Culture on Display: The Production of Contemporary Visitability

Culture on Display: The Production of Contemporary Visitability

Culture on Display: The Production of Contemporary Visitability

Culture on Display: The Production of Contemporary Visitability


"a welcome addition to a growing body of scholarly writing... a comprehensive critical survey of the literature on cultural heritage and tourism and associated issues in the fields of cultural and media studies over the previous decade. These concepts and issues are clearly presented and exemplified in the case studies of numerous sites of cultural display..." Southern Review
  • Why is culture so widely on display?
  • What are the major characteristics of contemporary cultural display?
  • What is the relationship between cultural display and key features of contemporary society: the rise of consumerism; tourism; 'identity-speak'; globalization?
  • What can cultural display tell us about current relations of self and other, here and there, now and then?
Culture on Display invites the reader to visit culture. Reflecting on the contemporary proliferation of sites displaying culture in visitable form, it offers fresh ways of thinking about tourism, leisure and heritage.

Bella Dicks locates diverse exhibitionary locations within wider social, economic and cultural transformations, including contemporary practices of tourism and travel, strategies of economic development, the staging of identities, globalization, interactivity and relations of consumerism. In particular, she critically examines how culture becomes transformed when it is put on display within these contexts. In each chapter, key theoretical issues of debate, such as authenticity, commodification and representation, are discussed in a lively and accessible manner.

This is an important book for undergraduate and postgraduate students of cultural policy, cultural and media studies and sociology, as well as academic researchers in this field. It will also be of considerable value to students of sociology of culture, cultural politics, arts administration and cultural management.


The image of the tourist is one which has long attracted scorn (‘Of all noxious animals,’ the English diarist Francis Kilvert wrote in 1870, ‘the most noxious is a tourist’), yet one which many of us self-consciously embody, or otherwise have imposed upon us, from time to time. We know the rituals, how we are supposed to behave, and where we are expected to point our camera, if we want to try to capture the ‘true essence’ of the ‘authentic’ scene before us. and yet, in holding a camera to our eye, we also effect a sense of distance, ostensibly removing ourselves from our surroundings. It is as if we can glimpse – for a fleeting moment – a world somehow made strange by the very act of observation.

Culture on Display: the Production of Contemporary Visitability offers an array of fascinating insights into the key issues at stake here. Bella Dicks explores the ways in which public places are made to assume a visitorfriendly face, demonstrating that it is a complex process achieved primarily through various strategies of cultural display. of particular significance, she argues, is the manner in which ‘visitability’ is defined. To be visitable, public places must be seen to be consumer-friendly, accessible, interactive, performative and safe. Dicks suggests that such a definition has profound implications for our sense of what counts as ‘culture’ in everyday contexts. Culture effectively becomes something to be handled, modelled, even simulated. It also becomes equated with the idea of the world as a mosaic of distinctively colourful, performable identities, the pleasurable experience of which is available for purchase. She proceeds to examine a number of display sites configuring culture in this way, including city spaces, heritage exhibitions, museums, theme parks and virtual destinations in cyberspace.

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