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I. Idea & problem

1The matter and inherent problematic of simplified tourism representations poses an ongoing quest within tourism studies. Departing from the understanding that destinations compete among each other to attract tourists, multilayered meanings of peoples, places and cultures collapse into unified imageries. In consequence, this entails that constructing such representations there must be processes of selecting certain representations over others, thereby steering up questions of power. One is ought to ask critically: Which images are being lifted up and which are being suppressed? Who or what is being included or being left out? Whose voices are being heard or silenced? Whose story is being told? Yet, it is important to keep in mind that such power dynamics may not be apparent or inevitable, but can be subtle and naturalized in local discourse and practice.

2The presented thesis addresses such questions qualitatively in the context of tourism in northern Fennoscandia, ranging over northern Sweden, Norway and Finland. In these areas, typical tourism constructions may for instance include the ‘Arctic’, the ‘North’, the ‘Remote’, ‘Lapland’, the ‘Wilderness’ or the ‘Indigenous’, hinting at the actual (or presumed) presence of Sámi people, marketed as ‘Europe’s only indigenous people’. Whilst working through imageries of ‘otherness’, touristic representations simultaneously omit other local aspects which may well be the industrial, urban, academic or modern. Moreover, categories such as ‘Lapland’ or ‘the Sámi’ force complex areas and people into unitary groups, thereby neglecting existing heterogeneity within. In this vein, we suggest that there is an ongoing ‘Arctification’ and ‘Indigenization’, which may be seen as a kind of political action and discourse (Viken and Müller, 2017). Moreover, it is being debated to what extent such processes may be shaped by (post-) colonial structures. This may for instance concern questions of cultural appropriation and indigenous agency, especially when it comes to particular symbols, handicrafts and other cultural forms of expression, which are being interpreted and constructed as ‘Sámi’.

II. Aim

3Hence, if tourism representations simplify meanings of people, places and cultures, working through essentializing discourse and exerting power, there is a need for research to critically deconstruct the processes behind such representations. Accordingly, the discourses and practices producing specific imageries need to be unwrapped in order to understand the ways they may perpetuate discriminatory practices or restrict individual’s agency.

4Structured cumulatively, the thesis work consists of five papers developed along two main foci. The first objective was to grasp more widely which representations are indeed being used in the northern Fennoscandian context and understand the ways they are being co-constructed by different stakeholders, thereby taking into particular account local tourism actors. The second objective was to more narrowly deconstruct the discourses and practices surrounding souvenirs and handicraft objects, interpreting the latter as tangible tourism representations, where multiple meanings and constructions manifest themselves. This opened up a theoretical triangle in the work studying the local interplay between tourism, ethnic identities and souvenir/handicraft objects.

III. Conceptual framework

5Illustrating these underlying dynamics, figure 1 brings together the multiple concepts in one framework.

Figure 1 Conceptual framework

Figure 1 Conceptual framework

6The framework departs from the understanding of tourism as a practice, where people, places and objects come together and interact. Tourism functions like a frame for these interactions, which is symbolized by the circle holding them together in a particular moment or under a specific perspective. As people then speak and act, they produce diverse discourses, illustrated through the inner speech bubble. In the context of tourism, those can be discourses of othering, authentication, ethnicization, indigenization as well as other processual linguistic or embodied constructions. Thereby, individuals and groups contribute to the co-construction of representations, which may for instance be based on the place with its nature or people’s culture. Since these representations are not whole or equal in that they could represent the ongoing local heterogeneity and include voices democratically, they also elucidate power dynamics, which can reflect back on individual people or groups. This dynamic is represented by the circular arrow, where the co-construction of representations implicates the exertion of power, which may then again interfere with people as well as sometimes shape places or objects physically. The figure thus clearly demonstrates the overarching problem addressed in the thesis, where the representations that are continually being produced in a tourism context, may be privileging certain people or voices while marginalizing others.

IV. Methodological approach & fieldwork

7Against this background, the overall methodological line of the thesis takes a discursive approach to tourism, seeking to deconstruct diverse discourses of othering, authentication, or ethnicization, taking into particular account the voices of local tourism entrepreneurs (Pietikäinen and Dufva, 2006). Discourses are being understood here as intertextual ways of continually (re-)producing meanings and norms in specific social contexts.

8This approach reflects an ongoing shift in tourism studies towards more critical, constructivist and processual understandings. Cohen and Cohen (2012), for instance, seek to shift research attention from ‘authenticity’ to ‘authentication’, thus allowing for the examination of the processes of something being legitimated as authentic. Viken and Müller (2017) equally write of ‘indigenization’ instead of ‘indigeneity’ to highlight that processual approach. This shift reflects on the type of questions, that are being asked; for instance, instead of asking ‘what is an authentic souvenir?’, it may then be more pertinent to explore ‘how is a certain object being authenticated or being constructed as souvenir?’, and similarly for processes of othering, indigenization, and so forth. Hence, the analytical objective taking such approach is not to consider whether any statement is ‘true’ per se, but how objects or concepts are being constituted through processes of legitimization or normalization.

9Practically, the thesis is based on extensive fieldwork and interviews with local tourism actors in northern Fennoscandia in the years 2015/2016. In the first research phase, these were mainly outdoor tourism entrepreneurs (7 interviewees), while in the second, more extended research phase, these actors were people selling and/or making souvenirs and handicrafts (35 interviewees). The interviews followed a semi-structured guideline, allowing for the conversations to develop openly and organically. The following analytical interpretations are based on the understanding that the knowledge created between interviewee and researcher need to be regarded as intersubjective as well as situated. Therefore, the thesis includes a thorough reflection of the multiple positionalities of the author.

10One further notable methodological consideration, was that interview partners were not chosen based on their ethnicity, but only relative to their work within tourism. Following a Barthian approach (Barth, 1969), this avoided pre-categorizing ethnicity, e.g. in Sámi and non-Sámi people, allowing for ethnic talk to be brought up (or not brought up) in the interview conversations.

Key findings

11The findings showed firstly, that the different stakeholders in northern Fennoscandia co-construct the destination as arctic, wintery, remote, northern, wild, traditional as well as indigenous destination. It was notable that the local actors seemed to be holding power and agency in these construction processes.

12Secondly, concerning the topic of souvenirs, the work illustrates the complexity of the concept. While the sellers and crafters in this research project tended to speak of their products as art objects, Nordic design products, jewelry or handicrafts, and often rejected the term ‘souvenir’, there was an understanding that those same objects may become souvenirs in the interaction with tourists. Through processes of authentication, such as storytelling or labelling, meanings for these objects are being co-constructed. While other studies assume a clear separation between ‘souvenirs’ and ‘handicrafts’, this work highlighted the fluidity of these categories.

13Equally, in the academic literature souvenirs are often discussed as objects of meaning from a tourist perspective, but taken less seriously from the local or seller side. The interviews emphasized however, how different objects - whether mass-produced or handmade - may hold meaning to individuals at local level; through those they may participate in deciding what represents their area, they may want to emphasize the local or sustainable, as well as to express their sense of aesthetics or their personalities.

14In line with other studies, this work stressed the complex interplay of ethnicity (or indigeneity) with tourism dynamics; while tourism on the one hand allows a celebration of ethnicity, or local culture more widely, it on the other hand also fosters the commercialization of the latter. When then ethnic symbols are being interpreted to be incorporated in souvenirs or handicrafts, these objects become political. The findings showed that different people draw various ethnic boundaries of what they regard as appropriate, who they interpret should be using, selling and making certain symbols or objects, as well as where they perceive boundaries to be crossed.

15Parallelly, there were diverse norms transgressing the discourses in the individual interviews. Many people today interpret Sáminess as an attractive attribute, in contrast to its historic stigma. Accordingly, Sámi handicrafts were often seen as more attractive and sold at higher prices than other local handicrafts and, in the interaction with tourists this dynamic may be reinforced. Finally, this construction was present also in the linguistic divide between ‘Sámi’ and ‘non-Sámi’; these categories were being used at local level to speak of objects, people, shops, handicraft schools and communities. While these categorizations may be intended to protect culture, they also exclude people and create a divide, while making Sáminess into a homogenous category.

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Barth, F. (1969), Ethnic groups and boundaries : The Social Organization of Culture Difference, Universitetsforlaget, Oslo.

Cohen, E. and Cohen, S. A. (2012), Authentication : Hot and cool. Annals of Tourism Research, 39(3), pp.  1295-1314. doi : 10.1016/j.annals.2012.03.004

Pietikäinen, S. and Dufva, H. (2006), Voices in discourses : Dialogism, Critical Discourse Analysis and ethnic identity. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 10(2), pp.  205-224. doi :10.1111/j.1360-6441.2006.00325.x

Viken, A. and Müller, D. K. (2017), Tourism and Indigeneity in the Arctic, Channel View Publications, Bristol.


Keskitalo, E. C. H., Schilar, H., Heldt Cassel, S., and Pashkevich, A. (2019), “Deconstructing the indigenous in tourism. The production of indigeneity in tourism-oriented labelling and handicraft/souvenir development in Northern Europe”, Current Issues in Tourism. doi : 10.1080/13683500.2019.1696285

Schilar, H., & Keskitalo, E. C. H. (2018), “Ethnic boundaries and boundary-making in handicrafts : examples from northern Norway, Sweden and Finland”, Acta Borealia, 35(1), pp.  29-48. doi :10.1080/08003831.2018.1456073

Schilar, H., & Keskitalo, E. C. H. (2018), “Elephants in Norway : Meanings and authenticity of souvenirs from a seller/crafter perspective”, Tourism, Culture and Communication, 18(2), pp.  85-99. doi :10.3727/109830418X15230353469483

Schilar, H., & Keskitalo, E. C. H. (2018), “Tourism Activity as an Expression of Place Attachment - Place Perceptions and Experiences among Tourism Actors in the Jukkasjärvi Area, Northern Sweden”, Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism, 18, pp.  42-59. doi :10.1080/15022250.2017.1389123

Keskitalo, E. C. H., & Schilar, H. (2016), “Co-Constructing “Northern” Tourism Representations Among Tourism Companies, DMOs and Tourists. An Example from Jukkasjärvi, Sweden”, Scandinavian Journal of Hospitality and Tourism, 17(4), pp.  402-422. doi :10.1080/15022250.2016.1230517

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Titre Figure 1 Conceptual framework
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Hannelene Schilar, « ‘Arctic’ tourism representations and the voices within », Via [En ligne], 18 | 2020, mis en ligne le 27 décembre 2020, consulté le 21 juin 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Hannelene Schilar

Hannelene Schilar is a tourism researcher interested in studying tourism with its complex and critical interrelations. She has completed her master studies in Human Geography at Umea University in northern Sweden. In this geographical context, she has carried out extensive fieldwork on (1) Solo-hikers in northern Fennoscandia and (2) Tourism, souvenirs and ethnicity in

these areas. In 2020, she defended her Ph.D. thesis on ‘Arctic tourism representations and the Voices within’ at the University of Freiburg. She continues to be interested in critical tourism studies, through qualitative work as well as methodological questions.

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