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Postcolonialism and community based tourism in the Global South

General overview on postcolonialism & tourism

Postcolonialism is a highly contested field and ever since Edward Said crystallised the general theories of post colonialism into his book Orientalism in 1978. Since his postcolonial critique, there have been many writers and scholars who have written about postcolonialism, although the very definition of postcolonialism is subject to debate. Be it as it may, postcolonialism can be defined as a “reflexive Western thought, interrogating and rethinking the very terms by which it has constructed knowledge through the duality of coloniser and the colonised (d’Hauteserre, 2008, p.235). Postcolonialism has had an impact on tourism studies as well. d’Hautessere (2008, p.237) writes that the”relationship between the post/colonial studies and tourism is largely centred on the ‘exoticism’ that many tourists seek in former colonies.” The colonised world is used as a landscape on which the meanings and stories have now been inscribed. In a way the exotic is seen as interesting but inferior to the Western way of life. The interesting aspects of the exotic locations, are the very contrasts that they offer to the uniformly well ordered Western way of life. In that sense, the Western traveller seen the exotic locations as interesting but inferior specimen. d’Hautessere (2008) argues that by using postcolonialism and tourism, the myth of the colonial exotic has been perpetuated. She says that the colonial narratives of yesteryears and the tourist narratives of today have both gone on to perpetuate such myths of the exoticism of the colonised world. Decolonisation of former colonies has therefore not ended imperialism or unequal relationships between the coloniser and the colonised, rather imperialism has been allowed to continue in the garb of tourism (d’Hauteserre, 2008). Postcolonialism and the view towards the Global South, that is, the erstwhile colonies of the European empires, is greatly overloaded with the Western narrative. This narrative also has its impact felt in the tourism discourse. The community development programmes, or the participatory model of tourism is contested from this perspective because the critics of these programmes say that communities are expected to reflect the Western ideas of themselves within the community development initiatives, which may not be entirely correct in the contemporary times.


postcolonial critiques of community based tourism as a development tool in the Global South (because normally they are

The first important question for those advocating or writing about community development programmes, is as asked by Blackstock (2005), “What or who is the community in community based tourism?” The answer is deeply contested especially in the postcolonial narrative because the power to define community, especially in the global South, is usually vested in the Western perspectives and ideas. Regardless of the contested versions of what community means, participatory models that take community into confidence have found support in different corners of the world. For Bhattacharya (2004), community development had two components: community is basically solidarity of peoples with shared values, norms and identity; and development is essentially an agency or even autonomy, which can defined as:

the capacity of the people to order their world, the capacity to create, reproduce, change and live according to their own meaning systems, to have to power to define themselves as opposed to being defined by others (Bhattacharya, 2004, p.12).

Thus, for Bhattacharyya (2004) it was important that people be given the opportunity to be producers of their own life chances; an opportunity to voice their needs and demands; and participation must be encouraged at every opportunity. Many community development projects may not really take into consideration the actual needs of the community that they seek to represent. In the global South, this problem is compounded by postcolonial narratives that shape the community development programmes from the perspective of how the community is to be represented to the tourists, actual non participation of the community itself and the drive and push of the tourism industry, which is more profits driven. Aslam et al (2016) take a critical viewpoint of whether there can be achievements in sustainable tourism. They argue that the global south or developing regions of the world is where tourism is rapidly growing and these regions cannot be ignored. Friedman says: citizens around the world have begun to search for an alternative development that is less tied to the dynamics of industrial capitalism. Emancipatory movements have emerged to push for a more positive vision of the future…and in a series pursuit of a balanced natural environment, gender equality, the abolition of racism and the eradication of grinding poverty (1987, p.10). Blackstock (2005) argues that tourism depends on the goodwill of the residents and that has become the basis for broader issues in community development and participatory planning. In fact, as she points out, “community development explicitly seeks to dismantle barriers to participation and develop emancipatory collective responses to local issue” (Blackstock, 2005, p.50). For Blackstock (2005, p.50), the most basic critique against the community development programmes is that it diverges from the ‘ethos of community development’ and instead risks becoming what can only be called a ‘community development imposter’. This happens in three ways: first, through a focus on sustaining tourism development and meeting community needs leads to a lack of transformative potential; second, by treating communities as homogenous blocks instead of the varied groups of people that they really are; and third, by ignoring the extent to which local decisions are situated within broader ideological contexts and this really affects their power to affect change (Mair, 2014, p.54). Undoubtedly, community development and participatory planning bases itself on grounds of betterment of the community. However these methods are not without their critiques. These critiques have been important in bringing attention to the “potential for tourism planning process that engages the community to fall apart or simply to reinforce the power structures that are already in place” (Mair, 2014, p.52). This goes to the root of whether stakeholder participation has been effectively implemented in community development programmes. Bramwell (2004) listed three strategies to ensure better stakeholder protection. These three strategies include: increased inclusion of communities so that the participatory panning is done in the most democratic manner; ensuring the non-participants too are able to build their institutional capacities and self-confidence; and consulting all parties, whether or not they are actively involved or not (Bramwell, 2004, p.542). Vrasti (2013) writes about Guatemala and how community development programmes have shaped in the region. She says that the experience of volunteer tourism has helped to distance tourism from ecological destruction, economic exploitation and commercial orientation of the modern mass tourism (p.56). Volunteer tourism allows experiences away from the urbanised and industrial world of the first world countries and offers a view of a different world to travellers from the Western world. In Vrasti’s (2013) viewpoint, this alternate world is that of cultural exchange, which is governed by “transnational responsibility and charitable ambitions”, which makes tourism a commodity that is beyond reproach. However, as she points out with respect to Guatemala’s experience, this is really not the case. Volunteer tourism is not really above reproach from the consumerist point of view. She writes that: Volunteering in Guatemala failed to elicit the care and compassion that I had expected from a grassroots philanthropic enterprise. Volunteers could understand neither the purpose of their work projects, nor the problems they were supposed to address…..The affective response volunteering produced instead drew upon a romantic longing for authentic meaning and spiritual renewal, deeply lodged in the consciousness of affluent Western consumers and produced a multicultural appreciation for the “poor but happy” lifestyle of the developing populations. If the town of San Andres was not poor enough for volunteers to demonstrate their humanitarian sensibilities, it at least was small enough to allow tourists to ‘fall in love’ with the local people and culture. As was to be expected, this sentimental education had its nefarious consequences (Vrasti, 2013, p.56). Vrasti’s writing is an important indicator of the need for critical viewpoints on community development programmes in the context of tourism. - Self-Other binary & power relation context It is interesting that postcolonialism has seen the power of narrative on indigenous culture to be with the Western people. Therefore, the indigenous peoples have been objectified and made to be mute spectators, while others define their own culture. As far as the Western narrative is concerned, it may itself be heavily loaded with a narrative that focusses on invention of the exotic, rather than the reality. So much so that those natives who are Westernised, are viewed by the Westerners as “inventors of themselves and false representatives of their authentic and primitive cultures” (Friedman, 1998). In part, the growing worldwide popularity of indigenous people’s arts and culture and artefacts, is to blame. Here, the demand from tourism is to partake of that authentic art and culture and when denied that opportunity there is a feeling of being cheated as far as the tourist is concerned. In such a situation, the ability of the indigenous peoples to interpret their own cultures, to defend the integrity of their cultures and to receive the compensation for the use and enjoyment of their cultural manifestations by tourists becomes very contested (d’Hauteserre, 2008, p.241), because it takes away the power to define. It is worthwhile to note what Hall had to say about this: Colonisation so refigured the terrain, that, ever since, the idea of a world of separate identities, of isolated or separable or self-sufficient cultures and economies, has been obliged to yield to a variety of paradigms, designed to capture these different but related forms of relationship, interconnection and discontinuity (1996, pp.252-3). Thus, difficulty of divorcing definitions of peoples from the pre conceived Western notions of authenticity of indigenous culture and peoples. This can also be seen with the example of the way Africans, ‘authentic’ and ‘westernised’ are defined from a Western perspective. A real African is someone who still lives in the bush and goes naked. It is this real African that the tourist wants to experience for the satisfaction of the need for the exotic. Never mind that more and more Africans, like people elsewhere in the world are not in the bushes. However the postcolonial definitions of primitive peoples and cultures demand that image to be realised. The problem is that such places and peoples are not really the same as how they are represented in literature, and this leads to disenchantment. Marmol (2014) writes about the Catalan Pyrenees and how the realities of the place may contrast with the more romanticised narrative that channels the rural authenticity of the place. She goes on to compare this with the narratives of other such romanticised places in the world where “Western representations of rural society as an ancient but a continuing way of life has acted as a myth that has concealed local and historical specificities” (Marmol, 2014). For Marmol, this need to romanticise and idealise the rural past has been strategically cultivated and institutionalised in order to feed a regionalist political agenda and she calls this ‘heritage politics’. Talking of the Catalan region, she points out that the tourism in the region has developed in the last 30 years with a specific agenda. As a process of enchantment, tourists have been enticed into the region by transforming attractions that feed from romantic traditions and bucolic perspectives (Marmol, 2014). This is interesting because Marmol shifts the liability for maintenance of the myth of rural charm on the hosts and not on the visitors. Santos (2014) is even more evocative in describing the chasm between the past and the present realities. He writes about the use of theme parks that are centred around the past colonial lands and the power of imagery that creates and reinforces ideas about the colonised land. He also speaks about the different world outside of these themes that changed long time ago.

Reference List

    1. Aslam, M., Cooper, M.J.M, Othman, N. and Lew A.A. (2016). Sustainable Tourism in the Global South: Communities, Environments and Experiences. Cambridge Scholars.
    2. Bhattacharyya, J. (2004). Theorising Community Development. 34 Community Development Journal 2.
    3. Blackstock, K. (2005). A Critical Look at Community Based Tourism. 40 Community Development Journal 1.
    4. Bramwell, B. (2004). Partnerships, Participation and Social Science Research in Tourism Planning. In A Lew, CM Hall and AM Williams (Eds.), A Companion to Tourism. Oxford: Blackwell.
    5. d’Hauteserre, A.M. (2008). Postcolonialism, Colonialism and Tourism. In Alan A. Lew, C. Michael Hall, Allan M. Williams (Eds.), A Companion to Tourism. John Wiley & sons.
    6. Friedmann, J. (1987). Planning in the Public Domain: From Knowledge to Action. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
    7. Mair, H. (2014). Trust and Participatory Tourist Planning. In Robin Nuncio and Stephen L.J. Smith (Eds.), Trust, Tourism Development and Planning. Routledge.
    8. Marmol, C.D. (2014). Through Other Times: The Politics of Heritage and the Past in the Caralan Pyrenees. In David Picard, Michael A. Di Giovine (eds.) Tourism and the Power of Otherness: Seductions of Difference. Channel View Publications.
    9. Santos, P.M. (2014). Calling on the Lost Empire: The Evocative Powers of Miniatures in a Portuguese National Theme Park. In David Picard, Michael A. Di Giovine (eds.) Tourism and the Power of Otherness: Seductions of Difference. Channel View Publications.
    10. Vrasti, W. (2013). Volunteer Tourism in the Global South: Giving Back in Neoliberal Times. Routledge.

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