Palma, from 23 to 25 October 2013
Celebrating and Enhancing the Tourism
Knowledge-based Platform: A Tribute to Jafar Jafari


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General programme, activity sheet

Thursday 24 October, 2013 11:50 to 12:10 Oral Communication
Lightness, Control and Dissolution: Challenging the Democratic Potential of Tourism Social Media
Speaker: Ana María Munar, Copenhagen Business School
Speaker: Richard Ek, Lund University - Campus Helsingborg

Authors: Ana María Munar & Richard Ek


The interest for technical innovations has always been a cornerstone in tourism. It is therefore hardly surprising that social media have become a popular research topic (Sigala, Christou, & Gretzel, 2012). However, while critical studies have gained momentum in tourism research, these are seldom applied to the field of tourism information technologies in general and to the analysis of tourism social media in particular (Munar, Gyimóthy and Cai, 2013). This paper adopts current critical and radical political philosophy (Habermas 1987, 2006; Tesfahuney, 2010; Žižek, 1991, 2000; Rancière, 1999) to interrogate the democratic potential of the social media “revolution”. We argue that tourism is a mediated practice of political character. This claim is neither unique nor exceptional (see for example Hall, 1994; Burns and Novelli, 2007; Mosedale, 2011). Still, power and politics remain an overlooked area of knowledge in tourism (Tribe, 2010) and research from a perspective of political philosophy is scarce. The dominant ontology in technology studies conceptualizes the tourist not as a citizen but as a digital consumer motivated by efficiency gains, utility maximization and the constant seeking of pleasurable experiences. This article challenges this ontological perspective. Inspired by the work of Bauman (1998), we regard the tourist as perhaps the ideal type when it comes to imagining the archetype of a late-modern citizen, the prime citizen, of a post-political world. In doing this, we follow a long standing tradition in tourism scholarship. The conceptualization of the tourist and tourism as the epitome of modernity or late-modernity has deep roots in the canon of tourism studies. Jafari in his article “Tourism models: The sociocultural aspects” (1987) explains how tourism emanates from dysfunctional modern societies structured through systems that drain individuals both physically and mentally. Tourism in his view is a catalizator that helps stabilizing social systems which are structurally unbalanced, but also a practice that increasingly becomes “the norm” rather than the exception as “for an increasing number [of tourists] , the ordinary life is and “interlude” located between two nonordinary unboundednesses” (159). While touristic types of activities can be traced back to ancient times (Nash, 2005), tourism as a mass phenomenon is deeply linked to the emergence of industrialized societies and capitalist systems of production and consumption. After all, tourism activities are not a peripheral part of society but increasingly a shaper of the ordering of the modern world (Franklin 2004). This conceptual article contributes to this long tradition of modernity analysis in tourism by examining political and technological dimensions of this phenomenon. MacCannell ([1976] 1999) proposes an epistemological avenue to comprehend the evolution of modernity through the examination of singular elements of the touristic system: the making of the tourist attraction and the social act of sightseeing. To him the study of tourism is “the ethnography of modernity” ([1976] 1999:5). We adopt this epistemological proposal. Our examination focuses on social media, as the epitomic example of the latest evolution of tourism. We address the complex nature of virtual communication and argue that, while tourism social media have participatory and deliberative potential, these communicative practices also strengthen the post-political and post-democratic condition in tourism. This analysis is illustrated through the discussion of three metaphors: the tourist-light, the menu and the stranger. The tourist-light embodies the triumph of hedonistic practices in virtual worlds. The menu represents the increased colonization of life-spaces by the commercialization and corporate regulation of the social web, and the commodification of social and mediated experiences. The stranger symbolizes the structural imperative to reduce the political faculty of the digital tourist. Digital technologies are not neutral utopian spaces, but social spaces shaped as a result of a complex interrelation between technologies and the way in which societies are structured. Inspired by political philosophy, insights of this article counter the current mainstream research and challenge democratic narratives of new media. Finally, there is a need to expand dominant research agendas and to advocate for a political turn in tourism technology studies.
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Submited paper (26 KB)

Session 1 - Ontologies, epistemologies and disciplinarity (1)
Place: Main Room

Other activities in Session 1 - Ontologies, epistemologies and disciplinarity (1)
11:30 h. to 11:50 h.Oral Communication

A Logical Step to the Principle of Tourism Science

Speaker: Kaz (Kazuyoshi)  Takeuchi, Jissen Women's Junior College
12:10 h. to 12:30 h.Oral Communication

Sustainability-oriented tourism research and (eco)cultural justice: What would a critical (eco)feminist approach look like?

Speaker: Blanca Camargo, Universidad de Monterrey
Speaker: Tazim  Jamal, Texas A&M University, USA