Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Encounters and Mobilities: Conceptual Issues in Tourism Studies in Southeast Asia

Academic journal article SOJOURN: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia

Encounters and Mobilities: Conceptual Issues in Tourism Studies in Southeast Asia

Article excerpt

A persistent theme in research on tourism in Southeast Asia during the past two decades has been the importance of understanding encounters and interactions, drawing in part on symbolic interactionist perspectives (see, for example, Argyle 2009, pp. 9-14; Berg 2001, pp. 8-10; Blumer 1969, p. 5), and situated within an understanding of wider processes and structures of change (see Lyons and Wells 2012). The concern with encounters was captured appositely in Valene Smith's dual categorization of "hosts" and "guests" and their interrelationships and exchanges (Smith 1977, 1989); it has remained central to recent collaborative work on heritage sites, though the simple categorical opposition between local residents and visitors from outside needs modification to address the complexities of touristic encounters.

Our understanding of encounters--both chance and planned or arranged meetings, and those which are one-off or multiple, regular or irregular, and reciprocal, collaborative, complementary or adversarial--remains the central focus of the tourist experience. These encounters comprise person-to-person relationships, those which operate between groups or at least between members or representatives of groups, and those between local communities and national and international bodies and agencies. They also include interactions of individuals and groups within electronic and media networks and with information technology, the study of which raises the whole issue of images and representations; between individuals and information provided in material form such as guidebooks, tourist and government agency literature, books on travel, signage and displays at sites; and between individuals and material objects in museums and exhibition centres, at archaeological and heritage sites and in natural landscapes. Encounters are often cross-ethnic, cross-cultural and cross-national. But the rapid increase in travel, leisure and tourism within national boundaries and between more or less common culture areas requires us to qualify their cross-cultural dimension. The distinction and sometimes opposition between "domestic" and "international" tourists merits scrutiny, though this categorization remains a useful rough-and-ready way to capture broad differentiations.

Researchers in tourism studies have long acknowledged the need to deconstruct the too simple binary distinctions between "hosts" and "guests", the "local" and "foreign", and the "domestic" and "international" (see, for example, Franklin and Crang 2001; Sherlock 2001), but underlying these categories is the realization that tourism, by its very nature as process and event that require and are defined by mobility, generates encounters. What is more, the behaviours generated, in, for example bodily expressions, language, dress; the motivations and interpretations implicated in them; and their character --whether they are one-off and temporary, or continuous, reciprocal or conflictual--and, finally, the consequences of these interactions are part and parcel of the everyday work of social scientists in their attempts to comprehend the dynamics of social and cultural life.

It is worthwhile reflecting briefly on the development of tourism studies, and in particular on the sociological and anthropological study of tourism from the early 1990s, in a specifically Southeast Asian and wider Asian context and noting the research interests that have emerged in the field. This contextualization comprises a personal reflection based on a particular approach to research that I have termed "jobbing" in other contexts (see King 2009a). It also reflects my involvement in multidisciplinary studies--area studies, development studies, environmental studies, museum studies and tourism and heritage studies. In his approach to the study of tourism as outlined in Scott Cohen's portrait (S. Cohen 2013), Erik Cohen decided not to adopt a particular theoretical paradigm and follow it relentlessly. …

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