Recife, the capital of the northeastern Brazilian state of Pernambuco, is well known among tourists for its annual musical events, like Carnival and the Festas Juninas (June Festivals), and proximity to UNESCO World Heritage sites, like Fernando de Noronha and the historic city of Olinda. However, despite these attractions and the metropolitan area’s integration into the global economy, Recife is frequented by few foreign tourists compared to other northeastern Brazilian cities like Salvador, Bahia (Revista Eventos 2013). As the influential Recife-based rock promoter, Paulo Andre Pires, put it in 2015, “the world has not yet discovered Pernambuco as a destination.” In the twenty-first century, governmental policies and commercial initiatives have sought to challenge Recife’s relative obscurity and draw more tourists to the area by revitalizing the city’s historic district of Recife Antigo (Old Recife), the small island where the city was founded in 1537 (fig.1).
When I began conducting ethnographic research about musical practices in the city in 2009, Recife Antigo was transforming from a mostly abandoned industrial port to an upscale cultural, touristic, and technological center. The cornerstone of the area’s development was the Porto Digital, a multinational software consortium that was partially funded through the privatization of the state’s energy company (Lyra 2016, Felipe 2016). Meanwhile, changes to Recife Antigo’s built environment highlighted the area’s palimpsestic character.
In 2001, an archaeological museum was constructed to monumentalize the first synagogue in the Americas, the Sinagoga Kahal Zur Israel, constructed in 1637 during a brief period of Dutch rule from 1630-1654. Visitors to the synagogue can see its original structures below its glass-paned first floor. Similarly, the Paço Alfândega, an upscale shopping mall built in 2002, was constructed out of the shell of a customs house that was initially a convent when it was erected in 1720 (fig.2)
However, during the early 2010s, these upgrades had not transformed Recife Antigo into an inclusive, consistently vibrant place. During the day, the district bustled with street vendors, office workers from the government agencies headquartered there, and shoppers going to the Paço Alfândega, the adjoining Livraria Cultura bookstore, and the weekly Sunday afternoon outdoor craft fair. However, as a primarily non-residential area, most of Recife Antigo’s cobblestone streets were relatively empty at night, especially during the weeknights. This emptiness, and the preponderance of muggings and drug trafficking, made Recife Antigo a place that many middle- and upper-class people avoided outside of Carnival and other seasonal festivals. On the other hand, Recife Antigo’s open plazas and lack of residents made it a hotspot for university students to gather to drink cheap beer and play loud music — from heavy metal to the drum-based Carnival genre, maracatu.
Nine years later, Recife Antigo’s built environment was visibly different. Previously empty warehouses were refurbished and occupied by cafes, bike shops, and pricey restaurants, including one specializing in ribs with a retro Anglophone rock n’ roll theme. Meanwhile, new structures were also built to develop the district into a museum campus, including the Cais do Sertão, a state-of-the-art multimedia museum focusing on regional music; the Paço do Frevo a museum of frevo, Recife’s most famous Carnival music; and a spacious, climate-controlled crafts mall called the Centro de Artesanato de Pernambuco (fig.3).
These new attractions, along with a corporate-sponsored bicycle rental system, were among the amenities enjoyed by international tourists arriving to Recife Antigo’s new cruise ship port. Although these changes have lent a glossy sheen to the previously dilapidated district, as in other cities (Abrahão and Gandara 2014), Recife Antigo’s transformation into a modern tourist destination involves relatively invisible forms of gatekeeping (see also Low 2011). Security guards posted at building entrances, high prices, and implicit dress codes keep working-class, racialized people from taking advantage of Recife Antigo’s upgrades. Moreover, new policies ostensibly related to safety limit the historic district to cosmopolitan tourists and well-off locals (see also Little 2014a & 2014b). As Eduardo Cardoso Gonçalves (2015) details, after several mass muggings and alleged “crimes against the patrimony” (76) in Recife Antigo, the Military Police implemented policies that ban adults without identification and unaccompanied minors from the area.
While access to Recife Antigo is unequal, infrastructural improvements in the district are also uneven. When I conduced my dissertation fieldwork in the city from 2010-2011, I witnessed the project to repaint the ornate nineteenth century Edifício Chantecler, assuming that it would be in use again soon. However, upon returning in 2014, 2015, and again in 2018, the building remains unused and has now been closed for decades despite several new coats of paint (Nascimento 2018). Similarly, while much of Recife Antigo has been either refurbished or built up, I noticed in 2018 that some of the western areas of the small island were neglected. For instance, a major street had a large hole filled with stagnant water that was surrounded by rubble to alert drivers of its presence (fig.4).
Recife Antigo has a lot to offer tourists interested in the city’s history and expressive culture. However, the forms of exclusion and infrastructural unevenness that have accompanied the historic district’s transformation during the past twenty years suggests that efforts to boost Recife’s tourism industry are superficial and therefore might not be sustainable in the long-term. As tourism scholars argue, in order to succeed in fomenting long-term economic growth, urban tourism development must be constructed not only with tourists in mind but also local communities and businesses (Abrahão and Gandara 2014; Molina 2005). While many of the key developments in Recife Antigo have been marketed as public improvements, the private organizations that manage them are not accountable to the public. For example, Porto Mídia, a new extension of the Porto Digital, is an incubator for small to mid-scale creative and cultural industry businesses that was funded by federal and state entities. Although Porto Mídia’s purpose is to make the creative economy more accessible and diverse, rather than serving the public, the organization is oriented around market logics that seek to distinguish Recife’s cultural industry within the global marketplace (Lima and Neto 2019; Marçal 2014).
Lastly, and sadly most ominously, it is not yet clear how Recife Antigo will be affected by the socioeconomic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The city’s tourism industry has been severely diminished, causing what a local newspaper described in 2020 as “desolation.” (Dourado 2020). Moreover in 2021, the Multicultural Carnival (O Carnaval Multicultural), the event that brings the most tourists to Recife Antigo, was temporarily canceled. Some local governmental agencies have sought to mitigate the economic effects of COVID-19 on workers in Recife’s tourism and cultural industries. In September 2020, Pernambuco’s Secretary of Tourism and Leisure (Secretaria de Turismo e Lazer de Pernambuco) held a virtual workshop to help tourism professionals to make better use of social media (Diário de Pernambuco 2020). Moreover, in 2021, Recife’s government established an Auxiliary Municipal Emergency fund (Auxílio Municipal Emergencial) to provide some financial relief to a segment of the cultural workers whose livelihoods have been rendered even more precarious by the pandemic (Prefeitura do Recife 2021).
However, as my spotlight on Recife Antigo suggests, these kinds of initiatives do little to address the uneven development and inequality that already characterize the local tourism industry. Ideally, rather than returning back to the status quo in the wake of the pandemic, government agencies—in collaboration with cultural and tourism workers and other citizens—should take advantage of this pivotal moment to change direction by implementing economic policies that directly involve and benefit the local working-class people who have largely been excluded from the tourism development that has shaped Recife Antigo during the last 20 years.
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.
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.
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.
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@example.com), 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.
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.
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: ATIGConvenor@gmail.com .
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 ATIGConvenor@gmail.com 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.
Tazim Jamal, Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences, Texas A&M University James Higham, Department of Tourism, University of Otago
The World Health Organized declared a global pandemic on 11 March, 2020. Cruise lines, air travel and mobilities of goods and services came to a standstill as border closures, lockdowns and other containment, mitigation and, in some cases, elimination strategies were attempted. Tourism is deeply implicated in these challenges, as travelers have carried the virus far and wide. Infections in one place mean trouble for many connected to it, whether through trade or social-cultural relations. COVID-19 has lain bare the critical need for global coordination of tourism as well as mechanisms for local and global justice as human rights issues and entrenched inequalities become evident.
In light of the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, many are calling for new strategies and approaches for environmentally and socially responsive tourism. Will destinations struggling for swift recovery pay attention to the climate crisis and develop restorative measures towards ecological and social resilience? Will it be ‘business-as-usual’, racing towards a return toovertourism and neoliberal globalization? Or will places look towards degrowth and pluralistic approaches to individual as well as communal well-being, rather that economic growth and other modernist notions of ‘progress’ and ‘development’? What is ‘just’ and ‘sustainable’ tourism in an Anthropocene where climate change and pandemics are interwoven with other global issues such as large-scale migrations and refugees, water and food crises, geopolitical conflicts, systemic oppression of minority groups, and acts of domestic and global terrorism?
The pandemic has emphasized our common humanity and societal vulnerabilities in a mobile world. Deep inequities and historical injustices have been made evident, such as global inequalities entrenched in low-wage, poorly supported service industry, and increased risk with little social support for high risk vulnerable groups, including oppressed and minority groups subject to systemic racism. Vulnerable groups seek resilience and safety, not just from the pandemic, but also from the extreme weather events and rising sea levels that reflect the climate ‘crisis’, which are exacerbating deeply embedded historical injustices often stemming from colonialism and imperialism (hence the worldwide social movements stemming from Black Lives Matter).
In times of such enormous upheaval and uncertainty justice emerges as a key principle to guide responsible tourism development and policy and 2021 offers hope and healing from the ravages of the pandemic. The special issue on “Justice and Tourism” that we have guest edited for the Journal of Sustainable Tourism is a timely in response to these unprecedented times. It presents a range of perspectives on justice and tourism through practical cases and theoretical insights provided by scholars researching in a range of disciplines and geographical contexts.
Figure 1 above frames some emerging principles and approaches to justice and tourism that the special issue authors address, including social justice, equity and rights; inclusiveness and recognition; sustainability and conservation; well-being, belonging and capabilities; posthumanistic justice; and governance and participation. Not surprisingly, they weave through the articles in the special issue. Numerous other principles are nested within these overall categories, such as respect, care, autonomy and sociality. The boundaries are invisible and porous in this emergent picture of justice and tourism. Figure 1 moves away from the use of boxes, solid lines and arrows, so typical in the presentation of conceptual models. Instead, the concepts and approaches that emerge in this special issue, as illustrated in the figure, should be viewed from a holistic and interrelated perspective rather than from an either/or binary standpoint.
The two volumes of the special issue in Journal of Sustainable Tourism Vol. 29 (2,3) present a range of perspectives, practical cases and theoretical discussions that call for a new platform for tourism and sustainability. The authors approach this interrelated domain from their situated perspectives, their different disciplinary or inter-/trans-/post-disciplinary viewpoints. They illustrate that issues of justice are interwoven with social-ecological worlds and everyday life in the places and spaces of travel and tourism.Important concepts and considerations emerge through the struggles, challenges and experiences of the authors as they grapple with critical issues for local-global sustainability and well-being.
In their articles, too, one encounters diverse methodologies and reflexive voices, some sharing tentative propositions, others forwarding firm convictions. They are crucial reminders of the young stage of research in justice and tourism. The picture that emerges is partial and processual, as justice is in the process of ‘becoming’ part of the knowledge base in tourism studies. Inter-/trans-/post- disciplinary approaches to justice and an ethic of care are needed as the various papers in the special issue illustrate.
What a marvelous thing it is to be able to embark on a journey elsewhere, on holiday especially, filled with anticipation, enthusiasm, and perhaps trepidation if it’s the first visit to a different land […] There’s the joy of new conversations, possibly making new friends, and hopefully benefiting local economies rather than exploiting them (buy local!). But it is a chimera, this thing called tourism. It can offer fun, joy, rich existential experiences, ways to contribute constructively to conservation and to individual as well as social well-being. Yet there are also possibilities to wreak thoughtless harm on the destination, the environment, and those who inhabit them (Jamal, 2019).
Tourism has for long proudly proclaimed its ability to facilitate cross-cultural exchange, learning, appreciation of diverse cultures, break down stereotypes, and show that we can become truly cosmopolitan citizens of the world through travels and social exchange. It is good to feel that we are responsible travelers, that we care about the places and people we visit on holiday whom we are sure will welcome us with warm hospitality. That, in some sense, travel makes us better ‘global citizens.’ But what are our cosmopolitan responsibilities as we fly off to some warm tropical island or engage in ‘last chance tourism’ that endangers the very things we seek to experience. Yes, we feel bad about the carbonemissions but we hope to bring desperately needed foreign exchange…if our money stays in the local economy, of course. But does it? How much do the ‘costs’ of travel and tourism outweigh its ‘benefits’—to the planet, to habitats and ecosystems (land and marine) worldwide, to humans and non-human others in the places and spaces in which hospitality and rich experience arise?
The numerous articles in the special issue of justice and tourism in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism underline the need for collaborative research to weave together diverse theoretical insights and knowledge domains to inform the wide range of issues and insights for ‘just’ tourism that demand urgent and rigorous attention in research and practice. The special issue is free to access through to December 31 this year and all of March 2021, leading up to a free mini-symposium on March 26 where you are encouraged to join in discussion with the special issue authors!
Edward M. Bruner
September 28, 1924 – August 7, 2020
Last month, our community—and indeed the world—lost a shining light in contemporary anthropology. On August 7, 2020, the humanistic anthropologist Edward Bruner passed away peacefully at his home. He would have been 96 today. This is a significant loss for the ATIG community, as Bruner made important contributions to the study of tourism and heritage—problematizing authenticity and host-guest interactions in the touristic “borderzone;” introducing post-modern constructivism to tourism analysis, and emphasizing narrative, experience, and interpretation in ethnographic research. The compilation of his tourism-focused essays, Culture on Tour, is a classic in our field.
Yet Bruner came to the study of tourism late in life, when he was nearing retirement from the University of Illinois and began leading study abroad trips and high-end educational tours in the 1980s and 1990s. He found it interesting that he became best known for this work—which emerged rather serendipitously—instead of his earlier and longstanding studies of kinship, acculturation and migration among Native Americans and Indonesian Bataks in Sumatra, or on his contribution to the anthropology of experience. However, it was this breadth of life experiences that allowed him to see tourism differently, and his well-established, alternative networks complemented those forged by the early leaders in the anthropological study of tourism such as Dean MacCannell, Valene Smith, Nelson Graburn, Dennison Nash and others, whose work he respected immensely.
Ed Bruner was a self-proclaimed “real New Yorker” who grew up in a West Side Jewish neighborhood, surrounded by cultural diversity. Attending Stuyvesant High School was formative for him; he received a holistic, liberal arts education that exposed him to the great literature of the world. He excelled at math and history, but also wrote short stories and poetry, setting the stage for his sensitivity towards narrative and storytelling that would inform his anthropological work. Determined to “head West,” he attended The Ohio State University, where he met his wife and life partner, Elaine “Cookie” Hauptman, who supported his budding interest in anthropology. After meeting with Alfred Kroeber, Ruth Benedict and Ralph Linton during a summer course at Columbia University, he finished Ohio State and entered graduate school at the University of Chicago’s storied Department of Anthropology, where he studied with Fred Eggan, Robert Redfield, and Sol Tax. Although the physical anthropologist Sherry Washburn offered to take him as his assistant, he was drawn to socio-cultural anthropology and particularly the works on symbolic interactionism by George Herbert Meade and Herbert Blumer. He worked with Clyde Kluckhohn with the Navajo and lived on a Zuni reservation, where he studied acculturation and cross-cousin marriage.
Upon receiving his Ph.D., he first took a position at Yale that was vacated when Kroeber passed, then moved to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he would remain for the rest of his career. His time there was most fulfilling; he read the European poststructualists and participated for decades in the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory. He was particularly taken with the works of Russian linguist Mikhail Bakhtin, whose works he found more humanistic and opposed to the structural linguistics that dominated anthropology at the time. Beginning in 1979, Bruner began collaborating with Victor Turner, who was of the same generation and seemed to gravitate to the same conferences, but who had already made a name for himself and would serve as a mentor to Bruner. Ed commented that this period of collaboration was a “turning point” in his career, one which “reinvigorated my anthropological self” as he delved into emerging postmodern, constructivist theories. Together with Barbara Myerhoff, Bruner and Turner organized an influential panel on the anthropology of experience; unfortunately, Myerhoff and Turner passed away before the resulting volume made it to print. Grateful and humble, Bruner added Turner’s name to the volume as lead editor in recognition of his support. After Turner’s death, Ed engaged more closely with humanistic anthropologists such as Renato Rosaldo, Barbara Babcock, and Paul Stoller, and later with James Clifford and others. He served as President of the Society for Humanistic Anthropology and the American Ethnological Society.
The shift to studying tourism—more particularly, luxury group tours—occurred first in 1982, when Bruner was asked to lead a semester-at-sea study abroad trip. The provider told him he could pick the itinerary and a co-instructor; he chose Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, a folklorist and performance studies professor who—based on the same experiences—would write an equally influential book, Destination Culture, on the intersection of tourism, heritage and museums around the same time as Culture on Tour. Although they did not know each other well when he chose her, they quickly became close friends and collaborators. Perhaps Bruner’s most well-known article, “Maasai on the Lawn,” was co-authored by Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. Bruner then served as a study leader for high-end educational tours, an experience that truly informed much of his anthropological writing on tourism. It was an eye-opening experience for him as he negotiated the tensions of mediating a touristic “frontstage” (as MacCannell would call it) and his ethnographic “backstage.” Perceiving of tourism as competition with ethnography, anthropologist friends such as Hilly Geertz would have nothing to do with him when he was with his travelers in Indonesia (except to have him help sell her informants’ tourist art to them), while tour operators and some of the tourists themselves expressed consternation when he fed them too much ethnographic information that would pop the proverbial bubble of perceived cultural authenticity they were supposedly witnessing.
Bruner began publishing on tourism in 1989, with a review essay of Dennis O’Rourke’s film, Cannibal Tours, for the AAA-affiliated journal Cultural Anthropology. Importantly, he concludes that “tourism, like ethnography, is not equipped to handle the rigors of first contact [with native peoples], but does best after other agents of European civilization have pacified the indigenous peoples, and after power is firmly in the hands of the Europeans” (“Of Cannibals, Tourists and Ethnographers,” pp. 438-439). This was not necessarily new, as Nash had written similarly of the colonial and imperial aspects of tourism back in 1977. But while he referenced early tourism theorists, Ed based his analysis on a different canon, integrating the insights of humanistic and interpretive anthropologists like Rosaldo and Clifford, and of postmodern cultural critics like Baudrillard, Said, and Barthes. He followed with a powerful reflection for the venerable Annals of Tourism Research on “The Transformation of Self in Tourism” (1991), in which he challenges the truism that the tourist encounter between host and guest can genuinely make profound changes on the visitor. Rather, he argues pithily that we should read local cultural displays as mirrors for Western fantasies—a notion at the core of the current “hot concept” of tourism imaginaries. Although informed by Goffman (as MacCannell was in his important theory of “staged authenticity” back in 1973), here Bruner pays attention to narrative, experience and the fluidity of ideas of authenticity. Authenticity is also critically appraised in one of my favorite pieces, “Abraham Lincoln as Authentic Reproduction” (1994), in which he discusses how culture is always emergent, and authenticity is always a social construction. Running through all of his works on tourism is a decidedly interpretative and constructivist approach, one that sees culture—and the mobile culture(s) of tourism—as a process, and one predicated on narrative. Bruner’s notion of the touristic “borderzone,” a liminal site of encounter between host and guest, is less a place than a process of encounter between the tourist imaginary, experience, reality and (re)telling. Tourist satisfaction, transformation, and imaginaries are all predicated on the refracting of these elements—and are constantly in the process of forming and reforming.
For all of Ed’s contributions, he was humble and forthcoming about the limitations of his research. He wished he could follow up with travelers once they returned home, for that is really the only way processes of transformation could be understood. He wished he could study post-tour commentary to analyze the constant reformulation of imaginaries and tourist narratives. Towards the end of his life he was interested in social justice and the effects of race on tourism. And he wished he could have “written more if I had been bolder.” Indeed, for all his important contributions, Ed only published about a dozen tourism-related pieces, but he made every one count.
The Anthropology of Tourism Interest Group has recognized Ed Bruner in many ways for his impact on tourism studies. In 2014, the organization’s first formal year as an interest group, we threw a 40th anniversary celebration of the first “anthropology of tourism” panel, convened by Valene Smith in Mexico City in 1974; her volume from that meeting, Hosts and Guests(1977), ushered in the dedicated study of the anthropology of tourism. Although Bruner was neither a contributor to the original AAA panel nor to the volume, the ATIG board under the founding Convenor, Quetzil Castañeda, added a session dedicated to Bruner’s own contributions to the sub-field. In a recent webinar, Castañeda explained the choice to honor Bruner at the 40th anniversary celebrations: “Here’s an established scholar who has done other kinds of work and turns to tourism. And despite the fact that the earlier generation—Valene Smith and Nelson Graburn and others—are not nobodies, they suffered from a kind of stigma that they weren’t doing real work because they studied tourism (as they themselves have said in reflections). But what Ed Bruner did was to shift the degree of seriousness by which tourism was viewed in academic tourism sectors.”
The 2014 ATIG session would serve as the foundation for the recently published volume, The Ethnography of Tourism: Edward M. Bruner and Beyond (2019), edited by Naomi Leite, Quetzil Castañeda, and Kathleen Adams, which innovatively weaves the intellectual history of ethnography with a close analysis of the development of Bruner’s post-modernist, interpretive thinking. It features over a dozen original essays by many ATIG members who comment on the ways in which Bruner’s humanistic, constructivist perspective influenced their own approaches to ethnography and anthropological analysis of tourism. Ed was immensely proud of this work, and wrote an epilogue in which he said he “learned about myself… [and] many aspects of my work in a new light.”
For their part, ATIG members have expressed their appreciation for Ed and his contributions. The webinar, “A Conversation with the editors of The Ethnography of Tourism”— held exactly a month after his passing and attended by over 125 scholars from around the world—concluded with an hour-long memorial, attended by his wife and grandson, wherein the audience shared their own memories of Ed, and commented on how their own work was impacted by him.
Finally, in recognition of Bruner’s contributions to ethnographic writing, ATIG named its second book prize after him. Complementing the Nelson Graburn Prize for first-time authors, the Ed Bruner Award honors already-published authors for their second or subsequent book. The decision to honor Ed this way was clear. In his later work, “Around the World in Sixty Years,” featured in Alma Gottleib’s 2012 volume, The Restless Anthropologist, Ed discusses how the anthropologist’s life history mirrors their professional lifecycle, and one’s changing abilities, social positions, theoretical perspectives, and serendipitous events should be embraced productively as a means of growth. Where anthropological memory seems to draw distinctions between his earlier work and shifting fieldsites, he sees continuity that reflects his own life circumstances. “I am me,” he states firmly, and then muses, “It is as if anthropology has been a metacommentary on my life. In doing anthropology, I discover myself and explore who I am.” It was only fitting that the name of one who so built on his varied research and publications to move tourism studies ahead would honor scholars who reflect similar growth.
Bruner’s last major publication was “The Ageing Anthropologist” (2014), a wonderfully poignant and personal illustration of reflexive anthropology. Stemming from an emotional talk at the AAAs—one that left me teary-eyed in the audience—Ed ruminates on the life cycle of anthropologists, which corresponds with changes in their status, connectedness, level of power, and usefulness to the present generation. Rather than seeing age as a hindrance, rather than resigning oneself to physical decline, rather than focusing on growing isolation and loss of self-esteem, Ed seems to channel Dylan Thomas as he fights against his limitations, embracing Nietzsche’s dictum to “become who you are.” He writes:
The image of the youthful, vigorous Ed Bruner is still there, inside me, floating around in my head and body, in tension with the 89-year-old Ed. I’m still me, I think, but so much older. The young Ed was a fearless anthropologist: I lived in a village in the highlands of Sumatra, went to the forests of Ghana where malaria is endemic, visited an isolated Maasai compound in the Rift Valley in Kenya. I no longer have the stamina to be in those places. … What to do? You acknowledge your limitations, come to terms with them, and work through them emotionally. … Doing anthropology, even writing this essay, enhances my feeling of being in the world, restores my sense of self-worth, distracts attention from the physical infirmities of old age, and keeps me feeling more alive.
During the series of interviews I had with Ed for The Ethnography of Tourism—which was a highlight of my career—I asked him about his legacy. Ever the humble anthropologist, his answer was, “I’ve had a long and blessed life …I have a wife who loves me and children who adore me. Things are pretty good.” This was certainly the case, and I would add that he was well-loved and well-appreciated by scholars near and far. We as a community are grateful for the often-serendipitous experiences that led Bruner to the study of tourism, the seasoned insights he could provide, the support he lent, and especially the mentoring and friendship he provided. Happy Birthday, Ed—you are missed.