Cultures and natures of tourism

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The Cultures and natures of tourism research group studies the multiple manifestations of tourism in human societies, both as a research object in its own right and as an entry point for the observation of various social phenomena. Indeed, tourism is not only an object of knowledge that can be isolated for analysis. It is also an indicator of multiple societal phenomena such as individual and collective identity, the urban, the imaginary, bio-physical resources, politics, economics, mobility, etc. Indeed, tourism's views on these different social realities and the way tourists mobilise them in their practices are essential to understand the changing place of cultures and natures of tourism over time.

The strategic aim of the research is to produce high quality interdisciplinary work on the diversity of contemporary forms of tourism and its spaces. Our work addresses epistemological, theoretical, methodological, empirical and societal aspects of tourism. We see tourism as an object of study in itself as well as a conceptual framework for thinking through and with tourism, and for understanding other social phenomena.

Our approach is critical and constructive - which also includes criticism of tourism criticism. It also aims to propose solutions for problematic situations. We want our work to be relevant to the major issues of social, environmental, political and technological change facing contemporary humanity.

Our research is structured in five axes

Touristic practices of nature

Here we investigate the articulation and the transformation of the notion of ‘nature’ through the various practices and strategies of actors in the area of tourism. Originating from philosophy and religion, this notion has become a powerful common category of discourse, especially in the field of tourism. Thus, we try to seize the different ‘eco-symbolic’ meanings attached to the components of the biophysical world which belong to different forms of tourism, especially those mainly based on nature imageries like ’nature-based’ tourism in general, eco-tourism, geotourism, … We also question the ways in which these conceptions are appropriated by the actors, i.e. tourists as well as tourism professionals: the perception and enjoyment of landscape and of natural heritage; the ‘natural’ environment as the frame of an ‘authentic’ – or even ‘spiritual’ experience; formations and readings of region (terroir); production and circulation of ‘natural’ essences (food, alcohol products…). How do these elements, often used as ‘resources’ by the actors, combine economic, metaphorical and ecological functions? How do they circulate in a global world, and with what consequences?

Keywords: geographical imageries of tourism, ecotourism, sustainability, geotourism


Constructing touristic spaces
The subject of this part is the characterization, categorization and analysis of development processes of geographical locations as tourist areas. The touristic space as ‘mythical space’ but also as ‘commonplace’ is central here. The focus lies on the emergence of the urbanness and symbolic centralities of tourist places allows the cross-fertilization between ‘urban studies’ and ‘tourism studies’. The systematic analysis of the dynamics involved in the process of touristification allows the identification of different elements underlying the development into tourist places. Through the concept of ‘tourist capital' we explore institutional arrangements, economic, cultural, spatial, symbolic, political preconditions governing the development of tourist places and their integration into a global tourism field. In particular, in the current context of the 'overtourism' controversy in European cities, we study the advent of new forms of tourism governance in cities linked to the development of big data, as well as the mobilisation of the statistical argument, both by those who resist tourism and by those for whom tourism is positive, or even necessary for the economy.

Keywords: centrality, tourist capital, urban, urbanization, touristification, tourism quantification<

Governance and the politics of tourism

This research area focuses on the investigation of the relations between different public and private actors participating in regulating the field of tourism. The studies in this field are especially interested in cooperative and conflictive, formal and informal relations between political and administrative decision-makers, tourism service providers (hotels, restaurants, traders, carriers, tour operators, etc.), representative organizations (professional associations), tourism offices, social and environmental civil society actors, local population and last but not least tourists themselves. We study both the strategies and power relationships of those involved in tourism as well as global, national, regional and local tourism frameworks and regulations - always from a multi-level governance perspective. We pay special attention to public policies that favour the growth and at the same time attempt to control the environmental and social effects of tourism. The focus is on natural, infrastructure or symbolic resource management as well as on the question of climate change adaptation strategies. 

Keywords: power structures, tourism-related public policy analysis, climate change adaptation, resource management

Contemporary issues of tourism

The aim of this thematic field is to question the signification of the cultural and social changes and transformations generated by touristic activities. The touristic economy transforms prevailing value systems and social relations, especially in tourist destinations. The tourist gaze (in its broadest sense) has the power to challenge the dynamics of otherness and identity in the contemporary world, to lead to the process of heritageing of nature, material culture and social life, to transform gender relations and to articulate work, leisure and residential mobility. Our research does not only examine conflicts and controversies due to the changes and bifurcations induced by tourism at different levels (states, regions, villages, groups, individuals), but also questions common convictions related to tourism as social reality.

Keywords: touristic practices, inequalities, identity/othering, gender, heritage 


Cultures of mobility
The focus of our team here is on practices of touristic mobility in geographic space. We grasp mobility as a change of place of a body that follows itineraries inscribed as a symbolic logic, of an imaginary geography, of ritual topographies. We take into account that tourist itineraries are set up and followed within the framework of technological, hospitality-driven, security-led and institutional infrastructure. By integrating tourism in the research area of ‘mobility studies’, the investigation concentrates on the analysis of linkages of tourism with other forms of mobility (such as forced migration, economic migration, provisional mobility, second homes, diasporas, ancestrality, pilgrimage, mobile communities). And we also consider the systems (i.e. digital technologies) that make these sorts of tourist mobility possible. Particular emphasis is given to the significance of tourism in different ‘dwelling styles’ and hence the team is concerned with cultures of mobility and tourism in different social configurations. Important topics here are: the relation to ‘the other’, the construction of authenticity, the decoupling of work and tourism.

Keywords: polytopical dwelling, mobilities, spatiality of tourism practices, spatial capital