2020 Year in Review

And a Look into ATIG’s Future

Michael A. Di Giovine, ATIG Convenor

By now most of us have read several “Year in Review” posts from our professional societies that begin by noting that 2020 has been an extraordinary—and extraordinarily challenging—year. The Anthropology of Tourism Interest Group certainly shares this sentiment; our members have collectively navigated the COVID-19 pandemic, political and racial upheavals, the loss of colleagues and mentors, and threats to our holistic wellbeing. However, as ATIG’s Convenor, I have also witnessed resilience, understanding, and productive, critical thinking among our members, and, more broadly, among those in the anthropological and interdisciplinary tourism communities. Without minimizing the hardship, losses and damage of 2020, like much in anthropological research, these may also be seen as opportunities and learning experiences. Here, I comment on some of the main issues I see as constituting a research agenda for 2021, and also present the dynamic plans we have for our organization in the year ahead.

 

NAVIGATING LOSSES

Even before the pandemic hit our shores, our community has suffered losses of scholars and teachers who have shaped our discipline and subfield of the anthropology of tourism. 

On a personal note, 2020 began with the loss of my mentor, Ray Fogelson, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. A Cherokee scholar (who wrote his dissertation on indigenous sport and leisure), he was a founder of the field of ethnohistory, and was particularly proud of his paper, “The Ethnohistory of Events and Nonevents” which, I would submit, provides important insight and context for the study of tourist happenings and experiences. 

The University of Chicago also lost famed linguistic anthropologist Michael Silverstein, whose work is utilized by many of our members crafting sociolinguistic analyses of tourism events—from analyzing the rhetorics of tourism to discussing how power and structural inequality tied to communicative and linguistic competence in tourism labor markets. 

The unexpected passing of internationally renowned social psychologist Philip Pearce took the interdisciplinary tourism community by surprise. He is particularly known as the author of the classic text, The Social Psychology of Tourism, but also explored other elements of tourist behavior including love, humor and the use of technology. 

Yet perhaps the most direct loss to our community was ethnographer Edward M. Bruner—a founding Distinguished Honorary Board Member and active supporter of ATIG. Widely considered a legitimizing force for the anthropological study of tourism, Ed came to research tourism later in life after working at the forefront of humanistic and constructivist anthropology. His collection of essays, Culture on Tour, is a classic in our subdiscipline, presenting commentary on host-guest interactions, authenticity, narrative, processualism and constructivism, and more. He was so pleased to see his work synthesized in an authoritative volume edited by founding ATIG members Naomi Leite, Quetzil Casteneda, and Kathleen Adams, and a webinar held shortly after his passing featured thoughtful analysis of his work and heartfelt memories by many ATIG members. 

 

RACIAL INEQUALITY

Spurred by several high-profile murders of unarmed African American men and women by American law enforcement officers, 2020 was marked by domestic and international social movements urging accountability, racial justice, and eliminating structural and systemic racism. ATIG condemns all forms of racism and is dedicated to advocating for a more ethical, just world. We particularly recognize the role that tourism has in perpetuating these divisions, as well as the opportunities tourism poses to create better, intercultural and interracial dialogue and understanding.

The development of systemic racism at home and abroad is inexorably tied to tourism; both see their contemporary origins in the European colonial era, nascent social science’s embrace of cultural evolutionary models and Orientalist thought, and sweeping policies of racial and economic exclusion. Tourist imaginaries at home and abroad continue to call upon racialized ideas of cultural development, poverty, and primitivity; and also are complicit in nationalistic sites that whitewash and erase the voices of the enslaved, immigrants, and indigenous peoples. Systemic racism also shapes parallel experiences for—and treatment of—tourists themselves; it determines how a tourist is treated, how welcome or threatened they (and hosts) feel, what levels of safety they experience, what kinds of access is provided to them. That the travel industry provides little representation to non-white groups, particularly African Americans, only furthers this sort of unacceptable treatment of certain tourists as welcome and others as outsiders; the Black Travel Movement and other organizations attempt to mitigate this. The COVID-19 pandemic—and, it should be added, increasingly harsh immigration policies, intensifying of rhetoric around Confederate monuments, and the fomenting of race-based strife—has served to heighten these inequalities; from the treatment of Asian and Asian American travelers in the early months of the pandemic to that of peoples of color in hotels, restaurants and subways.

 

COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Dominating all of this is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns. Somewhat ironically (but not unexpectedly), tourism both played a central role in spreading the virus as well as became one of the global market sectors most heavily hit. The UN World Tourism Organization estimates that tourism dropped by over 70% worldwide, leading to immense unemployment and economic strife. Some of the hardest hit were also those at the margins of society, who often relied on informal economies of tourism and thus were not privy to government support. Those of us who work in museums, heritage and tourism sites, and hospitality industries have been especially hard-hit. Many of our members palpably felt the pandemic’s effects: Aside from physical and psychological illness, several of us needed to reconfigure our international education and study abroad procedures, we worried about our interlocutors and partners abroad, and were compelled to rethink ethnographic practice writ-large. 

Last summer, ATIG’s blog hosted a series of reflections on emerging issues in the ethnography of tourism in the COVID era. In the coming months, we will solicit contributions for a new series on the related theme of immobility during the pandemic, especially virtual travel and backyard tourism. I urge you to contact our editor, Joe Quick ([email protected]), with your ideas.

But despite the stresses we feel in teaching virtually, balancing work and homelife, and gathering data in a largely immobile milieu, a crush of tourism scholars – inside and outside of anthropology—have produced thought-provoking, analytical, philosophical, and yes, sometimes utopian and speculative—papers this year. I urge our members to check out special issues in leading journals such as Annals of Tourism Research, Tourism Geographies, and the International Journal of Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage, as well as our own blog. It is interesting to note disciplinary differences in perspectives: while few articles argue that tourism will return to its former state immediately after the pandemic, business-oriented disciplines (such as hospitality, tourism management, etc.) have tended to produce papers discussing how to get back to some semblance of “business as usual” often by gently modifying taken-for-granted models, while the social sciences have seen more exhortations to take COVID-19 as an opportunity to radically rethink tourism’s basic premises, structures, and treatment of locals. It’s important that anthropologists contribute to these discussions; there is a need for our unique insights, our theories and our sensitivity towards diversity and justice—as the editor of a new anthropology of tourism blog for tourism industry professionals has told me. I urge members to help shape the future of tourism and tourism theory by contributing their thoughts to special issues, webinars, online content, and, of course, our own ATIG blog. 

 

POLTICIAL UNCERTAINTY

The political situation in the United States had great implications for tourism. 2020 began with Twitter threats by the President to willfully target Iranian heritage sites—a clear violation of international human rights law drawing the condemnation of our allies. Inconsistent messaging on the pandemic, including simple measures citizens could take to slow the spread, has made the United States a leader in COVID cases—not only perpetuating a pandemic that has hurt our travel and leisure industry at home, but impacting Americans’ opportunities to travel more so than many other passport-holders around the world. Our contested election, culminating in a shameful riot at the Capitol building (which, under normal circumstances, is a heritage and tourism site), has only served to create negative imaginaries for the U.S. tourism industry. Some have even contended that members of Congress gave special tours to would-be rioters immediately prior to the insurgency. Images of some 26,000 National Guard troops protecting President Joe Biden’s inauguration—which thankfully was free from incidents of violence—don’t help these imaginaries.  With a change in administration, 2021 will undoubtedly be a time to reassess and rebuild U.S. tourism, and U.S. tourists’ role abroad, just as 2020 has forced a rethinking of sustainable tourism on a global scale.

 

ATIG UPDATE

ATIG held its member meeting in conjunction with the AAA’s “Raising Our Voices” mini-conference in early November. Given the circumstances and the lack of a true conference this year, we were pleasantly surprised by a significant turnout of members from all over the world! 

  • Member numbers: Our membership numbers are down 30%, which is comparable overall to the AAA. The lack of a true, in-person conference—which often spurs membership renewals—as well as cuts in institutional funding seems to have fueled this. We encourage you to renew your membership when you can, and make sure you click to rejoin AITG formally. We are a large and diverse interest group, and we want to make sure this is evident, especially as the Association continues to rethink the organization of Sections and IGs.  
  • Board vacancies: We have two upcoming board vacancies for which we will hold elections in March: Program Chair and Communications Chair. Please see the descriptions of these positions, and please consider getting involved. We are looking to continue having a dynamic, diverse, creative thinking board that will move ATIG forward and serve to promote the expertise of our members.
  • Book prizes: This year, the Nelson Graburn Prize for First Book was awarded to Amelia Moore for Destination Anthropocene: Science and Tourism in the Bahamas. The Ed Bruner Prize, given to authors of a second or subsequent book, was awarded to two very worthy volumes: Leisure & Death: An Anthropological Tour of Risk, Death, and Dying edited by Adam Kaul and Jonathan Skinner; and, fittingly, The Ethnography of Tourism: Ed Bruner and Beyond, edited by Naomi Leite, Queztil Casteñeda, and Kathleen Adams. To nominate a recently published book, or to see the list of prizewinners, please visit our site. 
  • Student paper prize: In addition to book prizes, we will begin awarding a similar prize to best student paper, and are soliciting names of senior colleagues after whom ATIG could name this honor. Please contact me if you have any ideas: ATIGCo[email protected] .
  • Student support: ATIG aims to actively support students and nascent researchers, and have created a committee including several graduate students to explore different possibilities. We envision an international mentoring program where students and early career scholars can be paired with more seasoned researchers. Please look out for more information on this!
  • Blog: ATIG’s blog really took off this year, and we thank all of the contributors—and especially our editor, Joe Quick—for making it a success! We are actively soliciting content for our blog, including “guest editors” of a thematic set of entries. Please contact Joe if interested: [email protected].
  • Podcasts: Spearheaded by board member Ryan Kilfoil, we are gearing up to produce podcasts this year. We have a healthy fist-slate of episode ideas for interviews with a diversity of ATIG members—from seasoned experts to students to authors. We are currently looking for a name for our new podcast series; please write [email protected] if you have an idea!

Finally, I want to thank all of our members. Your hard work, tenacity, and resilience in what has been one of the most difficult years in our collective lifetimes is an inspiration. We are fortunate to have such great thinkers, scholars, and supporters of the anthropology of tourism—and we encourage all to actively get involved in the organization! Although 2021 seems to be beginning a bit rocky, let’s hope that we all end up in a better place than where we’re starting.