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The Issue of Disciplinarity and Non-disciplinarity of Tourism Studies



This paper is devoted to the developments concerning the issue of disciplinarity and non-disciplinarity of tourism studies. The topic is embedded in a wider context of the academic identity of the community of tourism researchers. As the theoretical foundations for the discussion some concepts of non-classical sociology of science (rooted in Thomas Kuhn’s theory of development of science and ideas of the “Strong Programme”) were used. In order to analyze the problem theoretically and empirically, a three-stage research framework was adopted, commencing with a directed review of Anglo-American and Francophone literature, followed by a survey of a purposeful sample of tourism academics and concluding with a further analysis of the literature, this time confronting empirical findings with the identified scholars’ stances. The empirical research included a survey carried out among approximately 270 scholars of tourism from almost 50 countries from all the continents.

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1When analyzing the problem of the academic recognition of tourism as a separate discipline, one can observe many different views (these will be discussed later in this paper, in the section devoted to the review of the literature). It seems, however, that the problem is embedded in a wider context of the academic identity of the community of tourism researchers (Kadri, 2008a). The differences between the views presented by scholars who come from different countries, traditions, schools, and disciplines with their paradigms testify to the fact that these factors play an important role in the formation of the researchers’ final opinions on the topic in question. This statement is also shared by Alexandre Panosso Netto (2009: 56), who claims that “Each researcher will start from the paradigms and presuppositions of the science that they are graduated in and so won’t agree with each other. In other words: there will be different approaches for similar issues.” In order to determine these factors, a survey project was carried out among scholars of tourism of various academic backgrounds from all around the world. Still, the problem should also be investigated from a broader, cognitive perspective. In this context, the question whether we will be able to learn more about tourism having at our disposal a separate discipline or should we rather rely on the outputs of other tourism-related sciences seems to be most reasonable. In other words, one might ask whether we will gain better knowledge about tourism by means of this new discipline. Taking into account such a vast field of interest presented by tourism researchers, the response is not that evident and depends on the answers to the following questions: (1) Is it possible to be a specialist on such a large and complex area as is covered by tourism? (2) Can one discipline deal successfully with a multitude of tourism-related problems? (3) Are there any research problems that could be solved better from the perspective of one specialized discipline? The empirical research and the query in the literature both attempt to provide answers to these questions.

2Somewhat apart from the above-mentioned cognitive approach, another question—more technical, but equally significant—appears: who can (if anyone) decide about the recognition of disciplinarity or non-disciplinarity of tourism? In this context, Michael Hall’s opinion concerning the so-called tourism studies gate-keepers appears as quite interesting. This author claims that “in tourism there is very little discussion of the role that . . . gate-keepers have in determining the scope and direction of tourism knowledge” (2004: 143). In order to solve this problem, we will propose here a hypothesis based on certain theoretical assumptions originating from the social constructionism and particularly from the theory of non-classical sociology of science.

Literature Review

3The problems of tourism as a field of study and tourism’s disciplinarity and non-disciplinarity appeared almost at the same time as the study of tourism itself. They have grown gradually and have been present in the international literature for at least the four last decades (Borret, 2005; Airey, 2008; Kadri, 2008a), although some authors (Wahab, 1977; Ceriani-Sebregondi et al., 2008; Panosso Netto, 2009) believe that the scientific investigation of tourism began much earlier with Josef Stradner (1905), Hermann von Schullern (1911), Robert Glücksman (who founded in Berlin, in the 1920s, the journal Archiv für Fremdenverkehr), and especially Walter Hunziker and Kurt Krapf’s German-language works (1942). In Poland, in 1936, the first academic tourism-related establishment was founded—the Tourism Studium at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow (Wyrzykowski, 2014). During recent years, papers presenting different views on tourism as an academic discipline, an academic community, or a field of study (research) were published among others by Charlotte Echtner and Tazim Jamal (1997), Sutheeshna Babu (2008), Mimoun Hillali (2008), Giulia Ceriani-Sebregondi, Amandine Chapuis, Jean-Christophe Gay, Rémy Knafou, Mathis Stock and Philippe Violier (2008), Leszek Butowski (2011; 2014c), Frédéric Darbellay and Mathis Stock (2012), Tamara Rátz (2014), and Justin Taillon (2014). These testify that, despite its long history and the lack of acceptable solution, the problem seems to be important due to its significance in deepening the theoretical and methodological foundations of tourism research. Quite similar opinions were declared by Tim Coles, Michael Hall and David Duval, who state that “discussions of the disciplinarity (or not) of tourism need to be recast and reappraised” (2009: 93), and further: “The debate as to whether tourism has attained such a position [of disciplinary status] remains unresolved and we would advocate that discussion of knowledge production should move forwards.” (ibid.: 108-109)

4To avoid confusion, it is important to explain how these concepts are understood in this paper. This pertains in particular to the distinction between the category of a field of study (of tourism) and the term “academic discipline” (related to tourism). Unfortunately, these notions are interpreted quite differently and used by the authors rather freely. It seems that the main cause of such practices is the lack of a common, accepted definition of tourism. Scholars representing various disciplines perceive tourism through “different lenses” and they focus on different issues (Squire, 1994; Kim et al., 2009). Thus, tourism (sensu largo) has been treated as the so-called “material subject of research” which, according to Ludwik Mazurkiewicz (2012), includes 16 sets of empirical (human and non-human) objects involved in what he calls the “tourist act.” It is quite obvious that due to its complexity, tourism has been explored from different academic perspectives, that is, in various aspects.

5The problem of disciplinarity or non-disciplinarity of tourism studies, in spite of many efforts, is still far from a conclusion—both in the Anglo-Saxon and in the Francophone literature (Kadri, 2008a; Ritchie et al., 2008; Coles et al., 2009). Tim Coles, Michael Hall and David Duval (2006; 2009: 93) relate to it in the context of “a debate about how knowledges of tourism can and indeed should be produced.” They claim that “a more prominent feature of this discussion is whether there is a coherent and clearly identifiable academic discipline centred on, and defined by its interest in, tourism; or alternatively is knowledge about tourism as a field of study generated by scholars within and across (other established) academic disciplines.” To present the main stances on the topic in question, three positions, held by the academics, have been distinguished: in favour of tourism as a separate discipline, against it, and an intermediate option.

6The supporters of the disciplinarity of tourism studies—such as Neil Leiper (1981; 1990; 2000), Charles Goeldner (1988, cited in Babu, 2008: 34), Zivodin Jovicic (1988), Chris Ryan (1997; 2001), Stephen Page (2003), Patric Vicériat, Claude Origet du Cluzeau and Michel Balfet (2005), Charles Goeldner and Brent Ritchie (2006), Sutheeshna Babu (2008), and Stefan Bosiacki (personal communications, 2013; 2014)—raise different arguments pointing to the need for the recognition of tourism as a discipline. Some of them even propose names for this new discipline: tourology (Leiper, 1981), tourismology (Jovicic, 1988), or turystologia (Chłopecki, 2005). As for Jean Stafford (1985), he suggests a new term, téorologie (from the Greek teoros, one who travels), related to the field of study focused on tourism issues. He also identifies four paradigms that structure research on tourism: (1) nominalist – of descriptive character and focused on data collection; (2) economic-spatial – having explanatory character and emphasizing the analysis of demand; (3) culturalist – related to the study of complex social relations and using methods originated from sociology, semiotics, and anthropology; (4) normative – directed toward what should be tourism from an ideological perspective). Among these, only the economic-spatial and culturalist paradigms appear as having some features of scientific paradigms (Kadri and Bédard, 2005). Alfredo Ascânio (1992; 2010) advocates the establishment of a new social discipline—La ciencia social de los viajes (the Social Science of Travels)—which should be able to “find out and explain the internal and external relations of the distinct aspects of the ways of travelling, the use of the trip and the effects of it, as well as a way of analyzing the distinct disciplines” (Ascânio, 1992: 189). Jean-Michel Hoerner (2000; 2002; 2008) appeals for the recognition of tourismologie as a multidisciplinary, human, and applied science of synthetic character, which focuses on voyage (in different aspects) as its research subject (see also Hoerner and Sicart, 2003). Neil Leiper argues in his works for the disciplinarity of tourism, justified by its social acceptance—which is manifested in the recognition of academic curricula (in certain countries such as Australia, Canada, France, India, Poland, the United Kingdom and the United States at least from the 1970s) at different levels of study, together with the accompanying research programmes. As cited in Sutheeshna Babu (2008), quite similar views, although sometimes in different contexts, are presented by Brent Ritchie, Lorn Sheehan and Seldjan Timur (2008), Michael Hall, Allan Williams and Alan Lew (2004), and also by John Tribe (1997; 2003), who—being one of the staunchest opponents of disciplined tourism—proposes bifurcation (in academic curricula) of the “body of tourism” into “Tourism Business Studies” and “Tourism Development Studies” (Babu, 2008: 41). Other authors such as Ronald Barnett (1990; 1997) and Violet Cuffy, John Tribe and David Airey (2012) observe that in countries where tourism education on a university level has been established for a long time, more abstract competences and critical thinking are expected. In the emerging markets, however, a more practical approach is dominant, as mentioned by Tamara Rátz and Ákos Kátay (2007) as well as Shazali Shariff (2011). Zivodin Jovicic (1988: 3), for his part, calls for a tourismology as a distinct discipline, which could join and synthesize fragmented tourism research. He notes that “the observation of individual elements independently of the whole has resulted in a mistaken definition of tourism as an economic, geographic or sociological phenomenon.” Jean Stafford (1992), proposing his téorologie, believes that this field of inquiry will be able to integrate many elements from other disciplines which at present are scattered in time and space. Some other authors (Cohen, 1979; Rogoziński, 1985; Comic, 1989) agree with him, arguing that the study of tourism as a whole will suffer from a lack of in-depth analyses (analyses that should lead to the construction of stronger theoretical foundations), as long as research is fragmented among various disciplines with their specific methods of investigation (Echtner and Jamal, 1997). These researchers think that its theory will only be able to develop through an integration of various branches of tourism research. In a similar context, Brent Ritchie, Lorn Sheehan and Seldjan Timur (2008) propose their “core-foundation model” to make a distinction between the hypothetical tourism theory (theories) and the theories of foundation disciplines (sociological, geographical, economic). Ludwik Mazurkiewicz (2005; 2012) goes even further and tries to prove, using a formal analysis, that tourism already has its proper theory. A large contribution to the development of theoretical foundations of tourism studies has been made by the MIT (Mobility, Itinerary, Tourism) research team, which started its activity in 1993 (Ceriani-Sebregondi et al., 2008). This group tried to apply a dialogic approach (albeit conducted mostly from geographical perspectives) between various disciplines involved in tourism research. They focused on three points that appeared fundamental from the perspective of tourism as an independent discipline: posture, concepts, and methods.

7Furthermore, there are many opponents of tourism disciplinarity, who raise primarily methodological arguments against tourism studies as a separate discipline. Numerous scholars, among whom Theo Bodewes (1982), Philip Pearce (1993), John Tribe (1997), Alain Borret (2005), and Grzegorz Gołembski (personal communication, 2013), state that tourism does not have a commonly accepted definition and its own unique theories—which is its weakest point from the ontological and epistemological perspectives. Charles Goeldner and Brent Ritchie (2006) equally, seeing tourism as a discipline within a set of management sciences, admit that it lacks a unique definition. Stephen Witt, Michael Broke and Peter Buckley (1991: 164) add that tourism research “will remain rather dynamic, variegated and at times internally conflictual.” Adrian Franklin and Mike Crang (2001), analyzing the nature of tourism knowledge creation and the research community, write that scholars are often under the dominance of politics and industry-sponsored research. Rob Lynch and Peter Brown (1999, cited in Babu, 2008: 37) add their opinion that the “government and business persons believe that theoretical ideas are just ‘excess baggage’ of little value to practical realities of tourism management.” As for Adee Athiyaman (1997), he criticizes many tourism researchers (in particular those conducting studies on tourism demand) for not contributing to the development of theoretical knowledge, while Kevin Meethan (2001: 2) assesses critically the content of journals, books and conferences, which “remain un-theorised, eclectic and disparate.” In order to support those who refuse to recognize tourism as a discipline, John Tribe (2006) refers to Thomas S. Kuhn’s (1996) classical works concerning the scientific paradigm and calls upon the notion of “normal science”—introduced by Kuhn—to describe a mature state of scientific disciplines. According to him, tourism studies cannot be recognized as Kuhnian normal science and tourism finds itself at most in the pre-paradigm stage. Likewise, Charlotte Echtner and Tazim Jamal (1997), on the basis of Kuhn’s model, complement that tourism studies will probably remain in the pre-paradigm phase due to the incommensurability of different disciplinary paradigms that have dealt with them. Tribe (1997) additionally tests tourism studies using Paul Hirst’s (1974) general criteria and writes that tourism cannot be a discipline, as stated in Sutheeshna Babu (2008: 36), for the following reasons:

First, while tourism studies can parade a number of concepts, they are hardly particular to tourism studies. Second, tourism concepts do not form a distinctive network, tend to be separate, atomised and deficient of logical linkages, do not form a cohesive theoretical framework and do not provide a distinctive, structured way of analysing the world. Third, it does not have expression or statements which are testable against experiences using criteria which are particular to tourism studies. And last, though most concepts are reducible, it is possible only through several other disciplines.

8Apart from the above-mentioned arguments against tourism as a discipline, there is another one raised up by John Tribe (2006: 366) in his well-known work concerning the truth about tourism. He writes that “disciplines may perform a selector role determining what is included and excluded in both the framing of research and its execution.” In this context, Tribe, on the basis of Stanley Aronowitz and Henry Giroux’s (1991) work, refers to the discipline’s “tyrannical role,” which could limit research on tourism rather than support it. To illustrate his point, he mentions Chris Rojek and John Urry’s (1997) and Adrian Franklin and Mike Crang’s (2001) works, in which the authors identify the tyrannical role of economics in tourism research. It seems, however, that this opinion can be also interpreted in a different light in the context of tourism studies. An attempt to present such an interpretation is made in the final conclusions of this paper.

9Between these two opposite positions, a set of intermediate views, which are not so strong in their support or criticism of the tourism’s scientific identity, can be distinguished. Some scholars—Graham Dann, Dennison Nash and Philip Pearce (1988), Jafar Jafari (1990), Georges Cazes (2001), Rémy Knafou (2005), Irena Ateljevic, Annette Pritchard and Nigel Morgan (2007), Sutheeshna Babu (2008)—agree that tourism can unquestionably be treated as a field of study and they are ready to accept the claim that tourism studies are in the process of gaining maturity. Such an opinion at least partially corresponds to Thomas Kuhn’s previously mentioned paradigm model of science with its pre-paradigm phase, in which a future discipline—in this case the studies of tourism—relies on various paradigms developed within other disciplines (Szubert-Zarzeczny, 2001). Charlotte Echtner and Tazim Jamal (1997: 876), remaining quite skeptical about the possibility of using Kuhn’s paradigmatic model as a theoretical base for the separation of tourism studies, admit that one cannot exclude the possibility of a Kuhnian scientific revolution, “in which a group of researchers breaks away from disciplinary boundaries and works to establish a distinct disciplinary matrix for tourism.” In this context, it is not only the question whether or not tourism studies can be recognized as an independent discipline—but also when. It seems that one of the most prominent proponents of such a position is Jafar Jafari (1990; 2001) who, identifying four platforms of the development of tourism studies, points to a knowledge-based platform as chronologically the latest and thus the most actual one. Referring to tourism, Jafari claims that “its scientific journey is clearly in progress, aiming at new frontiers, heading to new horizons” (cited in Babu, 2008: 39). A quite optimistic perspective is also presented by Charlotte Echtner and Tazim Jamal (1997: 878) when they propose (in opposition to Kuhn’s paradigm model) Richard Bernstein’s (1991) approach concerning methodological interrelations between natural (Naturwissenschaften) and social (Geisteswissenschaften) sciences. These authors argue that:

the disciplinary dilemma may be a result of the inappropriate fixation on the need to emulate the methods of the natural/physical sciences. An ability to accept alternate philosophical and methodological approaches could help to break down some of the interdisciplinary barriers in studying the tourism phenomenon and lead to the evolution of a distinct discipline.

10The discussion has not mentioned so far another group of commonly-shared opinions—pointing to the future of tourism studies as a domain of inter- or cross-disciplinary approaches. Quite numerous scholars, for example Stephen Witt, Michael Broke and Peter Buckley (1991), Philip Pearce and Richard Butler (1993), John Tribe (2006), Stanisław Liszewski (2010), and Grzegorz Gołembski (personal communication, 2013), support such views, arguing that they are consistent with the post-modern call for hybridisation/post-disciplinarity, and meet the need for creativity and innovation. Nelson Graburn and Jafar Jafari (1991: 7-8) believe that “no single discipline can accommodate, treat or understand tourism; it can be studied only if disciplinary boundaries are crossed and if multi-disciplinary perspectives are sought and formed.” Other proponents of this option advocate “more pragmatic institutional perspectives on tourism’s disciplinarity with scholarly potential and possibilities offered by post-disciplinarity” (Babu, 2008: 36). Boualem Kadri (2008a) postulates that inter-disciplinarity and cross-disciplinarity would allow tourism research to reduce its methodological handicap in relation to the traditional disciplines. Jean-Michel Dewailly (2006; 2008), remaining skeptical toward tourismologie, argues for trans-disciplinarity in tourism research and proposes one “federative” paradigm which could encompass different anthropologic, geographic, and historic aspects as the base for the new science. Moreover, for certain researchers, even inter- and multi-disciplinary approaches are not satisfactory. For example, Tim Coles, Michael Hall and David Duval (2005: 31) claim that if studies of tourism are to reflect contemporary conditions, “they should move away from traditional approaches to more flexible forms of knowledge production.” These authors (ibid.: 39) advocate a “hybrid approach” in tourism studies, using the argument that

[s]everal academic disciplines as we know them today originate in the late 19th and early 20th century. Hence, they do not necessarily reflect current issues, themes and imperatives, so much as academic divisions of labour relevant to former times. Thus, there is the danger that we may be attempting to address contemporary subjects (such as tourism) through outdated and ageing frameworks . . .

11And further these authors contend that “a post-disciplinary approach is especially well-suited to the emergent study of tourism mobilities as a more appropriate central construct for studies of contemporary tourism” (Coles et al., 2009: 94).

12Nevertheless, it seems that despite their appealing character, inter-, trans-, multi- and cross-disciplinary as well as hybrid approaches in tourism studies also have some weak points, which will be discussed in the conclusion of this article.

13The discussion in this section was rather indicative and it was not meant to describe the issue comprehensively. In addition, it seems that during the last few years, the exchange of different views on this topic has diminished and has often been limited to reviewing works while omitting the presentation of their authors’ positions. It probably suggests that the opponents and supporters of tourism as a discipline remain firmly entrenched in their views and neither side is ready to compromise. Taking into account these circumstances and the apparent impossibility of achieving a consensus, we propose here a new approach in order to solve the problem. It offers new insight based on a purposeful survey conducted among tourism scholars from all around the world.

Tourism as a Discipline: Empirical Findings

14Our study on tourism as a discipline constitutes a part of a wider research project regarding the academic identity of tourism researchers. The whole project encompasses such issues as the methodological links of tourism scholars with their mother disciplines, self-identification of scholars as representatives of tourism studies or mother disciplines, their allegiance to traditional paradigms or willingness to abandon them in favour of searching for and adopting new “tourism” paradigms. In this way the problem of tourism as a discipline is embedded in the wider context of the identity of tourism researchers and the status of tourism as a scientific activity.

Research Method

15To analyze the problem of tourism as a discipline, we adopted a three-stage research framework, commencing with a directed literature review investigating different positions on the subject, followed by a survey of a purposeful sample of tourism academics, and concluding with a further analysis of the literature, this time confronting empirical findings with identified scholars’ stances.

16The purposeful (but not representative) sample consisted of two subsamples: (1) international academics and (2) Polish scholars of tourism. When constructing both subsamples, we applied principles similar to those adopted by John Tribe (2010) and Bob McKercher and Bruce Prideaux (2014), although our sample was bigger. The “international’ subsample included 181 scholars of different scientific degrees (master’s degree holders: 24%, Ph.D. holders: 39%, associate professors: 17%, and full professors: 20%), age, and experience in tourism research. They represented public and private institutions (mostly universities as well as national and international tourism scientific associations and independent institutes) from almost 50 countries and all the continents (see table 1) (Africa: 3% of the respondents, Asia: 6%, Australia and Oceania: 4%, Europe: 73%, Americas: 14%). The “Polish” subsample included 89 scholars from all the national academic centres. To ensure unbiased assessment, the Polish respondents were not taken into consideration when developing general outcomes (as their number was very high compared to other groups), but they were taken into account in regional analyses as a separate group.

Table 1

Table 1

Respondents by Continents and Countries

Source: Author

17The respondents represented different disciplines, such as: geography, economics and business studies, management and marketing, regional studies, recreation, sport and leisure studies, sociology and anthropology, other social sciences and humanities. All of them were asked to indicate whether they dealt with tourism as the main (73% of respondents) or side (27%) area of their academic interests. The “international” questionnaires were distributed from April to November 2014 via e-mail. Polish respondents had been surveyed earlier—between June and December 2013.

18The body of the questionnaire consisted of a series of 12 structured questions mainly concerning the academic identity of researchers and the methodological position of tourism studies. The respondents were asked among other things about their academic background and present position, their self-identification as representative of tourism studies or mother disciplines, and their allegiance to traditional paradigms or willingness to abandon them in favour of searching for and adopting new “tourism” paradigms. Based on these, the concluding question read: should studies on tourism gain the status of an autonomous academic discipline? Additionally, respondents were asked to add some free comments justifying their opinions. Using this analytical data, different analyses were carried out based on variables like: respondents’ country of residence (and work), their age and experience in tourism research, their scientific degree and the discipline in which they graduated, and their main field of interest (research on tourism as a main or additional object of interest).

General Outcomes

19More general results of our survey project carried out among the “international” (i.e., excluding Polish scholars’ opinions) tourism scholars allow the formulation of the following general conclusions: (1) a slight majority of the respondents (50%) claimed that they conducted their research on tourism within various paradigms of the “traditional” scientific disciplines; at the same time, 45% of the informants stated that they based their research on specific paradigms that belonged to the studies on tourism; (2) a noticeable majority of the respondents (59%) considered themselves representatives of tourism studies, while 39% preferred to call themselves representatives of the “traditional” disciplines; (3) 53% of the respondents were ready to formally recognize tourism sciences as an autonomous scientific discipline; 36% held the opposing view. The general analysis reveals a certain inconsistency in the responses of the “international” informants regarding the methodological position and the formal status of tourism sciences. On the one hand, they are ready to call themselves representatives of the tourism sciences and quite clearly advocate their autonomy, on the other hand, they seem to be attached to the paradigms of other “traditional” disciplines.

20A more detailed analysis allows to point to several interesting dependencies of relative character that occur between particular factors. Scholars who obtained their degrees in such disciplines as economics, geography, or sociology, tend to be more attached to these disciplines’ paradigms and they consider themselves relatively more often representatives of these disciplines than the researchers with degrees gained from “younger” disciplines (for example sport, recreation). The slight majority of the full professor’s degree holders were against the autonomy of tourism as a discipline (47% against and 44% in favour), while the holders of the remaining degrees seemed to support the idea; however, among Ph.D. holders, uncertain respondents constituted a considerable share. The representatives of the “younger” disciplines or disciplines that have been dealing with tourism for a shorter period of time were more eager to acknowledge tourism as a distinct science. In terms of academic career duration, in both groups (academic activity longer or shorter than 10 years) there were more proponents than opponents of the separation of tourism as an autonomous discipline, but the researchers who had shorter academic experience were less certain than their more experienced colleagues; also, among academics with longer experience, there were more opponents of tourism as a discipline than among those with shorter experience. In terms of tourism being the main or a side activity, both groups pointed (in majority) to tourism as a separate discipline, but there were relatively more opponents among those who specialize in tourism.

21These results can also be related to another aspect of the issue—how the problem of disciplinarity or non-disciplinarity of tourism is seen by scholars who constitute a new generation of tourism academics called Generation T (tourism). They have been characterized by Sebastian Filep, Michael Hughes, Mary Mostafanezhad and Fiona Wheeler (2013) as scholars with a multi-disciplinary education associated with a broad field of study and they are commonly considered as lacking the advantages of a discipline-focused education with its strong theoretical and methodological foundations. Based on the information about background academic education of the respondents, their age, and experience in tourism research, the group of Generation T scholars could be easily identified among the whole set of surveyed researchers. Compared to their older colleagues, this group seems to be more willing to accept the autonomous status of tourism research and, accordingly, its position as an academic discipline. This is also quite obvious when we analyze the data obtained in terms of such variables as respondents’ age and the discipline in which they graduated. Additionally, the possibility of being recognized as fully accepted members of the scientific community and perspectives for achieving higher academic levels in their field of scientific interest (if tourism were recognized as a formal academic discipline) can surely play a role in the opinions of this group (especially in countries where a Ph.D. and other academic titles and positions are associated with administratively recognized disciplines).

Qualitative Research

22Apart from answering the set of standardized questions, respondents were also asked to express their opinions against or in favour of tourism as a separate discipline in a more descriptive form. Their answers allowed us to examine the arguments of both sides of the dispute using the content analysis method.

23Arguments for the disciplinary autonomy of tourism can be divided into two groups: those relating to methodological (epistemological) aspects and those relating to social acceptance. The first group contains opinions regarding such issues as: the specificity of tourism studies which distinguishes them from other disciplines, sufficient amount of accumulated academic knowledge, the risk of exaggerating certain tourism problems when considered from one (social, spatial, economical) perspective only, as well as the general historical tendency in the development of science toward the separation of new disciplines from the older ones. The second group included arguments linked to the social acceptance of tourism studies. Many respondents considered arguments of this type very important. Their opinions focused mainly on the significance of tourism for the economy and various possible consequences of the development of tourism. In this context, the respondents stressed the lack of a distinct discipline that could deal with such issues from its own proper perspective. Some informants pointed to the existence of numerous journals and university programmes focused on tourism as a manifestation of a strong social need in this field of academic knowledge.

24The reasoning of the opponents of tourism as a separate discipline concentrated mainly on methodological premises. They put forward such arguments as tourism lacking its own theories, an accepted definition, and proper methods. They underlined the inability to agree on a common paradigm on which a new discipline could be built. Some of the opponents claimed that tourism was a field of study and could not be considered a science. Some also indicated that the present situation was suitable because other disciplines dealt with tourism issues satisfactorily.

25Perhaps the most interesting result of this qualitative research project was the fact that both the opponents and the proponents of tourism as a separate discipline used the same argument to support their view. Indeed, both groups pointed to the inter-, cross- and trans-disciplinarity of tourism research. The opponents used this argument to show that tourism research was genetically fragmented and that its particular parts belonged to other disciplines. The proponents underlined the fact that tourism sciences should synthesize various perspectives and try to find a new disciplinary approach. They believe that the new discipline should rely on the specificity of tourism research, which differs from other disciplines. This qualitative investigation shows that the arguments used by both sides are quite similar to those we presented in the literature discussion.

Regional Trends

26In order to discover some specificities linked to three different geographical levels of an analysis, we carried out a separate, more detailed investigation. The comparative study encompassed Europe, the rest of the world (apart from Europe), and Poland (as a separate sample), (figure 1). Our analysis highlighted certain general grounds for observing similarities and differences between the selected regions and between each of them, as well as global tendencies. It also allowed us to distinguish certain features typical of the views existing on these areas.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Aspects of scientific recognition of tourism by regions

Source: Author


27The sample comprised 126 responses from almost all European countries—including Turkey, Russia, and Georgia (excluding Poland, which was analyzed separately). The opinions expressed by the European scholars both in comparison with the global average and with the other selected regions seem to be rather conservative. The lowest level of acceptance of tourism as a separate discipline among the selected regions was observed in Europe (52%); the levels of recognition of tourism paradigms (45%) and readiness to consider oneself a tourism studies representative (55%) were also relatively low.

The Rest of the World (not including Europe and Poland)

28The sample included 54 respondents. The opinions presented by tourism researchers working outside of Europe and Poland in relation to the global average and to the other selected areas are characterized by the greatest willingness to acknowledge the autonomy of tourism studies. The highest levels of all indices (recognition of tourism paradigms – 46%, readiness to consider oneself a tourism studies representative – 72%, and acceptance of tourism as a separate discipline – 59%) in comparison with the global averages (and in relation to the values of the same indices in Europe and Poland) were given by respondents from outside Europe.


29The Polish sample included 89 responses from scholars of various degrees, experience, and age. They represented public and private educational and non-educational institutions which dealt with tourism research. The results of the survey (Butowski, 2014a; 2014b) allow the formulation of the following general conclusions: only 24% of the respondents use a specific tourism paradigm; 41% consider themselves tourism studies representatives; 48% are ready to recognize tourism as a discipline. The analysis reveals a distinct inconsistency in the responses regarding the methodological position and the formal status of tourism studies in Poland. On the one hand, the respondents relatively clearly advocate the autonomy of the tourism discipline, on the other hand, they seem to be strongly attached to the paradigms of other sciences, of which they themselves feel representatives. In comparison with global and other regional views, Polish researchers appear as the most conservative in terms of the recognition of tourism as a discipline (all general indices are at the lowest level).

Americas and Asia, Australia and Oceania

30Another more detailed analysis (figure 2) was also carried out to investigate possible regional specificities in additional regions—separately both Americas and Asia, Australia and Oceania (AA&O), which are characterized by quite different (especially in relation to Europe) traditions of tourism research. However, it is necessary to mention that the number of respondents from these areas was too low to induce any more general findings and thus they only have a very introductory character.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Aspects of scientific recognition of tourism by selected subregions

Source: Author


31The analysis was based on 24 responses from academics residing at North and South American institutions (20 of them from the United States and Canada). The results show considerable internal diversity and even inconsistency. The majority of the surveyed researchers (76%) consider themselves tourism studies representatives, but at the same time only 43% of them admit that they use tourism studies-specific paradigms. Acceptance for the separation of tourism as a discipline is on average level (55%).

Asia, Australia and Oceania

32The sample contained altogether 19 responses (12 from Asian countries and 7 from Australia and New Zealand). Scholars from these regions of the world seem to be the most eager to recognize the autonomy of tourism as a new science. As many as 58% of them assert the recognition of tourism paradigms and tourism discipline; 70% are ready to recognize themselves as tourism studies representatives. All responses are fairly consistent and place these regions in opposition to Europe and above the global average.

Conclusions and Final Remarks

33When investigating the issue of the academic recognition of tourism as a separate discipline, several different views must be mentioned—these have been discussed in the introductory part of this paper. It seems, however, that the problem should also be analyzed in the wider context of academic identity of tourism studies. As mentioned before, different views held by scholars from different countries, traditions, schools, and disciplines with their paradigms show that such factors play an important role in the shaping of a final opinion. To determine the relations and dependencies between these factors and the opinions expressed by scholars, we designed a set of questions and delivered them to researchers all around the world. This study constitutes the empirical part of our paper. We confronted the results obtained with the opinions presented in the literature. The following final conclusions constitute an attempt to synthesize both approaches.

34It is quite clear that an important part of the argumentation of the opponents of tourism as a separate discipline is based on methodological premises such as the lack of a commonly accepted definition of tourism, and tourism’s own theories and methods. These respondents often refer to classical models such as Thomas S. Kuhn’s (2009) notions of scientific paradigm and normal science or Paul Hirst’s general criteria for recognizing a new discipline. Furthermore, the opponents point to the “tyrannical” force of disciplines which can limit the researchers’ freedom. Instead, they suggest developing a “post-modern” approach based on the concepts of inter-, cross- and trans-disciplinarity of tourism research.

35There are, however, ways of arguing against this logic. As regards the classical methodological models of the development of sciences, it is worth mentioning that they are suited to the needs of natural sciences rather than social sciences and humanities. If the academia was to rely only on these models, other social sciences could have the same problem with the recognition of their independence. And yet nowadays nobody seems to be questioning sociology, cultural anthropology, ethnography, or ethnology as academic disciplines (although, in the past, all of them were criticized from the methodological positions of natural sciences). Moreover, in a wider methodological context, it seems that an attempt to impose on tourism studies so rigid a framework that was built for different purposes is a rather positivist postulate. Paradoxically, the most prominent opponent of such an approach was Thomas Kuhn himself (Okasha, 2002), who questioned the dominant role of logical positivists and Karl Popper’s vision of science. He criticized them for focusing only on the “context of justification” and not paying enough attention to social, historical, and cultural circumstances in the development process of a science (“context of discovery”). In the light of Kuhn’s and his followers’ (in particular representatives of the “Strong Programme” in non-classical sociology of science) ideas concerning the significance of social environment for the development of a science (Barnes and Bloor, 1993; Barnes, 2009), a turn toward Neil Leiper’s argumentation in favour of tourism as a discipline seems justified. This author, strongly advocating the establishment of tourism as a new discipline, bases his opinion on the common social recognition of tourism as a field of activity and study.

36In this context, another fundamental question should be asked: who (if anyone) can decide about the recognition of disciplinarity or non-disciplinarity of tourism? The results of our empirical research project and some other analyses (Topaloglu, 2014) show that, at least on the organisational level, tourism as a discipline has already been recognized in certain countries. At the same time, there are many other countries which have not done so (Handszuh, 2014; Rátz, 2014). To offer some kind of answer to this dilemma, we proposed the following hypothesis on the basis of certain theoretical assumptions that originate from the theory of non-classical sociology of science (and are rooted in Kuhn’s ideas about social acceptance of science and the Strong Programme premises): no individual has the right to impose his or her opinion on the whole community of researchers; one should rather assume that each community of researchers can have its own idea concerning the problem in question—after all, we are in the field of social and not natural sciences, and such a position is justified. It seems that our hypothesis has also been verified positively in the empirical research (whose results were internally diverse). Thus, a conclusion formulated in this way can provide the support necessary to refute the practice of a certain group of scholars—the tourism studies gate-keepers who want to categorically enforce their opinions on the whole community. Paradoxically, they partly admit to such practices (Hall, 2004: 143), claiming that “the tourism academia remains highly patriarchal and continues to privilege the knowledge systems of its first generation scholars” (Pritchard and Morgan, 2007: 17).

37Likewise, it should be kept in mind that, from a practical point of view, academic legitimacy and scientific recognition of tourism could facilitate the funding of its research (Rátz, 2014), which, in turn, could prevent laments such as Michael Hall’s (2004: 147): “Academic freedom is a mirage. If I do not meet the research . . . performance criteria which are set . . . I may not get a pay rise, or perhaps in the longer term I may even lose my job.” The results of our survey and the justifications provided by the respondents’ comments suggest that many members of the academic community share this view.

38Some time and space should also be devoted to the discussion of the “ominous” disciplinary tyrannical force, which is employed as an argument against the establishment of tourism as a discipline. At first sight it seems convincing, but closer investigation reveals various doubtful aspects. It may be useful to refer to the example of other social sciences whose subject of research is extremely inter-disciplinary and difficult to define. In this regard they are similar to tourism studies and share with them the same methodological, epistemological, and partially ontological weaknesses. Yet, disciplines such as sociology, cultural anthropology, ethnology, ethnography, and gender studies have successfully emerged as separate disciplines. Their representatives (in majority) were not afraid of this “mythical tyrannical force” that was supposed to limit their freedom as researchers. On the contrary, they felt that the emergence of their new discipline could facilitate their efforts to win an academic recognition in the community of researchers.

39Nevertheless, this argumentation does not intend to discredit the inter- and cross-disciplinary approaches in the studies on tourism. They are and certainly will be necessary to cope with the vast global problems (like global [environmental] change) that involve tourism issues (Stern, 2007; Coles et al., 2009) Furthermore, it seems rather unquestionable that in order to develop a post-modern or post-disciplinary approach in tourism studies, it is necessary to first build ontological and epistemological foundations that will ensure the methodological rigour of tourism research (Rátz, 2014). In this context, a disciplinary framework seems to be a reasonable proposal. Only then will it be possible to apply the next, post-disciplinary stage safely. Otherwise, we may end up in “methodological quicksands” and such a situation would surely encourage both the domination of other disciplines over tourism and the epistemological eclecticism of tourism studies.

40This deliberation offers a handful of arguments against the views of the opponents of tourism as a discipline. This does not mean, however, that the supporters are absolutely right. It may be advisable to analyze the problem from a wider, cognitive (epistemological) perspective. In this context, the question whether we will be able to learn more about tourism with a separate discipline at our disposal or should we rather rely on the outputs of other tourism-related sciences seems to be most reasonable; in other words, will we, by means of this new discipline, gain better knowledge of tourism? Taking into account so vast a field of interest of tourism researchers (even after narrowing it down to only Babu’s and Tribe’s “Tourism Development Studies”), the answer still remains unclear. In this context, Jean-Michel Hoerner’s tourismologie and Zivodin Jovicic’s tourismology as multidisciplinary and synthetic tourism sciences do not appear as achievable solutions due to their excessive field of study. Perhaps a more feasible proposal for tourism disciplinarity should focus on the search for certain specific—and at the same time constitutive—features that would distinguish tourism research from other academic activities/disciplines, because they would point to the aspects that could not be managed in satisfactory ways by other sciences (Maciołek, 2002; Chojnicki, 2005). This would result (at least at the beginning) in the researchers working within a relatively narrow discipline centred around tourism-specific features.

41To sum up the whole discussion and to relate it to the general problem and research questions concerning better knowledge about tourism, it can be said that from the epistemological perspective the optimal position would be the one in which research would be conducted using various disciplines and at the same time a new discipline, focused on tourism-specific aspects, would be sought.

42Last but not least, let us refer to a significant article by John Tribe (2006) concerning the truth in tourism. This author presents quite a pessimistic view that it is probably impossible to find one truth about tourism, formulating that opinion on the basis of social constructionism—which sees the world in relative terms. His perspective may result from observing various tourism phenomena through the lens of different disciplines. Indeed, it seems that such an attitude can lead at most to different truths about tourism, as mentioned by Tribe. Perhaps an alternative approach, based on specificity and “constitutivity” of certain aspects of tourism, could bring us closer to a more “objective” truth about tourism, investigated from more critical-realistic positions, as discussed by David Botterill, Shane Pointing, Charmaine Hayes-Jonkers, Cristina Rodrigues, Trevor Jones and Alan Clough (2013), Botterill (2014), as well as Tomas Pernecky (2012; 2014).

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List of illustrations

Title Table 1
Caption Respondents by Continents and Countries
Credits Source: Author
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Title Figure 1
Caption Aspects of scientific recognition of tourism by regions
Credits Source: Author
File image/jpeg, 252k
Title Figure 2
Caption Aspects of scientific recognition of tourism by selected subregions
Credits Source: Author
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Electronic reference

Leszek BUTOWSKI, « The Issue of Disciplinarity and Non-disciplinarity of Tourism Studies », Téoros [Online], 35, 1 | 2016, Online since 22 August 2016, connection on 22 October 2020. URL :

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About the author


Professor, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn (Poland) ;

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