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“Is this science or can we get rid of it?

A Discourse Analytical Essay on Tourism as Science in the Post-Truth Age”
Prof. Dr. Tatjana Thimm
Traduction de Andreas Heller
Cet article est une traduction de :
"Ist das Wissenschaft oder kann das weg? [de]


The field of tourism sciences is currently dealing with numerous challenges. The path to becoming an independent field; determining its position in society, politics and the scientific community as well as the current threat from fake news are at the heart of this discourse analytical essay.

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1. Introduction

1„Is this research or can we get rid of it?” This is how the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit put it in the lead article of their Science section on October 1st, 2014. „Brilliant or Gaga“ was the theme of the subsequent article. There is often a very fine line between science and pseudoscience: Karl Popper’s idea of a “conservative” criteria for something having scientific character, falsifiability, would be considered a failure, and, according to the “Zeit” article, as radical critics of boring normal science, such as Paul Feyerabend, postulated:

“Science makes progress when it frees itself from all methodological constraints and the various world views compete with one another. Undogmatic, irrational and anarchic - that’s how science should be.” (Paul Feyerabend, cited in Hürter and Rauner 2014, p. 36).

2Why tourism sciences at all? Is the field developing in an undogmatic manner or is it becoming a boring, normal science? Can it even be referred to as a science? Everyone can and wants to put their post-truth two cents in. Almost everyone travels somewhere at some point and dumps their impressions into social media: true or false, doesn’t matter. Reality becomes an algorithmically-curated opinion among many; becomes an alternative fact.

3The central question of this paper is therefore: Where do tourism sciences stand? Mocked as a non-academic, pseudoscientific have-fun event, is it at best a half-academic flat research area and fulfillment aid for the tourism industry, located somewhere below business administration studies? Or is it a newly-forming, innovative field on the verge of becoming an independent tourism science?

4Why do we need science at all in a post-truth age? Schummer (2014) suggests nine possible answers to this question ranging from „supplier for technology“ to „total freedom“: Making the world a better place, sharpening thinking skills, explanation and clarification, predicting the future, innovation, satisfying cultivated curiosity, fulfilling a life form, orientation in the world, and education. Also in this regard, tourism sciences have not completely forged their own self-concept.

5The discourse is open.

2. Method

6The method used in this essay is based in a slightly modified form on Viehöver’s discourse analytical narration analysis (2001, p. 194 ff):

  1. Representation of the discourse strands (sect. 4)

  2. Identifying the individual episodes of the narration (sect. 5.1)

  3. Analyzing the episodes in terms of their structure, dominant narration and a connecting Story Line (sect. 5.2)

  4. Determining matches, opposites and evaluations (sect. 5.3)

7Viehöver’s structure (ibid) has been slightly modified here – point 1 is not part of Viehövers model. It is preceded here by the temporal boundary of the individual narration (episodes). Viehöver’s (2001, p. 185) suggested definition of narration has also been maintained: Narrations are representations that involve actors and plots.

8Applied to the narrations analyzed in this paper, this means that the actors can be equated with the researchers producing tourism science studies. The plots within the narration episodes (according to figure 2) would then be represented by the shared value structures, technical jargon and methods of the respective disciplines.

9The qualitative method described here was chosen in order to provide an adequate analysis pattern as a basis for a complex topic. This involves a non-positivist approach, which is rarely used in the tourism sciences (Mura & Sharif 2017, p. 205). The style of this essay has the characteristic of a polemic.

3. Definitions and Concept Specification: Tourism Sciences, Tourism Science, Tourism Geography

3.1. Tourism Science or Tourism Sciences?

10The question whether tourism science is only a type of intermediary research without its own research identity or is indeed an independent discipline continues to be a contested issue and thus part of the discourse: The approach of not acknowledging tourism science as an independent discipline and instead viewing it as a research object made up of various scientific research disciplines (consolidated in what we will here refer to as tourism sciences, a scientific hybrid or spectrum science) due to or despite its multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach dominates the debate: tourism science, according to exponents such as e.g., John Urry, Hans M. Enzensberger, Dean MacCannell, Erik Cohen, Rob Shields, Karlheinz Wöhler or Christoph Hennig, does not develop its own theories and paradigms originally connected to tourism which do not contain any transfers from other scientific disciplines. Contemporary tourism science thus presents itself as a multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach with the simultaneous non-existence (not yet?) of independent theoretical core areas and methods (see also Nahrstedt 1995, p.33). Tourism science thus finds itself - to put it in Wöhler’s words - in a pre-paradigmatic state.

„There is simply no theoretically modeled tourism world which could be attacked from other perspectives. This signifies a pre-paradigmatic condition.“ (Wöhler 1998, p. 31)

11Smith expresses it in a similar way (1982, cited in Butler 2004, p. 156). Tourism science is therefore more like a proto science (Schäfer 2003b, p. 114). Wöhler (1998, p. 32) adds that neopositivism, critical theory and constructivism (see also Dann 1997) also would not have made the leap to attaining a paradigm function in tourism. Pompl (1994, p. 241 and p. 244) nevertheless proposes to continue searching for one:

“Even if it appears, given the current state of knowledge, that the complexity of the tourism phenomena does not lend itself to a single, comprehensive research perspective and thus a specific paradigm, the vision of a grand theory that is more than a bracket around all genitive and hyphenated tourism sciences, can at least be considered [...] Until then, the tourism disciplines will accompany the societal development of tourism (usually limping behind) with a patchwork technology.”

12For this reason, the term tourism sciences is more appropriate than tourism science. Tourism geography, as a large sub-discipline of tourism sciences is, due to its spatial reference, also open to influences from and convergences with other scientific disciplines.

3.2. Tourism Geography in Tourism Sciences

13Research in tourism geography as an interdisciplinary discipline (see also Kagermeier and Reeh 2011, p. 10) always includes multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches, whereby additive forms predominate (Sölter 2006, p. 5 and 16ff.). This is the connection to tourism sciences, of which it is regarded as a sub-discipline. Coles (2006, p. 313) additionally emphasizes the relevance of post-disciplinary limits, e.g., the approaches that transcend disciplinary limits , in the sense that tourism is also always embedded in enormously complex questions such as safety, sustainability, mobility and networks that require flexible forms of knowledge production not possible within the limits of a single discipline. The predominant categorization in the business approach within tourism sciences of hotel, tour operator and travel agent management, transport and destination management is also dealt with in tourism geography research. It is however - in addition to the inherent spatial perspective – often expanded by including, among other things, cultural, historical, political or psychology of perception aspects. These mostly only look at tourism as a research object “from the outside” and thus only lead to a shift in stress within the spatial perspective of tourism geography. Therefore tourism geography research is located in the middle of an intersection of influences from the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and sustainability research:

Figure 1: Categories of tourism geography research.

Figure 1: Categories of tourism geography research.

Own representation 2016

14The Cultural Turn (see thorough description in Bachmann-Medick 2009) represents a turning point in tourism geography, providing the humanities as a whole with a new orientation and enhancement. What is relevant here are the new impulses through which the cultural turn, via the New Cultural Geography, found its way as a new scientific perspective in tourism geography. On the other hand, this constructivist approach has also been criticized as being arbitrary in terms of its lack of clear terminology (Berndt & Pütz 2007, p. 9) and - given a tendency towards theorization - its lack of practical relevance (Hacking 1999, p. 107). Encompassing the nexus of space and culture (URL Cultural Geography [accessed on 25.07.14]), the New Cultural Geography also follows the paradigm of the Cultural Turn, which regards poststructuralist social categories as socially constructed ("made") and de-essentialized.

4. Discourse Regarding Research Status – Narrations in Tourism Sciences (incl. Special Case Tourism Geography)

4.1. Tourism Sciences

15The status and categorization of tourism sciences was briefly described in the introduction (see above). A good summary of the discussion in the German speaking world was provided by Groß (2004); for the English speaking world by Tribe (1997); and a good overall summary by Hachtmann (2011). Tribe (ibid) argues that tourism sciences are missing their own research concept, a unifying theory or a coherent research paradigm that would justify calling „tourism science“ an independent discipline:

„The point about these disciplines is that they each display a distinct set of concepts, theories, and ways of progressing in terms of research programs and research methodologies. […] First tourism studies can in fact, parade a number of concepts. […] But these concepts are hardly particular to tourism studies. They are concepts that have started elsewhere and been stretched or contextualized to give them a tourism dimension. […] They do not form a cohesive theoretical framework. […] Tourism studies, of itself, does not provide a distinctive, structured way of analyzing the world as does say physics.” (Tribe 1997, S. 643)

16Tribe (1997), Hopfinger (2004) and Groß (2004) point to the existence of a scientific community which has established and institutionalized itself in tourism sciences with conferences, associations, book publications and academic journals. The authors do not rule out that, at some point in future, tourism science can develop into a real discipline. Groß (2004, p. 157) divides the process of the emergence of Tourism Studies into three phases:

  1. Phase: Tourism research from the perspective of various basis sciences, subordinate importance of the research field

  2. Phase: Institutionalization, formation of an international scientific community, interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approaches

  3. Phase: Development of a disciplinary-inherent research paradigm and own method, tourism sciences become the discipline tourism science and is then situated within a scientific system.

17Here we take Groß’s argumentation (ibid) that tourism sciences are just entering phase 3. In addition to the existence of a scientific community, represented in the German-speaking countries for example by the German Society for Tourism Studies e. V., the working group Tourism Research in the German Society for Geography e. V. or the Journal of Tourism Studies, the research object in the form of travel, a temporary change of scenery that interrupts everyday life is indisputable. However, an independent methodology and a unifying theory are missing (Freyer 1997, p. 220). Vester (1999) summarizes the theoretical contribution of sociology to tourism research: concepts from researchers such as Max Weber (Action Theory), Erving Goffmann (Interactionism), Pierre Bourdieu (Habitus - Capital - Field), Talcott Parsons (system-theoretical AGIL-Schema), Immanuel Wallerstein (World-System Theory), Zygmunt Bauman (Postmodernism) or Jean Baudrillard (Hyperreality) all provide exciting approaches, however:

„A uniform and completed (super) theory of tourism cannot be derived from the different theoretical offerings in sociology.“ (Vester 1999, p. 119)

18Theoretical relevance with a high level of innovation in tourism sciences are particularly contained in the approaches related to the topics of touristic sustainability (see also Schäfer 2003a) and touristic psychology of perception. Hennig (1997, p. 49) provides an overview of theoretical approaches to date, such as “Tourism as Escape” (Enzensberger 1958), „Tourism as Conformity“ (Knebel 1960), „Tourism as a Drive“ (various authors, e.g., Klaus Dieter Hartmann 1979), „Tourism as Recreation“ (Scheuch 1977), „Tourists as Pilgrims“ (MacCannell 1976), „Tourism and Liminality“ (Turner 1977) or „Post-Tourism“ (e.g., Urry2011). The goal was, within the symbol production and imaginary, to formulate a decisive, psychology of perception-based theoretical approach for tourism sciences.

19„The concept of the imaginary turns out to be – in addition to the notion of not-every day counter worlds – the central concept in tourism theory. It expands access to a series of open problems. This includes the previously raised question about the forces behind the change from every day to not-every day experiential forms. What drives people – apparently in all cultures – to repeatedly go ‚out into the everyday‘? The imagination is one of the essential forces that satisfies the need for temporary release from social rules. Symbol production operates independently from practical requirements. There is always an excess of fantasy that can’t be lived in everyday life. This fantasy occurs in individuals, mostly in the form of dreams, which at the same time are part of the collective images that appear in art, literature, advertising and film. The imagination seeks its space separate from everyday tasks in all individuals in all cultures. Celebrations, daydreams, rituals, games, fairy tales, myths and even modern travel provide space for the imagination.”

20Hennig (1997, p. 40) rejects all other previous approaches in his analysis (see above) for not containing enough complexity or having too little explanatory power. They are mostly nothing more than the formulation of familiar notions, a kind of common sense.

21The idea of the imaginary has also been aired out and varied by other authors (Thimm 2013). Said (1978), Gregory (1995), Decher (2010), Urry (2011) or Wöhler (2011) see this as an important key to explaining human perception and, as a result, human and touristic behavior.

22In addition to the concept of the imaginary, touristic sustainability research has paradigmatic potential:

  • 1 The discourse on sustainable tourism is partially identical to the corresponding English-language d (...)

23Sustainability1 is also a new paradigm in the tourism science discourse, considered complex, normative, imprecise and difficult to operationalize or not operationalizable at all (Saarinen 2006, p. 1123). The concept of sustainability became known outside scientific circles particularly due to the 1987 report „Our Common Future“ from the World Commission on Environment and Development (Hauff 1987). The 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development’s Agenda 21 (UN Conference on Environment and Development (Ed.) 1992, URL: [25/04/17]) offered an implementation attempt with global aspirations. The result is that sustainability is less understood as a measurable and provable variable and more as a normative concept.

24Criticism of the effects of touristic activity in terms of sustainability was already formulated in 1962 by Enzensberger and in 1975 by Krippendorf. The concept the ecological carrying capacity (O’Reilly 1986) in tourism also originated in the 1960s. Due to its static, input-oriented style, this was ultimately replaced by sustainability as a paradigm in the tourism discourse (Saarinen 2006, p. 1122).

25The more recent discussions about sustainable tourism are characterized by increasing differentiation and nuances of the concept in terms of target groups, market segments and regional uniqueness (Buckley 2012, Bramwell & Lane 2013, Tao & Wall 2009 as well as Waligo, Clarke & Hawkins 2013). Buckley (2012) provides an overview of current research and points out insufficiently researched areas such as tourism and demographic change or tourism and peace and emphasizes the relevance of creating and implementing relevant sustainability indicators. Bramwell and Lane (2013) point to the fact that sustainable tourism is still far away from becoming a mainstream activity. The „Sustainable Livelihood Strategy” (Tao & Wall, 2009) and “The Multi-Stakeholder Involvement (MSIM) Framework” (Waligo, Clarke & Hawkins, 2013) list the general success factors for implementing sustainable tourism.

26The two approaches discussed above, the perception psychology-based imaginary and sustainability, represent strong, innovative approaches in tourism sciences. They have the potential to contribute to realizing phase 3. Both approaches have the potential of emancipating themselves from being a research object to becoming a scientific discipline.

27Regarding the current status of tourism research, we agree with Spode’s (1998a, p. 34) perspective:

„However, despite isolated academic accolades, tourism research today is still clinging to the strings of clients and has never attained the status of a science. […] also because it has viewed itself as a sub-discipline of Business Administration Studies - and continues to - therefore basically a discipline whose academic status is highly precarious.”

28Spode (1998a, p. 38) also sees the benefit orientation of science currently demanded by politics and the public as one of the reasons hindering the development of tourism research as a scientific discipline. The dominance of economic factors is viewed critically by Spode (1998b, p. 11):

“The good news is that the business-laden ‘tourism industry’ should no longer bore us with its intellectual modesty, its para-scientific and pseudoscientific charts, empirical typifications and eternal scenarios of the ‘Tourism of the Future.’”

29Biehusen (1993, p. 18) even raises the heretical question of whether tourism research is too „unserious for science“, or simply too banal overall.

30Spode (2009, p. 18) shows that, as a result, “an evidence-based social and cultural-studies tourism research” has developed parallel to a „profit-oriented art theory.”

31Despite Spode’s sarcasm regarding the sub-academic contract research in tourism, a business-friendly tourism research has established itself, normally applying Business Administration models on a 1:1 basis. As a result it can be viewed as a specialized, branch-specific form of Business Administration Studies, specifically a sub-discipline of service management (Pompl 1994, p. 233). It can even be observed that the majority of research and teaching at universities of applied sciences but also to a degree at universities follows this pattern. Overlaps with economic geography approaches are common, for example in the case of destination management.

32This development is the result of the demand for qualified professionals in the tourism industry, but also on the part of the students, who are more interested in working in the field than becoming tourism researchers. The result of this is that touristic market research and marketing are prominent topics of students’ theses, but also the main focuses at tourism science conferences and in the aforementioned contract research. The approval can be seen in the students’ strong demand for a college education that provides professional qualifications and in the requests for business-oriented market research, even if Pompl (cited in Biehusen 1993, p. 18) postulates: „Science must not prostitute itself too quickly to the labor market.”

33Thus, with regard to tourism sciences, Tribe (loc.cit.) actually refers to two Research Fields (see also Sölter 2006, p. 5) that have developed: Tourism Business Studies and Non-Business Tourism Studies, although he sees the former as having a more coherent structure. Therefore, tourism geography would be categorized in the second field, although they also, for their part, look into common questions in Tourism Business Studies (e.g., destination management, hotel management, transport management) and contribute their discipline-inherent spatial perspectives. Ritchie et al. (2011, p. 8), on the other hand, place geography (secondary foundation discipline) in the second row behind other disciplines that would be relevant for the emergence of the tourism science field after defining 21 disciplines that, in their perspective, supply research questions related to tourism (Jafari & Ritchie 1981 cited in Ritchie et al. 2011, p. 5).

34Independent of the paradigm issue, Freyer (1997, p. 230) criticizes:

„While tourism science and research in academia and society are held in high esteem around the world, in Germany it has a microscopic status.”

35Spode (2013, p. 218) strikes the same chord when we bemoans that quality third-party funding such as from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) only trickles in for basis research in tourism.

4.2. Tourism Geography

36The discussion about the proper location for tourism science can be fully transferred to tourism geography. The oft-maligned lack of theory is not alleviated by tourism geography research, even if geography in particular, with its interdisciplinary openness and holistic perspective, is suitable to contribute support for the sustainability approach in tourism research (Hopfinger 2004 p. 36). Tourism geography suffers – as does tourism research in general – from not being particularly appreciated by its own head discipline, in this case geography (Butler 2004, p. 151 and Gibson 2008, p. 418). One result of this is that tourism geographers around the world spend their academic careers in non-geography (tourism) departments, e.g., in business schools or in general geography and publish in general geography, not explicitly tourism geography, journals (Müller 2014, p. 354 ff., Shaw 2010, p. 92 and Ioannides 2006).

37Butler (2004), Gibson (2008) and Shaw (2010) each provide a historical overview of the development of tourism geography after the Second World War. Hall & Page (2009) present a very thorough and comprehensive overview of the state of research in tourism geography. On the basis of their analysis, the authors also favor the concept of tourism geographies instead of tourism geography. Shaw (2010, p. 86) expresses the same view. Hall & Page (ibid) present the overlaps to other areas such as e.g., mobility, crisis management, sustainability, development cooperation, destination management and point to the relevance of the Mobile Turn. Scherle and Hopfinger (2013, p. 89) also address this issue: „Avoid the t word [tourism] and go for the m word [mobility].” The two authors provide an overview of the status and structures in German tourism geography research in which sustainability as well as diversification and fragmentation of topics represent the current relevant reference systems and developments. Kreisel (2004) expresses it in a similar way, adding the additional virtualization of space as a challenge for German tourism geography research. In their fundamental book „The Geography of Tourism and Recreation” (2014 edition, p. xi), Hall & Page point to the status of the multi-layered transformation in which tourism geography currently finds itself: on the one hand its position within human geography and the global environmental changes; and on the other hand in connection with the demands from businesses to carry out more applied research. Hall (2013) discusses current developments in tourism geography against the backdrop of neoliberal influences and the research dominance of „Anglo-American” geography. The journal Tourism Geographies gave international tourism geography its scientific mouthpiece in 1999.

5. Discourse Analysis

5.1. Identifying the Individual Episodes of the Narrative

38In a temporal perspective, the following narrative episodes differentiated: the economic, the sociological, the sustainability-oriented, the geographical and a meta-narrative episode in Tourism Sciences.

39Spode (2013) places the start of the scientific study of tourism in the 1930s and 40s coinciding with the emergence of the tourism industry in Germany and Switzerland. After the Second World War, this was initially a holistic approach focusing on economic relationships (Spode 2003, p. 84). This business branch in tourism sciences continues to the current day with marketing topics dominating.

40The earliest sociological discussions regarding the core of tourism science research provided insights into travel motivation and decisions (Enzensberger 1958, Knebel 1960, Hartmann 1979, Scheuch 1977, MacCannell 1976) and into the psychology of perception (Urry 2011). The research group in Starnberg in the years 1961-1993 was institutionally and content-wise relevant for sociological tourism research (Freyer 1997, p. 219). Urry formulated a constructivist point of view in tourism, which, as a result, was also taken up by other authors (Hennig, Wöhler) and continues to be discussed today, particularly in the framework of New Cultural Geography. The themes of the more or less insular observations regarding travel motivation and decision, which partially only use monocausal explanatory models, finally came to fruition over time in the perceptual-psychological approach of sociological-constructivist considerations.

41With the inclusion of sustainability in tourism, an additional episode can be temporally categorized as follows: The 1987 publication of „Our Common Future” (see above) can be seen as the starting point for the tourism science sub-discourse regarding sustainability which continues to be addressed today in more and more differentiated aspects and will continue to be addressed in the future in terms of the globally operating phenomena of tourism.

42The interdisciplinary-oriented narrative episode of tourism geography often contains in its spatial perspective the previously mentioned episodes of economy, sociology/psychology and sustainability to different degrees based on the research question. It is difficult to determine its exact beginning due to the fact that initially purely descriptive approaches were predominant (Butler 2004, p. 148). Butler (ibid), taking a geographical perspective, tends to use the term „LRT“ (Leisure, Recreation to Tourism) in this context. He traces such initial approaches back to the 1920s, whereby a topic-related differentiation can be observed particularly after the Second World War (Butler ibid).

43In addition to these thematic sub-discourses which, which, along with the topics economy, geography, sustainability and psychology of perception, brought strong research focusses into tourism sciences, the meta-level discourse regarding the question of where tourism sciences should be located continues. The origin of this discussion goes back to Smith (1982), and, even in that article, the question „where is tourism science?” is not fully resolved.

Figure 2 Narrative Episodes in Tourism Sciences

Figure 2 Narrative Episodes in Tourism Sciences

Own representation 2016

44The chart above, with its representation of adjacent blocks, provides a simplification to improve clarity.

45Of course it would be possible to display a more detailed list of additional sub-discourses in tourism sciences including e.g., legal, political, ethnological, and educational aspects according to Jafari’s famous „Wheel” (Jafari 1990, p. 33 cited in Schäfer 2003b, p. 106). Due to the fact that these temporal episodes do not fit to the relevance of those listed above, they are not included in this article.

5.2. Analyzing the episodes in terms of their structure, dominant narratives and a connecting Story Line

46Of all narratives discussed above continue to be relevant and dominant: the economic, temporally continuous, only by virtue of their high value in training and thus relevant for the labor market. A large part of tourism science publications deal with marketing and management questions. The theory-driven, sociological narrative of deconstructivist approaches in the scope of New Cultural Geography continues to play an equally dynamic role. The classic, geographical narrative is in danger of losing its profile or of not receiving sufficient attention in the dominant sustainability narrative. The high, interdisciplinary adaptability of tourism geography is both a blessing and curse at the same time – the geographical profile is in danger of becoming blurred or it stands out as an especially connecting element – with the oft-addressed sustainability approach in tourism geography. Tourism geography in general has the potential to provide a comprehensive perspective, the view of „the big picture” in connecting economic, ecological and constructivist approaches. This integrating element can be the source for developing new theories.

47The meta-level discourse regarding tourism sciences, their self-image and location is not completed. There is a tension between doing service research for the tourism industry and searching for one’s own theoretical concepts, and in this state the field is still struggling with its own identity. This discourse therefore cannot possibly be completed due to the fact that the further development of the field is discussed in exactly this tension as it continues to move through all other narratives and basically contains the potential for volatile, disruptive changes, innovations and progress.

48The connecting Story Line is of course the research object itself: the phenomena of tourism. The sheer economic impact of the now more than a billion international arrivals excludes questioning the social relevance of research on this topic. It is safe to say that some of the marketing or destination management aspects have been over researched. Circular, repetitive deconstuctivist debates can be exhausting and can lead to a desire to get back to the basics. Even the S-Wort (sustainability) moved from in front of the backdrop of Growth First back to the background. The big, independent theoretical concept which will, without a doubt, raise tourism sciences to tourism science, may still be missing, however the threshold can be crossed.

5.3. Determining Matches, Opposites and Evaluations

49Reducing the economic narrative to a purely utilitarian one is not going far enough. Even if the usefulness of the knowledge from a training perspective is undisputed, the interconnections to the other narratives has also been there for a long time. Over researching something, which can lead to incest in all narratives, can be reversed especially by finding inspiration in neighbor disciplines. Thus we find economic tourism research that contains sociological, sustainability-relevant or geographical aspects and vice versa. The economic and sustainability narratives can form opposites, as can the sociological in its strong, often purely theoretical bias, to all the others. The meta-narrative forms a superordinate bracket and the sustainability narrative is surely the one with the strongest foundation based on values. All of course follow strict scientific criteria, are scientifically adequate in their procedures and deal with fake news at most as a research object.

6. Discussion

50Nowotny (1999, p. 98) illustrated the self-reference of universities, whose inmates deliberately ignore the outside world, in the following way:

"Society has problems; the university has departments"

51The retreat from the world is appealing because it’s comfortable and the observation and analysis of phenomena from the outside is wonderfully neutral.

52The identified narratives in tourism sciences do not make full use of their creative and innovative potential. True interdisciplinarity is rare; multidisciplinarity in a contact-free cooperation is more common. When tourism sciences takes a broader view, it allows the tackling of increasingly more complex tourism science questions – the limited perspective does not suffice for resolving current questions and problems.

53The economic and societal relevance of tourism sciences is in inverse proportion to its recognition within the scientific system itself. Funding programs typically pass on tourism sciences.

54The trivialization of tourism in self-confirming filter bubbles in social media is, in this regard, not helpful. In the post-factual age of fake news, the false and irrational in addition to the irrelevant, self-confirming, endlessly vented bubbles of in-groups attains the same or even higher value than science, which, in the spirit of the enlightenment, should of course pursue reason, facts and the truth. And they should, because science certainly can fail: in spectacular fashion in the financial crisis, which the majority of economists didn’t see coming and who also did not supply only true solutions for dealing with it. Then there was the blatant failure of public opinion polls, for example in the 2016 US presidential election and Brexit. If research follows the money, there is the danger of becoming unimaginative and irrelevant on the well-worn paths of the scientific mainstream, even if this path seems to promise more success in the funding lottery. The cases of „contract research” where the line between “bought research” is not clear are extreme. Also tourism sciences must critically question the notoriously positive „market studies” or the role as of an all too enthusiastic service provider for the tourism industry. This questioning, which makes science intellectually pleasurable, has not been seen in the curriculum for a long time. Training by orientating towards quantifiable, normed and exactly based on performance requirements provided by ECTS is the order of the day. Studying becomes a hunt for achievement points in an economically restricted Sudoku (Kühl 2012). Students want qualifications, not education. They want tools, competences and skills that prepare them for the labor market - Employability first.

55What to do?

56The three-fold dilemma in tourism sciences: the missing recognition within the scientific community, the lack of funding, and „alternative facts” in the internet can only be countered with an offensive discourse about its own science or, in heightened form, in transdisciplinary settings, where research from civil society are taken up and, in the sense of a Third Mission, carried out using Collaborative Research and Citizen Science. In this way, the field would make its way more firmly into the middle of society. This requires leaving the self-imposed isolation comfort zone of the reclusive ivory tower. Tourism sciences, with their inherent applied orientation, generally act outside of this comfort zone – this however mostly only with regard to stakeholders/actors in the tourism industry itself. Only by increasingly oriented itself to the people, to the political decision makers, to interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity and compiling facts upon facts can tourism sciences receive the societal relevance that it deserves and avoid becoming a scientific, purely self-referential echo chamber. Such research settings could then, as reflective solutions, bring new impulses to teaching. Also political protests in the sense of „March for Science – out of the lab into the streets” (Aquino et al. URL: [28/03/17]) belongs to the tools of the moment. A fitting slogan from the March for Science was: „There are no alternatives to facts” (Reuters, ]).

57Everything else is fake news and can be discarded.

7. Conclusion

58The tourism sciences are on the threshold of becoming an independent tourism science, too far removed from its actual societal and scientific relevance and generally threatened by the fake news trend. The discourse analysis shows the high complexity level of tourism sciences as both a strength and weakness at the same time: multiple access points allow for the adequate investigation of real-life and theoretical aspects. Yet, at the same time, this can simultaneously blur tourism science’s profile. A general strengthening is needed to increase the impact of tourism sciences in society, politics and the scientific community; breaking away from the self-confirmation discourse provide tourism sciences increased relevance and expand the field’s own discourse spaces. The field would thus not only serve itself, but would also offer something to counteract the dangerous trend of equating truth and falsehood. It should not exclusively indulge itself in solutionism. The orientation towards society does not mean foregoing scientific reflection and becoming trivial. The professional discourse circle of the scientific community (see also thorough description in Pechlaner/Zehrer 2017) of course cannot be replaced, and the hermetic ivory tower can also be used as an intellectual retreat. This alone is however not sufficient to meet the current challenges facing tourism sciences.

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1 The discourse on sustainable tourism is partially identical to the corresponding English-language discourse in Thimm’s (2014) conference paper Sustainable Rural Tourism in Germany – The Case of Eco-camping at the Responsible Tourism Conference in Kumarakom, India (June, 2013). Thimm T.: Sustainable Rural Tourism in Germany - The Case of Eco-camping. In: Vijayakumar, B. (Ed.) Environment Tourism and Development. International Perspectives. Thiruvananthapuram. 2014. p. 236 - 248. They have been modified, updated and amended for the current article.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1: Categories of tourism geography research.
Crédits Own representation 2016
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Titre Figure 2 Narrative Episodes in Tourism Sciences
Crédits Own representation 2016
Fichier image/jpeg, 80k
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Référence électronique

Prof. Dr. Tatjana Thimm, « “Is this science or can we get rid of it?  », Via [En ligne], 13 | 2018, mis en ligne le 01 septembre 2018, consulté le 10 décembre 2023. URL :

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Prof. Dr. Tatjana Thimm

HTWG Konstanz - University of Applied Sciences

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Andreas Heller

Translator at the Department of Business, Cultural and Legal Studies at HTWG Konstanz - University of Applied Sciences, Germany

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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