tourism-as-story (that the entire tourist experience is designed around what stories can be told after the fact, rather than for the in-the-moment enjoyment of it), I kept coming back to my own areas of interest, of kitsch and amusement (particularly "amusement parks"). Whereas the former seems to be an entire system based around knick-knacks and items that stories can be based around, even if they are mass-produced items/stories sold by the dozen in plastic bins, the latter is certainly based upon somatic experience, the enjoyment of the "ride" and the thrill of the pre-produced show. I'm starting to ramble and not make much sense in this analysis, as I haven't yet fully formulated any of these thoughts, but it would be interesting to apply the idea of the post-tour narrative to a place like DisneyWorld, since EVERY BODY'S experience of, say, Pirates of the Carribean is the exact same, save in a case where, for example, the ride breaks down (and, even in such a case, this is at most a blip on the radar of the experience, a pause that is corrected when the ride resumes - as Jeff Goldblum's character in JURASSIC PARK points out, if the ride breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists).
As much as it pains me to end this analysis with a JURASSIC PARK reference, I'm afraid that I need to a do a great deal more thinking on the subject before I am able to further apply Bruner's tourist narrative theories to my own interests.
Posted by Andrew Friedenthal at 12:58 PM
Borderzones, Narrative, Memory.
If tourism is ethnography’s unacknowledged illegitimate child, as Ed Bruner has suggested (p 198), then his project is to reunite and reconcile the estranged family members. The methodological opportunities offered by ethnography to the study of tourism are abundant, and of course ethnography will be changed by turning its attention to tourism, and vice versa. In many ways, though, this is a recognition of a kinship that already existed between tourism and ethnography; their imaginative economies are linked, and the distinction between tourist and ethnographer, while it may be personally grievous for an ethnographer to admit, is in many cases not cut and dry. There seem to be two borderzones in this book: one, a region of encounter between tourists and locals, a zone of emergent potentiality, and the other, a perhaps more theoretical zone of encounter between tourism and ethnography, both in terms of ethnographic influences on the meta-narratives of tourism, and also as a way of seeing Bruner’s own project. Just as the tourist encounters the local, the ethnographer encounters the ‘native’, : which in this case happens to be the tourist. It is more than just a structural similarity.In his dual role as ethnographer and tour guide in Indonesia, Bruner inhabits both borderzones simultaneously, and his experience observing and mediating these borderzones is one of the things that makes this book stand out.
Bruner is undoubtedly a part of the “new tourist studies” that we looked at last week (Edensor, Franklin, and Crang): he shares with them a performance-inflected analysis of tourism, an emphasis on change and emergence, agency and potentiality, a bracketing of the question of authenticity as an either/or category, and (related) a turn away from grand social theories of tourism (ie MacCannell) and toward an analysis which (in my view) privileges the uniqueness of a site without ignoring its connectedness to a larger order (or disorder). Bruner’s work is in line with the “new tourist studies”, but his approach differs from theirs (*from what I have read of theirs) in his inclusion of personal narrative in the work. My assumption is that this is method comes from a certain style of ethnographic writing - and my limited understanding of the history of ethnographic writing is that (at least these days) the ethnographer is far from producing a grand theory of social existence. The personal (and personable) style of Bruner’s writing in fact makes this kind of master theorization impossible. That is not to diminish the significance of the work - just to make an observation about narrative voice and the overall project. Bruner’s constructivist approach is necessarily narrative-friendly, narrative-centric, even - so it is only appropriate that the text take a narrative form.
The importance of narratives in shaping touristic experience is, to me, one of the most intriguing aspects of the book. Narratives are multiple, simultaneous and competing - they already inhabit the borderzone, and they are in the process of being born. He is careful to say that narratives are one facet of touristic experience, but since, like the physical tourist productions themselves, they selectively edit aspects of experience for presentation, they are emergent and constitutive, never completely independent but never without agency either. There are meta-narratives about a specific site that determine what the tourist is likely to know beforehand, and therefore has a certain hold on perception, and there is the story that the tourist will tell their friends, family, fellow travelers etc. after the fact. Does the expectation, the imagined embryo of this story shape the tourists experience, and even guide their actions? When my boyfriend and I rented a motorcycle to escape from a shady guest house in Thailand, it certainly made a better story than it would have if we had taken a cab. Did we do it for the experience or for the experience of telling the story? The horrible sunburn I got en route was an unpleasant result of our hurried choice - but it also makes the story more interesting. It effectively ruined the rest of my vacation, but we had a good story!
In his unpublished essay, “The Role of Narrative in Tourism”, Bruner revisits some of his ideas on tourist narratives in Culture on Tour. In terms of the narratives tourists themselves tell (as distinguished from but not disconnected from Master Narratives) , I am interested in this notion of the transition from experience to narrative, and the several stages he describes - the first inscription of the experience into the verbal, the first re-telling to another person... it does not sound to me like this process describes tourist narratives only, but is a model for the narrativization of memory in general. I would be curious to know what other research has been done in this area - it seems to me that tourism, is once again a rich laboratory, in this case because the transmission is largely oral (the use of photos, props and mementos notwithstanding) , and there are certain conventions that exist in the telling of travel tales. Bruner posits a hyperawareness that the experience may become material for a story - but for many this hyperawareness permeates non-touristic experience as well. Some might suggest that this is the touristic attitude, gaze, habitus - bleeding into the everyday. I am skeptical of this. While tourism is undeniably a huge industry, I’m not sure that it’s helpful to think of tourism as a ‘force’. Tourism is not a monolith - as Bruner points out, it is a complex, multivalent site of multiple negotiations, encounters, and contestations. I’m not sure exactly what I’m trying to work out here, but it seems to have something to do with the generalizability of this model of narrative memory, and the rich and (maybe deceptively?) study-able phenomenon of tourism. Maybe it is that I am sensing a greater applicability of certain ideas in Bruner’s work, but I am also sensing a certain resistance in the text to extending the claim beyond the phenomenon of tourism, possibly because of his subjective stance and the turn away from generalizing ‘grand theories’. I wonder, though - it seems to me that this narrative model for memory would be in accordance with the constructivist approach.
Posted by Sarah Klein at 12:54 PM
Edward M. Bruner's Narratives
“Culture on Tour” is Edward M. Bruner’s arrival at Grand Central after forty-five years of travel; it is the theoretical and empirical synthesis of his anthropological and ethnographical life-work. Bruner not only exposes the new approaches he has elaborated in his extensive field work, but he also locates his theory of ethnic tourism within the general framework of tourist studies.
The core idea of Bruner’s work is that tourist productions are to be interpreted as ‘narratives’. He claims that different ‘narratives’ are inscribed and legible in tourist productions. He differentiates between the tourists’ narratives (dividing them into pre-/on-/post-tour sections), the locals’ narratives, the established master narratives and the metanarrative, which “places a frame around all cultural performances” (260n 11).
What is a common characteristic of all of Bruner’s narratives is that they outline a story that defines the ‘border zone’ – the concrete or abstract place in which locals and tourists encounter on another. The interpretation of tourism as ‘narratives’ helps Bruner to underpin his argument “against a fixed, static model that sees producers as in control, natives as exploited, and tourists as dupes” (12). New questions arise: who has the right to tell a narrative? Whose story is to be exposed? Is there one original/authentic story? An interesting example for the collision of narratives is the Elmina Castle in Ghana. The African-American tourists’ slave narrative competes with the Ghanaian local historical narrative here; which makes both the locals and the tourists participate in the formation of this tourist production.
Bruner, as many of the anthropologists of new tourist studies, seeks to explore the ‘performative’ in tourist productions, and he comes to the conclusion that “the metaphor of tourism is theater” (209). In consequence, Bruner suggests that tourist productions are performances constructed to entertain tourists. At the same time, there is a potential that these performances enter into ritual and ethnography (198-199) and become part of the local culture, as in the case of the Balinese frog dance. Bruner expands this idea in his paper “The Role of Narrative in Tourism” by showing the way that constructive forces in tourist productions influence local culture, and by claiming that “tourist constructivism describes culture that has been created or shaped” (Narrative: 12).
Interpreting tourist productions as performances allows Bruner to break with the traditional search for authenticity in the field of tourist studies. In his analysis of ethnic tourism, he demonstrates that tourists are more interested in good performances than in authentic experiences. He dismisses the idea of authenticity, questioning MacCannell’s investigation of the lack of authenticity in everyday life as well. To support his argument, Bruner emphasizes that it is mostly locals who visit the Indonesian ethnic theme park, Tama Mini. Here, local people attend the tourist site in order to reaffirm “an authenticity already known and experienced” (227). However, it is important to point out that while Dean MacCannell’s analysis concentrates on modern tourists (in other words the tourists of the Western world) exclusively, Bruner’s focus alternates between Western tourists in postcolonial countries and domestic tourism in third world countries. Simultaneously, Bruner’s focus alternates between entertainment and ‘activism’ as the function of tourism. He looks at ethnic theme parks as mythical sites, which “designated to resolve a contradiction between an ideal image of the nation and the reality of what a nation actually is” (230).
Franklin and Crang depict how tourism might intervene “in the construction of local identity: to constantly create and recreate a sense of belonging, past, place, culture and ownership” (10). At the same time, Bruner points out that narratives are “structures of power”. At this point, this is the field of tourist studies I am most interested in: how the ruling power establishes and reaffirms national identity through tourist productions. After the change of the system in 1989, nationalism has become the most important ideology in Hungary, which manifested itself in every cultural and political performance, including tourist productions. This over-emphasis on our national identities led to horrific anomalies in several cases, which I might attempt to explore in my research project.
Posted by Aniko Szucs at 12:36 PM
By grounding his analysis of tourism squarely within the framework of ethnography, Edward Bruner is able to study it as a practice that is socially constituted, constantly changing, yet “real” and worthy of being dignified by scholarly anthropology. His method uses MacCannell’s notion of a front stage-to-backstage gradation of authenticity, but only as a starting-off point. Furthermore, Bruner integrates such notions as performativity, borderzones, and spontaneity, into his analysis and basis his ideas on the theory of social constructivism (thereby aligning himself with some of the basic ideas of the “new” tourist literature), yet departs from certain postmodern positions which prize the simulacra and undercut the value of the term “authentic” altogether.
First, I would like to trace how the term “authenticity” is contested, especially in chapters 1, 5, and 7 because I think his use (and deconstruction) of this term allows us to view him as in dialogue with both MacCannell and with postmodern writers like Baudrillard and Eco. Lastly, I wanted to make note of an article published today in the NYT Style magazine called “The Reawakening” which publicizes the new tourism Afghanistan.
The first case study, Mayers ranch, is portrayed as a space that is completely fabricated and produced for tourists, yet it is constructed in such as way as to elicit a sense of what BKG and Bruner refer to as touristic realism (a notion I found much more helpful than the tourist authentic). This can be understood as a virtual world that conforms to certain pre-tour understandings of how the Maasai should look and feel by suppressing the markers of its own constructed-ness (58). The authentic is being actively produced – it does not ontologically exist in the back of the performance, as MacCannell might argue – and the ethnographic methods used by Bruner and BKG allow us to see how this authenticity is pre-formulated and performed. It was never assumed that each tourist was on a quest for the universal authentic; I very much appreciated the extent to which Bruner spoke to, mingled with, and guided those who had traveled to the locations he was studying. Also, it seems that in some cases, what is considered real, authentic African culture by some Americans traveling to Africa is merely an extension of the popular global media images (some produced in America) portraying African stereotypes. That is, the sense of what is authentic is always being performed – both at the site and before arrival.
Authenticity, as a marker for something actual, is further contested in Bruner’s writings on Lincoln’s New Salem. Against writers who assume that Americans privilege the simulation over the real (or mistake the absolute fake for the actual), Bruner will argue that what is important is not the authentic/inauthentic theoretical binary (that is somehow being “used wrongly” by American tourists), but what is actually occurring at the touristic site: the production of meaning by all actors at Lincoln’s New Salem. His approach to New Salem, as well as his approach to Bomas, debunks the same types of academic/intellectual biases that were and are used to discredit religious movements. To assume that tourists at New Salem or travelers to Bomas operate under a shallow form of false consciousness is a ‘critique without analysis’ that fails to take into account the popularity of such sites. Similarly, to simply say, “You are getting it wrong!” to those practitioners of religion undermines any attempt to see religion as a socially constructed force in its own right. “Authenticity” is a functional (not an ontological) term, with, as we have seen, a lot of social mileage.
Bruner ends chapter 5 with the acknowledgement that a tourist site can express and perform a “utopian potential for transformation” that can engage social life in a revolutionary capacity (168). If one can understand domestic tourism in this way, can the same be said of international tourism? The juxtaposition of multiple locations in Bruner’s text – though a bit overwhelming at times – did serve to highlight the structural disparities between a site like Lincoln’s New Salem and a site like the Balinese Bautan festival. Here, the West confronts the East, and the phenomenon of international mass tourism is situated within a post-colonialist/orientalist discourse of power, stereotypes, and exploitative tendencies. The term “authentic” is once again thrown into the spiral of postmodern sensibilities: “Cultural innovation that arises in the borderzone… what anthropologists formerly called inauthentic culture,” writes Bruner, “eventually becomes part of Balinese ritual” thereby morphing into a seemingly “authentic” cultural expression (200). The tourist is completely implicated in the field of fieldwork. Yet are the potentials for revolution embedded in the Balinese re-appropriation of stereotypes to their own economic and cultural advantage? Can the stereotype/image ever be done away with? Or is all social life predicated on verisimilitude, performance and playing with past tropes and forms? Is the tourist production itself a microcosm of what occurs everyday? In that sense, does each of us harbors a certain tourist sensibility that, unlike MacCannell’s reading, does not express the modern quest for the authentic, but does illuminate the importance of narrative and performance in our daily lives? These are some of questions that arose in reading Bruner’s texts.
Lastly, in addressing this issue of orientalist stereotypes and the way they govern travel, I quickly wanted to note that the New York Times Sunday Style magazine did a piece on the new tourism in Afghanistan. I posted the link below, but here are some excerpts that begin to construct an authentic Afghan tourist experience. The article is even titled, “The Reawakening” which evokes Bruner’s lively, active, and creative borderzone and also alludes to the notion that land simply isn’t fully alive unless it is under the gaze of the western tourist:
“Afghanistan has always seemed impossibly foreign and mysterious and beautiful to me… After 25 years of war, fundamentalism and occupation, Afghanistan was once again becoming a place where Westerners, if not exactly heroes, were at least said to be welcome guests. In Kabul, luxury hotels were being constructed, quaint guesthouses remodeled, Internet cafes outfitted with milk frothers and wired with high-speed connections. If tourists were returning to Afghanistan, as rumored, I wanted to be one of them, to see the sixth-poorest country on the planet…
“A few tips: don't wander off paths and roads; there are still many unexploded mines throughout the country. Afghanistan is a very conservative Muslim country; to avoid offending Afghans, you should dress modestly. Never wear shorts, even when exercising. Women should cover their heads and arms in public. Visitors should not drink alcohol or appear inebriated in public view. There is a risk, especially for visitors from the United States and other Western countries, of kidnapping or other acts of political violence.”
The Reawakening: The people of Kabul are embarking on yet another heroic effort: tourism
Posted by Brynn Noelle Saito at 11:58 AM
The question that had kept returning to my mind while reading Bruner was that of agency, or the relationship between the socially constituted tourist subject and the agency that allows tourists to write their own narratives. Bruner rejects a deterministic position that confines tourists in a discourse constructed outside their own physicality, outside their own “selves”, as he states outright that “of course tourists have agency. . . . there are no persons without agency, without active selves. . .”(12)
This question becomes more problematic as we move to the consideration of narrative. In his article on the role of narrative, Bruner breaks tourist narratives down to “pre-tour”, “on-tour”, and “post-tour” categories. It is important to note that the first is neither written by the tourists nor based on their own experiences. The pre-tour narratives are made up of tourist brochures, guidebooks, travel writings, abundantly supplied by the industry. On-tour, tourists encounter different experiences from those recorded in pre-tour narratives, although the extent of difference varies. Some seek more adventurous, deviant experience while others remain conformist. An existent pre-tour narrative gets replaced by ones provided by the tourists themselves. According to Bruner, “a grand narrative about Bali is replaced by one about the tourist as hero.”
It seems to me, however, that the space in which tourists get to write their own narrative is limited as their horizon of expectation is constructed outside them. For instance, the experience of backpackers, however free and uninhibited it may sound, is, to a certain degree, already narrativized, and cannot escape the discursive limit of the backpacker tourism. Although each tourist experience is unique and never identical, can be conformist, resistant, or even subversive, the forces that shape it are always external to the tourist himself/herself. Pre-tour narratives yield enormous influence, so do class-, race-, gender-, and sexuality-based assumptions.
Bruner’s episodes of post-tour parties at which stories are exchanged around the photos taken on tour are illustrative on this account. A National Geographic magazine circulated during the tour, or the house once occupied by Mead and Bateson, pointed out by an authoritative ethnographer/guide becomes a catalyst by which a shared, homogeneous political consciousness of a tour group is affirmed. Ethnic display of the Maasai at three different locations also exemplify kinds of narratives written for different groups of tourists whose expectations are socio-historically pre-constructed. The issue of “who has the right to tell the story” (12) looms large.
This leads to my reflection of a zone of contact and negotiation between and among hosts and guests, tourists and toristees, travellers and travellees. Discussions on who, which periods, and which versions of history should be performed at the restored castle of Elmina indicate a complexity involved in a production of a tourist narrative. Here, Bruner’s concept of borderzone is helpful because it transfigures an exploitative gaze and an assimilationist strategy of an ethnic theme park into a potential site of a minoritarian resistance and community maintenance, in which I hear an echo of Richard Hundler’s notion of “self-objectification”. The activities centered around the Toba Batak house at Taman Mini, in contrast to two other ethnic theme parks described in Culture on Tour, offer a hopeful possibility.
I would like to end my response by returning to the issue of agency. Tourism, in the late-capitalist gargantuan globalizing cultural market, never stops producing narratives of desire for consumption. Narratives, as the tourist experience moves from a static gaze to a sensory embodiment, seem to expand in their range and become more open-ended. But I am not sure whether we possess enough agency to write texts of our own. The market, propelled by globalizing economy in conjunction with controlling power of nation states grips our lives. As consumers, we often end up as choosers of pre-fabricated texts and not as makers. The challenge seems to lie in our ability to create an anti-normative borderzone in interstices betweem narrative layers by which we are surrounded.
Posted by Yuichiro Takahashi at 11:14 AM
Through out the reading, it is not hard to find out Bruner’s emphasis on authenticity. Instead of questioning the authenticity of object, he transformed his point into the authenticity of performance, such as the performance of the Maasai warrior, the reproduction of New Salem and the Balinese dance.
As critical and cynical audience or traveler, one may find uncomfortable in the situation of reproduced site, or as Bruner’s interpretation, the uneasiness caused by the questioning gaze. However, with the questioning gaze, the audience/traveler set up the assumption of the existence of authenticity, which in Bruner’s point worthy to be negotiated.
On page 48, one of the junior warrior mentioned that the performance in Mayer Ranch is a work. It is very obvious that the performers are conscious about their roles in this curatorial picture. You cannot say this is not a kind of cynicism of the performers, who realized the function of the dance transformed from a cultural ritual performance to a tourist highlight in order to present the African untamed power. And in Edensor’s article, he mentioned the ironic, cynical, “post-tourist” performance that cynically questioning the significance of a specific object (75). I am fascinated by the interaction that exists between the feeder and the receiver.
What is the solution of the tourism while modernity in a certain way influenced the attitude of the performer and also the perception of the audience? Interestingly, Bruner’s description about the Ramayana ballet responded this question, he said that the upscale tourist did not object the fact that a performance was constructed for the tourists, but they demand that it be a good performance (208). In the same paragraph, Bruner also mentioned that the audience stated the Javanese show is better than the Balinese one, because of the setting was more high-class and exclusive. This is a very interesting narration about the tourist for me; it indicated that no matter how cynical these tourists can be, they are still looking at tourism in a hierarchical structure of materialism.
In Bruner’s writing about the role of narration in tourism, he divided the narration into three periods; the pre-tour narration, on-tour narration and the post-tour narration. I am deeply bothered by his categorization of narration, especially the description about the on-tour narration. Bruner’s description about the en-route narration such as trail stories from other backpackers, the personal diaries or the internet travel journals are all narrations after experiencing the tour. This could be a question related to the definition of tour, personally, I think a major tour is consisted by numerous minor tours.
Usually a major tour is clearly begins and ends by a certain time point (the moment you pick up the luggage and step out your house, the day you goes back to your hometown.) or a special location (airport, train station.), but while you are on the tour, you are also making numerous plans of touring by visiting all kinds of small landmarks or sites. Like the tour to Empire State Building can be a part in the major tour of New York City, and also a minor tour itself. I know Bruner is trying to emphasis the transformation and importance of the master narration before/in/after the journey. However, in order to set the boundaries on the linear time line, I am confused by the differences between these three levels in his examples.
Posted by Yo-Chi Li at 10:06 AM
There is a lot to be said about ethnographic narrative – I thoroughly enjoyed reading the ‘lived experiences’ of the author, thereby making theoretical concepts alive and real. Bruner’s years of commitment to the field indeed added depth and perspective to my understanding of the field. I think these were very necessary readings (essay and book) – communicating what could have posed to be complex thoughts, in a clear practical way based on experience, at the same time demonstrating good ethnography – offering multiple interpretations, an insightful recognition of elements that warranted attention, reflexive, thorough, contextualized, and explicit. And definitely a project that “analyzes tourist performances not as representations, metaphors, texts, or simulacra of something located elsewhere, but as social practice to be studied in its own right, grounded by the methods of ethnography” (7). There were moments that really stood out for me in my reading – the role of narrative, and the borderzone in particular.
Thinking about narrative and its own story, I was also thinking about it as a process of ‘idealization’, as a persuasive means of representation, as ‘ideas’ that govern the images and behavior of tourism for its participants such as producers, tourists or ‘residents’. Secondly, Bruner writes about the imperialist nostalgia and the colonial narrative, which I think I could also articulate as ideological domination not only through colonialism but also through Christian evangelization in many cases, Nagaland for instance. Hence, the storyteller is as important as the story itself in channeling attention and focus of the readers to a particular aspect of the story. Keeping in mind the dialogic nature of narrative, I am curious to see how the meta narratives themselves can actually start becoming commonplace and worn. When a romanticized representation becomes commonplace, particularly with the educated tourist’s understanding of the role of authorial agency, one can often stop paying attention to what is ‘outstanding’ about a place, and new narratives must be found and experienced in secret back alleys and ‘underground’ performances. In the end, narrative seems to want to claim more and more territory, and power. Bruner’s privileging of narrative in his paper raises some important questions, and in a sense for me, reflects on life itself as the perpetually written story, the self as a narrative itself.
MacCannell’s insight of the front/back region, incisive as it is, Bruner’s focus on the ‘borderzone’ as a ‘point of conjuncture’ (17), a space where the tourist and the locals have the point of contact is exciting. Because it conjures up ideas of a space that is liminal but potent, a haven where players play their roles. What is exciting about it to me is the role the borderzone plays as a brewing pot of new emergent culture. Although this zone is not always necessarily demarcated as it was with the Mayers’, it still is a great ‘metaphor’ to visualize such an exchange taking place. Although the Maasai considered their stay and performances at the Mayers as ‘work’(48) and did not consider their being there as a way of becoming junior warriors as they performed for the tourists, the borderzone still was fertile ground where real exchanges took place, where women sold their handicrafts, where men had to act aloof, and the same space where they had to lock away their real lives behind closed doors. This activity cannot be passively contained in that zone, and I am interested in how these activities start meshing and intermingling with the real world, just as what began in tourism entered Balinese ritual. For my own research I am interested in how the ‘experience’ of performing in the borderzone affects the ‘experience’ of performing outside the borderzone, particularly for the ‘native’, and to delve even deeper, how can affect itself of a performance within the borderzone create a whole new genre and practice, how just by the very act of ‘acting’ (one’s knowledge that one knows that one knows that this is not real!) in that zone, a new genre is being born. Identifying that zone provokes great imagery and articulation.
Posted by Senti Toy at 8:42 AM
Although not directly pertinent to the writings of Edward Bruner, in this public forum I would like to call attention to a semiological problem with the word backpacker. Bruner, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, and MacCannell all use the word quite readily and easily in their discourse on tourism, yet, all use it to signify different things. Bruner seems to define backpackers as individuals or small groups of young people who stay in hotels that cater to young tourists. MacCannell seems to align backpackers with the more rugged individuals who travel off the beaten track, perhaps exclusively referring to those tourists who camp outside. In class lectures, Kirshenblatt-Gimblett seems to fall in line with MacCannell’s definition, adding a personal tinge of reverence and admiration for these kinds of travelers (although perhaps humorously reflexive as well).
I bring attention to this point, because the two different definitions of backpacker commonly acknowledged delineate two very different sets of travelers that, thus far, seem to go undifferentiated in tourist studies. Until I traveled to Europe, I only acknowledged one definition of backpacker: a person who travels with all the things needed to camp on his/her back. Implicit in this definition is the voyage into more remote areas where one would need to set up camp. These are the rugged adventurers who travel away from civilization. This first definition of backpacker, however, radically changed once I entered Europe for the first time as a study-abroad student.
It seems that, at least among people of my generation, a backpacker is any person who travels with a backpack and stays in hostels. Typically, backpackers move from city to city using public transportation such as trains. My companions and myself frequently commented upon the disparity between the two definitions. Initially our comments entailed ridiculing those hostel-staying travelers, who called themselves backpackers, yet used the backpack merely as a glorified suitcase. The first definition of the word backpacker implies a higher status than is given to other types of tourists. This status assessment probably arises due to the view that backpacking is more strenuous, difficult, adventurous, and perhaps nobel.
The second definition does not elicit the same type of high status. To the study abroad students, there was not much difference between the backpackers we met in the middle of Paris and the average tourist. Therefore, it became necessary for us to combat the seemingly unfair status awarded to those who called themselves backpackers, yet did not participate in the activities we originally associated with backpacking. Eventually, because of the more pervasive use of the second definition of backpacker, I came to give primacy to this definition. Now, it is the privileged youths staying in hostels, Eurorail ticket in hand, which immediately springs to my mind at the mention of the word backpacker. Ironically, I bought a backpack and traveled around the world in relative comfort while referring to myself as a backpacker. Only in Cambodia did I find a backpack to actually be of more use than a normal suitcase, proving my original conclusion that backpacks are merely status creating suitcases.
To borrow Bruner’s terminology, two metanarratives exist for the concept of backpacker/ing. Before one meets a backpacker, or buys a backpack, one already has an understanding of the verb to backpack. When direct contact is made, whether while actually traveling or not, one’s personal narrative or definition may change, as it did in my own case. Interestingly, however, the metanarrative does not necessarily disappear or even become amended. When pre-stories do not change because of incongruities, Bruner finds that tourists fail to make adjustments due to their own perceived lack of understanding or authority. In some cases, when the initial pre-story is not directly proved false, a new narrative is created that runs a parallel course to the first. Although I have never seen nor participated in my first definition of backpacking, I have no reason to disbelieve that the first definition of backpacking is false. Both definitions are valid, and in frequent usage, which requires the scholar to be clear about the definition she/he works under.
(This was an attempt to answer ethnography with a bit of personal ethnography. Admittedly, I am worried that it is a failed attempt, as well as failure at properly engaging the text in a manner displaying competence and 200 pages of reading. Blaim it on the tourist's need to share their stories, as Bruner mentions.)
Posted by Lisa Reinke at 2:26 AM
Tourism as social structure makes way for the ethnographer…
In Culture on Tour, Bruner’s affiliations are laid bare, and in such a way, he engages with types of tourism and players too messy and possibly irksome for MacCannell’s project of modernity – particularly, international tourism in a post-colonial and increasingly globalised era, where Western leisure, travel and adventure are aimed toward less developed destinations (Indonesia, Kenya, Ghana, China). In letting it all hang out, in speaking from a frank, personal and importantly, reflexive voice, Bruner makes himself and us aware of the inner workings of money, of control, privileges, biases, and also brick walls and difficulties that arise. He is attempting to understand for himself, from his position on the ground – and through him, we gain insight. This varies greatly from MacCannell’s effort to establish an overarching tourist social structure. Here, questions with no answers are valued, and analyses of specific situations (over quite an extensive period of time) are offered not as typical necessarily, not as examples to illustrate a unifying theory, but as a way to develop tourist studies debate.
Like Edensor, Bruner sees performance analysis as incredibly important to how we might understand tourism. He looks at tourist productions as performances – although the traditional theatrical space and context of Edensor, with a clearly delineated proscenium, audience, stage managers, etc is replaced by a model of more improvisatory performance. The stage is now located in the “borderzone” and is inhabited by both tourists and locals as actors, although roles are not distinct, they may change or be mutually held (as in Bruner himself – tourist, ethnographer, tour guide, tourist producer). Additionally, Bruner adopts what he sees as a “performative method” to his analysis, ie, a reflexive and ironic one. (6)
Important to Bruner’s work also is the idea of narrative – he sees an ongoing tension between experience and narration in tourism. Working from the three-fold distinction of trip as lived, experienced and as told, he distinguishes meta-narratives (concerning concepts governing the framework of tourism enterprise itself) and tourist tales (pre-tour, on-tour, post-tour narratives), which are more attached to particular regions and which can include routine as well as unexpected events. He examines the impact of one on the other – eg. the tour as lived or experienced may be directed by what will make good stories later. In The Role of Narrative in Tourism particularly, Bruner elaborates on the “master narrative” as a pre-understanding of the tourist destination, which becomes key appreciating Bruner’s rejection of the concept of authenticity as central. Tourism, for Bruner, is a performance of embodying the pre-tour narrative (24) and so any sense of “authenticity” is measured against the tourist’s preconception or pre-understanding, the “master narrative”, not some truly authentic notion, which is fictitious anyway as cultures are emergent and what is often identified as “authentic” by both tourist producers and tourists is a fantasy of the past, frozen in time (eg. the Maasai performance at Mayers Ranch).
I could go on and on. And I haven’t begun to talk about issues of exploitation. Power relations are not so easy to generalise in this view of tourism, which looks at so many players – the state, the impresario, the producer, the performer – and players whose roles may, again, not be fixed (as in the Maasai performers and waiters at Sundowners). Bruner engages with many of the big whammies of tourist studies concepts: MacCannell’s “staged authenticity” - Bruner refers to “tourist realism” instead, but stresses that it is only one of several possible tropes (others include nationalism, eg. Bomas). Also, MacCannell’s concept of front/back regions - Bruner’s critique points out that front implies a back that is more real and really exists (Bruner sees tourist performances occurring in a “borderzone” and relates this concept to the use of “the picture” at Mayers Ranch: “Being in the picture defines the limits of the borderzone.” (66)). Likewise, Urry’s “tourist gaze” becomes irrelevant in situations like Taman Mini where the Toba Batak visit not to “discover the Other but rather witness a performance of themselves in a different context.” (227)
I am thinking about a final project that deals with the feeling of being a tourist in familiar places (sort of badly articulated) and so Bruner’s expansions on home and away, front and back, and perhaps memory and the retelling jump out at me. Also, it seems to me that one of the keys to Bruner’s current work, is his quest for how his journeys in tourist studies and ethnography reflect and inform one another. The self-reflexive method of analysis that he employs is important to his work, and may provide a model for my project.
Posted by Justine Shih Pearson at 12:28 AM
Saturday Night? Let's talk Ethnography!!! From Tyler
In his book Culture on Tour, Edward Bruner provides a prime example of what we might term “the new tourist studies.” Though he employs an ethnographic approach with roots reaching back into the 19th century, he adroitly adds a post-structuralist awareness to his findings that remains suspect of transcendent theories and concrete conclusions. Perhaps he puts it best himself, writing, “the studies in this book analyze tourist sites and performances as evolving and historical—or…more simply, alive” (Bruner 12).
While I appreciate Bruner’s self-reflexive and adaptive approach over, say, the rigid claims of MacCannell, there are ultimately a number of instances in which I found it unsatisfying or precursory. In short, I want Bruner to extrapolate more from his field research, going further out on theoretical limbs. Rather than fault Bruner, however, I prefer to acknowledge his excellent work as an ethnographer, and thank him for pointing out a number of limbs that my peers and I might venture out upon ourselves. Here follow some specific examples that I found most intriguing.
Referring to the delineation between the Mayers’ and the Maasai’s living spaces and their routines at Mayers’ Ranch, Bruner presents the Batesonion paradox of “not being able to distinguish between a nip and a bite, or between a play fight and a real one,” (65) that is, between “tourist time” and “life time.” These two categories suggest a division in life experience, “life time” somehow being more real or authentic than “tourist time.” Elsewhere in his book, however, Bruner argues against MacCannell and Boorstin’s notions of the existence of an authentic reality or culture. Based on Bruner and Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s research, how do we reconcile these conflicting positions? If there is indeed a difference between the two time types, and the Maasai’s village is temporarily reframed as “a stage” each day, who is responsible for this reframing, and how does it occur? Is the presence of tourists necessary? Is it up to the Maasai and their attitudes towards their activities?
Bruner’s research suggests a symbiotic relationship between the Mayers and the Maasai rather than an exploitative one. Do we buy this framing of their relationship? Bearing in mind that in all three examples, the Mayers’ Ranch, Bomas, and the Sundowner, the Maasai are working for someone else, either a private or government organization, do we believe that they are benefiting from the tourist industry, or merely making the best of a bad situation? Where is the line drawn between exploitation and free enterprise?
On 202 Bruner relates an account of running into Hilly Geertz in Bali. What follows is an interesting juxtaposition of Balinese, ethnographers, tourists, and a tour guide, which leaves Hilly feeling like “an ethnographic object.” How do we define ethnographic object? Is there something inherent to the object itself, or is this definition dependent solely on the gaze of the viewer? Furthermore, if this is the case, then could one not always be “on tour” even on her home street? Therefore, what does it mean to be “on tour” or to be a “tourist?”
In his unpublished essay, Bruner introduces the concept of “master narrative.” What he does not explore is how these narratives are created, who is responsible, and what are the driving forces behind their creation. Is it touristic expectation, the “source” culture being toured, or a dependence on money, causing the narrative to go where the dollars are?
In a vein similar to that above, Bruner later refers to a “limited number of basic travel stories,” (9) of which the teller changes which details receive emphasis depending upon the context of each telling. I wonder what these basic story types are, how and when they each arose, and if this list of basic stories has historically been added to or subtracted from. Moreover, I’m curious as to systems or at least trends in the various framings these stories receive based upon specific contexts, and whether clear correlations can be drawn between context and story structure and content.
On page eight, Bruner mentions an “objective reality.” I find this phrase highly problematic, as there is always a subjective “perceiver.” This initial problem is further compounded with regard to Bruner as he has repeatedly argued against the usefulness and existence of “authentic culture,” a phrase that seems synonymous with the aforementioned “objective reality.” Is there a difference between the two terms, and if so, how is “objective reality” somehow less problematic than a notion of “authentic culture?”
On page 14 Bruner mentions a tourist whom he claims is indicative of a larger phenomenon, that of tourists who are more interested in listening to stories than actually seeing sites, “an essential feature of postmodernism.” To me, this seems like an unsubstantiated and sweeping claim unjustifiably used to serve his argument. This raises the question as to how much ethnographic data is necessary to make a claim with relative confidence, and where else Bruner (and other ethnographers) may have relied upon unsatisfactorily small data pools to draw conclusions about the subjects of study.
One final question is as follows. Bruner separates tourist narratives into pre-tour, on-tour, and post-tour narratives. While the context of each telling is certainly different, it seems to me that the mechanisms of at least the last two telling types remain largely the same. A person relating the incidents of the day back at his hotel in the evening is already in the post-tour mode, though still on tour. Even in the pre-tour phase, in relating things he’s read or heard, though the teller mightn’t likely be the protagonist, he is still constructing selective narratives based on memory and the context of the telling. The area that interests me is not the stories or the context in which they are told, but rather the purpose they serve for the teller during these various time delineations. Do they serve to quell fears, as social capital, as a kind of creation of self through narrative, or something else? Further, during the post-tour phase, how does the function of each story change over large spans of time and in small social units such as families?
Posted by Tyler Sinclair at 12:28 AM
September 24, 2005
Edward Bruner’s work on tourism directly addresses the critique made by the “new” tourism studies (namely Franklin and Crang) of the literature on tourism that focused on the question of authenticity, and that that viewed tourism from an orthodox structuralist perspective, establishing tourism as an orderly system, and tourists as perpetrators and the toured as victims.
Bruner discloses his theoretical stance early on in the introduction of Culture on Tour, underlining his commitment to studying tourist productions as social practices worthy of being analyzed in their own right (7), paying close attention to the mechanisms at work in their construction (5), to the interpretative or meaning-making agency of the different participants, as well as the sites themselves and the larger local and global context (12, 18, 25), to the way tourism is structured through narrative (20), and to the various ways in which tourism and ethnography can be related, different to, or illuminating of one another (2, 7, 8, 28).
Bruner inserts his work within the “new” tourism studies by disagreeing with MacCannell’s perspective, namely on the question of authenticity. For Bruner, far from a quest for the authentic undertaken by alienated moderns, travel or tourism needs to be viewed as a social practice with different motives at work: a quest for leisure and entertainment (a good show), a status marker, or even a project of self-improvement (196). Bruner distances himself from the very core of the debate over authenticity, the notion that there is a “real” and a “fake” or simulacrum that is merely an imitation of an original. For Bruner, there is no such thing as the “real” vs. the representation. The representation/simulacrum is real, concrete and an object of study in its own right. This is where he disagrees with MacCannell’s use of Goffman’s front and back regions, arguing that these imply the existence of a “real” a truth in the back that is hidden, and therefore there to be discovered (5). Bruner is not interested in whether or not the tourist production is more or less “authentic,” or even accurate, but focuses rather on how the production is designed, what is left in and what is taken out, the mechanisms that create and frame the experience. For example, through his technique of controlled comparison (72), he shows how the seamlessness of a production like the Mayers’ Ranch where all markers of the production have been consciously erased/hidden, and the explicitness of a place like Bomas, where the bar in the back, the actual auditorium/stage and multiple signs frame the performance, make the two experiences serve significantly different purposes and create very different interpretive possibilities (73).
Indeed, Bruner is interested in how culture is performed (or curated), and how those decisions and their unforeseen consequences shape the tourist experience. Much like Tim Edensor, he believes that the theater metaphor is the most productive way to analyze tourism and tourist productions, focusing on performance, actors, role-playing, scenography, lighting, direction/editing, etc. He successfully shows that what is important to tourists is not the performance’s authenticity, but its verisimilitude (209). Bruner offers his reader a theoretical concept to describe the space of the performance, the “tourist borderzone”, which he describes as “a point of conjuncture, a behavioral field that I think of in spacial terms usually as a distinct meeting place between the tourist (…) and the local performers (…)” (17). This borderzone is above all a creative space (193) where culture is constructed. For Bruner, the limits between the borderzone and local culture are often spurious, giving way to multiple interactions and shifts. Perhaps the best example for this is how performances produced originally for tourism such as the Barong dance or the Ramayana have become emblematic of Balinese and Javanese culture respectively(201).
But who creates/directs the production? Although Bruner does emphasize the power relations behind tourism (namely economic, but also ethnic in Mayers Ranch, for example; gendered as in Xishuangbanna or class, as in Sundowner), he debunks the classic local victim/tourist perpetrator power dynamic. Bruner stresses the importance of agency in the meaning-making process of a tourist encounter. He highlights this by using terms such as “coproduction” and “collaboration” to describe tourist productions worldwide. None of the participants are passive actors, even if there are different reasons for the engagement. Thus, far from being an exploitative enterprise, tourism (despite its sometimes devastating consequences) is a constant process of multiple negotiations between different interests. Perhaps the example of the Maasai at Mayers Ranch is the most illustrative of this process as they managed to manipulate tourism and their relationship with the Mayers to counteract destructive government policies (57). This is what Bruner calls “strategic essentialism.” However, locals are not the only ones to have agency in Bruner’s understanding. Tourists are also not passive observers and often have a questioning gaze, as well as multiple ways of interpreting what the global tourism industry produces for them (95). Even sites have agency in themselves, inanimate objects suddenly coming to life to shape the way they are understood by their visitors (Elmina and Cape Coast castles are perhaps the most obvious examples). In addition to agency, and affirming his theoretical genealogy, Bruner looks at the slippages, at the unforeseen consequences of tourist productions, at the messyness and creative gaps. In his eyes, control or agency are never absolute. A drunk Masai may forget to take off his modern raincoat before the performance (61), or a theme park built to “nationalize” ethnic difference can become precisely the place where that difference is reproduced (224-230). However compelling and often proven to be this case, I find Bruner’s ideas on agency could also erase precisely the power dynamics his predecessors aimed to highlight. How does one deal with cases such as the Mayers Ranch or Elmina where clearly U.S sxensibilities intervene and often overpower African notions of heritage, performance and “strategic essentialism”?
On another note, Bruner takes on the “new” tourist studies’ focus on the quotidian aspects of tourism culture by unveiling the equal importance of the journey (the hotels, transportation mediums, etc.) and the destination in molding the experience, but also by highlighting the importance of narrative. Storytelling as well as stories told shape, structure and order the tourist experience both pre and post the actual traveling. Bruner shows how pre-tour stories can be conscious (tales told by friends who went on a similar tour) or unconscious, or masternarratives (the way a culture is portrayed in popular culture or education). Both of these are filters/scripts that shape how a tourist production is experienced. In addition, narrative structures such as plot, characters and tropes, as well as mnemonic devices such as collected objects, souvenirs, photographs, etc., order the way an experience is told and later remembered. The experience goes through a series of different “tellings” almost the minute after it is lived, acquiring a new life within the realm of narrative. In “The Role of Narrative in Tourism”, Bruner does stress that this is never a finished product, but a never ending cycle that is not linear, a dialogic process that continues to exist as the tourist tale is retold beyond the trip itself. Unfortunately, Bruner does not take his insights on narrative to discuss how tourism tales, as well as masternarratives about tourism and tourism places, penetrate the realm of fantasy and imagination in even more everyday forms.
Bruner’s work raises multiple questions that might be worth discussing. First and foremost, there seems to be an ethnographic problem in his work related to the question of access. In all of his fieldsites, Bruner, in a charming reflexive narrative about his own relationship to his fieldwork and to the changes in anthropological thought over the last 40 years, is explicit about his lack of data and his limited access (a constant concern of anthropology). However, his limitations too seem to have unforeseen consequences: in the Mayers Ranch study, the perspectives of Maasai people are seldom heard or appear only as unnamed, homogenous and univocal “the Maasai” (68). How can one study a tourist production that is so related to a business enterprise and get away from what the Jane Mayers’ of the world authorize you to study? How can one access the multiple layers Bruner discusses if one is so confined to a particular actor’s standpoint? Another ethnographic problem that Bruner himself comes up against is how to study the postlocal. Is multisited ethnography the answer to finding out how locality is produced? If this is the case, and in a world where migration and globalization are predominant, how many sites would be enough? Should the ethnographer focus on the center where the rituals of reincorporation take place (252)? And in the case of narrative and tourism, how could an ethnographer get a sense of how the tourist tale evolves over time and space? How many retellings are enough?
Posted by at 8:50 PM
Ethnography of Tourism
While Dean McCannell was preoccupied with a typology of tourism and the content of sites, Edward Bruner focuses on ethnography and function. With different tools, they explore different sites, which is probably why McCannel sticks to places and monuments, while Bruner looks at performances and events.
As much as McCannell helped raise fundamental issues about tourism and modernity, but doesn’t really know how to go beyond his uneasiness about this intersection, Bruner offers a very inspiring model of analysis, as well as a candid reflection about positioning (not to mention the fact that Bruner’s primary focus is on Africa and Asia). Where McCannell looked for clear typologies (see his markers and back/front models), Bruner is hungry for contested sites, which are probably the most fertile and interesting sites of analysis.
In relation to performance, Bruner provides useful and nuanced definitions of “tourist realism” and of the different meanings of “authenticity”, beyond traditional (and comfortable) binaries.
A performance offers an entry point whether we look at artistic, religious, or social performance, and brings the analysis to a polyphonic level: in the case of Mayers ranch, for example, the performance of the Maasai is examined in relation to the tea performance of the Mayers, along with the relation to the tourists, the anthropologists, the rest of the population, the government, the economy, religion, social behavior, contemporariness and globalization. Bruner’s analyses are so complete that they act as inspiring models for other case studies (my only resistance is when the description of the performance tends to overshadow the analysis, and when unique items (or sometimes anecdotes) are presented as systematic – in both cases, I got too distracted from the main and strong analysis).
Bruner also uses narrative analysis in a very fruitful way. McCannell does study guidebooks (written traces), but Bruner includes ephemeral leaflets, posters, advertising and oral discourse from before, during and after attending the performance. He doesn’t rely on written, authoritative texts, but on every possible bit of narrative produced in relation to the site. Finally, he looks at different narratives in the way they contradict each other, or disagree with each other. It seems to me that this is a method that is intellectually serious because it is candid, and doesn’t try to impose typologies or patterns on an experience.
The same candidness goes for Bruner’s positioning. He has no qualms explaining his relation to the site, to the people, whether there is money involved, how much he discloses about what he does, how he travels, with whom and how he relates to the locals. To me, this is another model of wedding the gaze of an outsider and the one of a scholar in order to produce original analysis. McCannell seemed afraid to go beyond safe geographic boundaries of “known” places, like Paris or San Francisco. He is aspiring for the role of an objective and omniscient observer, a goal nobody will ever achieve or should even want to. Bruner, on the contrary, lays out his connections, biases and expertise, and uses all of them to deepen his understanding of the site. That’s how he has no problem exploring sites that reproduce colonial settings, or propagate national myths, or rewrite history (as long as he has no problem exposing such weaknesses).
I could go on raving about Bruner’s book, but I’ll end by focusing on for analytical models that he develops and that I find very stimulating for my own research about memorials:
- The conclusion of chapter 1, “the Maasai and the Mayers are merely players in a show written by international tourist discourse… They do not have to perform for tourists. If they choose to do so, however, they must follow the script” (70).
- The multiple narratives of one site (such as Elmina castle) and the multiple functions, old and new, assigned to the site.
- The relation of a specific site with its environment. I could replace the word “castle” by “memorial” in the following sentence: “Castles are a dynamic presence, places that produce movement between home and abroad, sites for the construction of narratives of time and narratives of space” (123).
And of course there’s more (such as the Bakhtin’s dialogic perspective and Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s notion of “irreducible strangeness”, which I would like to twist to “irreducible void” in relation to memorials.)
Posted by Brigitte Sion at 3:57 PM