Let’s CHAT about a Transition for ATIG

Michael A. Di Giovine, Convenor

In line with this past year’s conference theme of transitions, the AAA has invited ATIG to transition from an interest group to a section. This has been a longtime desire of our organization; we originally conceived of ourselves as a section in 2012, but that year the AAA placed a moratorium on new section creation as the association researched and reorganized the system. It was only last year that the AAA completed this task. We therefore were given IG status instead, but continued to operate as if we were a section, and, over 10 years later, continue to be viable—with one of the largest and most active IG memberships. Indeed, at our founding we had an impressive 600 members; after dips in member numbers across the AAA before and during COVID, we currently count nearly 700 members.

We Need You!

In order to make this transition happen, you must first tell us that you support this change and will become a member once the new section is officially founded. We need 225 dues-paying members, so please take 30 seconds to pledge your support here.

Note: While we hope (and expect) that you will become a dues-paying member next year, signing this petition will not obligate you to join. It is just a sign of support. You also do not have to be a AAA member at this time to sign the petition.

Transitioning our Name and Focus

A photo of Michael Di Giovine speaking about the history of ATIG during the ATIG business meeting in Toronto, 2023.
ATIG Business Meeting, Toronto 2023. Photo by Kathleen Adams.

As we transition into a section, we are taking the opportunity—supported by a majority of the membership who responded to a poll sent out last spring and who attended the business meeting in Toronto—to also transition slightly in focus.

In addition to being the preeminent organization at the AAA for critical tourism studies, we will also explicitly incorporate AAA membership who works on critical heritage studies. The AAA has a demonstrated need for a section that can bring together experts from all four fields who work on heritage; a great many of our ATIG members would be included in this. We don’t take this change lightly. We were founded in part to elevate and solidify the anthropology of tourism and we recognize that some current members do not work on heritage. However, as I discuss below, there are many reasons why the board and membership decided on this change.

To acknowledge the distinctiveness of these two fields, as well as our mission to bring together top experts in both fields, our proposed new name will be the Council on Heritage and the Anthropology of Tourism (CHAT).

Why take this leap to a section?

1. It is line with our activities and organizational structure

ATIG has operated since our founding as if we were a section. We have always had a board (formed through independent elections), maintained a high quality website (originally independently hosted but now hosted by the AAA), and sponsored (with financial help of many sections over the years) memorable events such as a large celebration of the 40th anniversary of the first tourism panel in 1974, a hugely popular cannabis tours in Denver, and numerous museum and tourist site visits with curators, tourism officials and cultural resource managers. Every year we submit a summary of activities to the Section Committee, who expect a page or two report; ours are consistently about 10 pages long! It is because of our rich and sustained activity, and our large member body, that the Section Assembly invited us to be the first IG in a decade to apply for section status—presumably with some others to follow.

2. We would get permanent representation at the AAA in the Section Council

Interest groups, unlike sections, are intended to be temporary, popping up for 3-year periods to provide AAA members an institutional and organized venue to explore pressing issues of the time. They are often, but not always, created as arms of a particular section. They do not collect dues or have bank accounts, cannot host their own conferences, or publish a journal. Nevertheless, IGs are requested to submit a short annual report for section review —but we are not invited to attend Section Assembly meetings. Owing to its temporary nature, IGs also must formally submit a written request (with documentation) to renew our status every three years. We have already successfully petitioned for renewal three times since our founding.

Sections, by contrast, are legal entities with strong oversight from the AAA (and vetted by association attorneys). They are intended to be permanent; they must maintain a paying membership of at least 225 people, collect dues, carry an account, and have an operating budget. Because of this permanence, they are a part of the AAA organization and have representation in the section council, which IGs do not. They also must have a clear organizational structure; unlike IGs, which technically need only a Convenor, sections must have a board that is elected during AAA annual elections, including a treasurer. Failure to maintain the minimum number of members, or remain active, is a fraught legal issue and the moratorium was instated to review those sections that were not as viable. It took 10 years for the AAA to sort this out.

3. We can raise funds for meaningful initiatives

Sections must charge a fee for membership and carry an account. These funds are used for member-wide initiatives—from receptions and networking events at the AAA meetings, to offering monetary awards, organizing conferences, or creating a journal. For example, there is really no journal focusing explicitly on the Anthropology of Tourism, though there are several high-quality journals focused on the culture of tourism, and, of course, the venerable interdisciplinary Annals of Tourism Research was founded by an anthropologist!

Charging dues for these exciting opportunities is, of course, a double-edged sword, as we likely will see some attrition in member numbers now that a cost is imposed. Yet members discussing this issue at our business meeting in Toronto also suggested that this also creates a “buy in” with greater numbers of members willing to participate to get the most out of their contribution. Nevertheless, we intend to keep the cost at a minimum, support students with reduced pricing, and provide incentives for membership such as scholarships (travel grants?) and monetary prizes.

In addition, we will be able to collect special donations and endowments—something that several members requested a decade ago, but which is not possible for an interest group. We will specifically fundraise for prizes/grants—especially to support students and those with precarious employment.

4. We can help promote you and your work in more powerful ways

A particular interest of ours is to utilize our new section status to leverage our members’ diverse tourism and/or heritage related expertise. This includes enhancing our social media and online presence, but also exploring the best ways to network (a joint conference with other sections?) and promote our members’ research (a peer-reviewed journal?). In addition, all sections qualify for space in Anthropology News (both online and print version), which can further disseminate our work. We want to be the place for journalists, travel professionals, officials, concerned citizens and international scholars to connect with experienced tourism and heritage professionals.

5. The membership supports this decision

In the summer of 2023, we sent out a survey to all membership asking for approval to transition to a section. Nearly all respondents (over 95%) agreed. In addition, the board was very pleased with the turnout to our hybrid member-meeting, with over 50 members attending in person or via Zoom while we were in Toronto. The conversation was extremely productive and lively, and while there were debates on how much to charge, what we could do with the funds, and what our mission would be, those present were excited by this new chapter, and eager to participate.

What would be the immediate changes?

1. Board restructuring / elections

Although our board is already structured like a section, one important position is missing: that of a treasurer. This is one of the most important roles in a section board. We also plan to add separate member-at-large “tourism” and “heritage” seats to ensure balance and equity. The duration of each position will be three years, and elections will be staggered. We will be looking forward to holding elections for these and other positions.

2. Membership Dues

All sections must collect annual dues from their membership. We have had lively discussions among the current Board and former board members, with Section Council representatives, and in our Business Meeting in Toronto regarding this. Our aim is to make this affordable and beneficial to our membership. The dues breakdown is projected to be:

      • Professional members: $18.00
      • Student membership: $5.00

We will also offer a $40.00 “Sustaining Membership” for those professional members who wish to donate an additional $22 towards our student prizes.

In the short term, these dues will allow us to provide monetary student prizes and finance receptions and events at the AAA annual meeting. A portion of the dues will also be set aside for long term goals including our own conference and the possibility of a journal.

3. Strong oversight of member numbers

To remain a section, we must maintain 225 dues-paying members. Please continue to maintain your membership!

4. Name and Focus Change

The biggest change, aside from dues, is a change in name and focus. In addition to being a section that is centered on tourism, we will expand our area of expertise to heritage (in its broadest sense), as well. The membership in both the original survey circulated last year (2023) and at the business meeting (November 2023) both were overwhelmingly in favor of this change.

We do recognize that the original foundation of ATIG specifically did not include heritage, as we believed (and continue to believe) that the anthropology of tourism is a stand-alone sub-discipline, and deserves to be considered on its own merits. We learn about social life through tourism—not just about one’s heritage discourses and practices, but about health and wellbeing, kinship, economics, politics and so-on. We also are sensitive to the fact that not all those who work on tourism also work on heritage, and vice-versa.

Yet there are several reasons for this change, which is supported by the Section leadership:

      • Tourism and Heritage are inextricably linked, and having a highly coordinated organization can help amplify scholarship in both of these fields.
      • Many of our members work at the intersection of these themes.
      • There are several under-represented fields at ATIG (particularly archaeology and biological anthropology); expanding to heritage would allow archaeologists and physical anthropologists who work on heritage (and therefore typically also touch on tourism) to be a member of a relevant section.
      • The academic landscape of critical tourism studies has changed for the better. Thanks to the tireless efforts of many of the early anthropologists of tourism as well as the work of our current ATIG membership, tourism is gradually being taken more seriously than even 10 years ago. Our membership numbers alone attest to this! In addition, while even 10 years ago tourism and heritage scholarship and practice were at odds with each other (to wit, UNESCO and the UNWTO had a very uneasy relationship), today there is a recognition of the complex mutualities that touch both of these fields. Heritage is given life through tourism, and tourism is often enhanced through rhetorics and imaginaries of heritage. Demonstrating this shift in perception at the highest international level, in 2019 UNESCO and UNWTO signed the joint Siem Reap Declaration, pledging closer collaboration.
      • There is precedence: Our sister organization at the SfAAs is the Tourism and Heritage Topical Interest Group (THTIG). Being a comparable section allows a closer interface and collaboration between our organizations.
      • Most importantly, there is a need for it. From 2013-2016 I served on the AAA’s Task Force on Cultural Heritage, convened by the late Leith Mullings to create a better infrastructure to deal with heritage-related issues, outside appeals for AAA interventions in construction, media and CRM-related issues (think, National Geographic’s damaging show “Diggers”), and media requests for AAA experts. Furthermore, many of outsiders’ requests had to do with tourism development. Yet while the AAA was perceived as a place for heritage-related expertise, it is not (yet) a recipient of as many requests for tourism scholars. Linking these two will help our membership better position themselves. Indeed, the Task Force’s main idea was to convene a section dedicated to cultural heritage, yet there was a moratorium on the process at the time; we suggested a board position instead (this did not come to fruition). Creating a section that deals with heritage would finally address this important recommendation, integrate and amplify our tourism-focused members’ expertise, and provide a place to bring together experts to address requests of an interrelated nature.
      • Finally, during a time when institutional funding towards professional development has declined, it would be redundant and also costly to our members to create two different sections, given that so many work at the intersection of heritage and tourism.

Reflecting the separate, but related, nature of our members’ expertise in critical tourism and critical heritage studies—and also in dialogue with these two distinctive spheres—we will be called CHAT, the Council on Heritage and the Anthropology of Tourism.

What’s in a name?

This name has been thoughtfully and carefully considered to balance the interests of this section.

  • Council addresses the fundamental expertise of our organization; we are here to provide expert commentary to journalists, interaction among critical scholars of both disciplines, and intervention on domestic and international levels.
  • Heritage stands undifferentiated to denote its holistic and cross-cutting relevance to our membership, and our discipline at large. Our members work on so-called tangible and intangible heritage; natural heritage and conservation; cultural heritage and artifacts. Scholars in all four fields work on heritage, integrating for example, genetics, archaeology, linguistics, and ethnography.
  • And recognizes the complex mutualities, as well as the distinctive natures, of the two fields. We are bringing the two into dialogue with each other, in structure, practice, and scholarship.
  • Anthropology of Tourism remains, as it did at our founding—honoring those anthropological ancestors who have done so much since the first AAA meeting in 1974 to create this subfield; furthering our continued dedication to elevating the critical social scientific study of tourism within anthropology; and promoting the unique theoretical and ethnographic contributions of our members to the holistic study and practice of tourism, in all of its forms.

Thank you for your membership in the Anthropology of Tourism Interest Group, and for your future membership in the Council on Heritage and the Anthropology of Tourism.

Please take a moment to sign our petition.

We appreciate your support! As we undergo this year-long process, we welcome your input. Please do not hesitate to contact me at ATIGconvenor@gmail.com. Let’s CHAT!