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Detourism: An Appraisal and Critique of Travelling Theory

Part 1 Dissertation 2007
Michael Griffiths
University of Edinburgh Edinburgh UK
This paper explores a fundamental principle of tourism, that of the designation and construction of destinations in relation to the expectations and the actions of the tourist. The topic emerged from an interest in an exhibition entitled ‘Detourism’ that attempted to dissolve the distinction between ‘here’ and ‘there’. The purpose of this paper is to outline how and why ‘there’ is recognised as different from ‘here’ through an investigation of several underlying traits of tourism. These include the effect of globalisation, societal requirements and the influences of tourism discourses and literature. In this way, the work attempts to disturb the familiar attitudes and bases of tourism.

Destinations are developed through media such as guidebooks, brochures, architecture and advertisements. These successfully label and produce places, and through familiar claims of ‘beauty’, ‘culture’ and the ‘exotic’, can be seen as providing an impetus for travel. Therefore, as a large factor in tempting tourists, an analysis and deconstruction of tourism through various media and current tourism theory is explored throughout the work. Separated into two parts, the first section of the dissertation offers a guide to ‘detourism’ and outlines the tourist, tourism and their connotations with regard to current theory. The work is presented under the deliberately ambiguous headings of Consuming, Stabilising, Producing and Experiencing; both tourists and destinations are consumed, stabilised, produced and experienced. The second section adopts the format of a détourned guidebook, a case study that seeks to present and support the findings in a way appropriate to the dissertation.

Through the analysis of tourism, many contradictions emerge that disrupt its usual connotations. As a result, ‘detourism’ is a study that goes someway in revealing the hidden and implied within tourism discourse. The osmotic action of tourism pervades our everyday lives and silently distills our requirements for travel and our expectations of place. To this end, the dissertation seeks to unearth the paradox of tourism and suggests a more menacing situation: it may become possible to negate the practice of tourism itself. One pertinent question remains. What is the use of all our travelling?

Michael Griffiths

This study, which develops a concept of ‘detourism’, is a wonderfully well-written, well-organized, and well-referenced piece of work. The student deals in a nuanced, critical, and exemplary way with a broad range of materials, and negotiates the existing literature intelligently, clearly setting out the arguments. Particularly impressive is his attempt to develop arguments for possible contemporary practices based upon a close reading of relevant historical and theoretical writings. As an example the student gives us a wonderful ‘detourned’ tourist guide, which is submitted as part of the dissertation and gives the study an extra – creative – dimension.

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