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Tourism and identity processes

Bernard Debarbieux, Jean-François Staszak et Ouidad Tebbaa
Traduction de Université Bretagne Occidentale
Cet article est une traduction de :
Tourismes et dynamiques identitaires [fr]
Autre(s) traduction(s) de cet article :
Turismos y dinámicas identitarias [es]
Turismo e dinamiche identitarie [it]
Turismos e dinâmicas identitárias [pt]
Tourismus und Identitäten im Wandel [de]
Turismes i dinàmiques identitàries [ca]

Texte intégral

1Studies in tourism are among the first to focus on the question of identity processes. As tourist practices bring peoples into contact and establish relations between different populations, concerned about thinking of themselves as different, the question of the identity of some and the otherness of the others immediately emerged. Raising questions about the identity type (with or without recourse to the concept of identity) is thus at the heart of the work of sociologists, anthropologists and geographers who have worked on tourism, particularly in developing countries (Cohen, 1988 ; Nash, 1996 ; Cazes, 1989).

2But for a long time, work concentrated on one main question : to what extent do the images that tourists have of the place they are visiting, and the people who live there, and the practices the latter adopt accordingly, influence those very people, their cultural practices and the representations the latter have of themselves ? In short, this field of search has long been obsessed with the influences (implicitly considered harmful) and effects (readily thought of as pernicious) of the stereotypes of tourism, the folklorization and the merchandising of cultural traditions (see, among many other articles : Krippendorf, 1977 ; Rajotte and Crocombe, 1980 ; Turner and Ash, 1975). More generally, this approach ascribed tourism to the movement of globalization considered to be homogenizing and found guilty of destroying local identities, often reified and disconnected from history.

3In the 1990s and 2000s, some authors have set themselves apart from this very critical approach to provide a more nuanced analysis. They argued that the impact of tourism on local identities did not just always boil down to the degradation or destruction thereof. Norhonda (1979), Harkin (1995), Krystal (2000), Picard (1996, 2001), Equipe MIT (2002) and others have shown that tourism can play an important role in the promotion of vernacular traditions and local know-how, but also in the emergence of new forms of cultural expression and reflexive skills, even identities that have shaped the rules of the collective self-definition within the societies concerned. Tourism may participate in the preservation, development (why would it necessarily be negative ?) or even the (re-) invention of local identities, which it may take part in strengthening, which is after all quite logical as the latter indeed constitute a resource for a type of tourist increasingly in demand for otherness.

4Field studies conducted over the last twenty odd years have placed particular emphasis on the ability to act (agency) (Crain, 1996) and the performance of local players (Desmond, 2005). The latter are not considered as passive objects of the “tourist’s perception” (Urry, 1990), but “active subjects who build representations of their culture for tourists – representations based both on their own systems of reference and how they interpret the tourists’ desires” (Picard, 2010), in a context where the relationship between the local and the global has changed dramatically (Appadurai, 2001 ; Salazar, 2010).
Within the complexity of the contemporary world, the development of tourism and the proliferation of ‘trans-local’ and transnational networks account for the fact that what is local is henceforth dependent on the outside world as well as inside the locality, rooted in a territory as well as being linked to other individuals by countless interconnecting networks. If tourism conveys fantasy, it consequently also affects the way the group builds its identity, and may even, as such, be exploited by individuals seeking to renew or assert their desire to belong to it (Debarbieux, 2012).

5This dynamic recovery, by the stakeholders of tourism, of local identities or the mobilization of tourists’ fantasy on a global level shows that tourism lends itself to all kinds of strategies that this dossier, which is in line with the renewed questions raised in studies on tourism in terms of identity processes, sets out to explore.

6Two articles (Tiekoura, Tizza) deal mainly with gender identities, and more particularly with the changing role of women in societies that have experienced changes linked to the development of tourism. Female identity is not the purpose of tourism, but it may be affected by it, mainly due to the involvement of women in that economic sector and the clash with the Western model of gender relations. Three articles are focused on ethnic identities (Milan, Oiry, Gregoire and Scholze). Indigenous identities are thus one of the objects of tourism, and yet again they have undergone changes due to the development of this sector, but also in relation to the strategies implemented by local players to develop the resources of tourism that their identity embodies and to exploit those resources for political purposes.

7Four out of the five dossiers address tourism in Morocco and Niger. A network effect, related to the authors, could be mustered by the initiators of this issue. The last one (Milan) focused on China. In all cases, they deal with peripheral areas within which the development of tourism is fairly new and is based primarily on exploiting the originality of local cultures. The complexity of the relationship between tourism, local identities and the role of local stakeholders in the changes involved are particularly visible. In all likelihood, the same applies in many situations, which, it is sufficient to consider from a perspective, less rigid and nostalgic with respect to local identities, paying more attention to the action of local players and considering tourism in a less negative light to achieve similar understanding.

8This is the invitation that is offered to readers of this dossier. Indeed, it is open and can receive other contributions on this topic in the coming months. The addition of case studies and, where appropriate, the discussions between the articles themselves, can contribute to advancing our knowledge and questions on these identity issues.

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Amselle J.-L., 2010, Logiques métisses. Anthropologie de l’identité en Afrique et ailleurs, Paris, Payot.

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Crain M. M., 1996, « Negotiating Identities in Quito’s Cultural Borderlands » in Howes D. (ed.), Cross-Cultural Consumption : Global Markets, Local Realities, New York, Routledge, pp. 125–137.

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Bernard Debarbieux, Jean-François Staszak et Ouidad Tebbaa, « Tourism and identity processes », Via [En ligne], 2 | 2012, mis en ligne le 13 décembre 2012, consulté le 07 août 2020. URL :

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Bernard Debarbieux

Professor at the University of Geneva (Switzerland). During most of the 1990’s he worked on tourism development and imagination in the Alps. During the 2000’s, he has been working on various forms of governance and development in mountain regions in Europe and the rest of the world. Most of his publications can be found on his personal website :

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Jean-François Staszak

Professor at the University of Geneva (Switzerland)

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Ouidad Tebbaa

University of Marrakech

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