Anthropology of Tourism: State of the Art and Beyond

  • antDate:                 Wednesday 9th March, 2016
  • Time:                12.30 pm (with lunch)
  • Venue:              Committee Room 3, Hendon Town Hall (The Burroughs, Hendon, London, NW4 4BQ)
  • Chair:               Prof. David Harrison, Middlesex University London, UK

Abstract:This lecture traces some of the theoretical and ethnographic lineages that have led to the present state of the art of what is known as anthropology of tourism. It critically considers some familiar iconic terms (authenticity, heritage, ‘imaginaries’, ‘gaze’, and so on). It then builds on more recent work to argue that future anthropological research involving tourism may lie not so much in the further invention or re-invention of such seemingly magical explanatory terms and the sometimes theoretically fizzy claims associated with them but more in the re-integration of tourism into carefully contextualized ethnographic settings framed by, to follow Moore, humanitarian concerns. This would enable questions about, for example, crises of ‘development’ (including the term itself); government, governance and civil society; nationalism and cosmopolitanism; citizenship; hospitality and hostility (including issues concerning refugees); relationships between inner and outer worlds; relations between objects (including beautiful objects) – and so on – to emerge as central questions. This might, in turn, enable the subject of tourism itself to assume a more modest (if still essential) role – as pathway to the addressing of these questions rather than as the centre of attention. The ethnographic background and touchstone throughout the lecture is the city of Bethlehem, Palestine: one of the oldest pilgrimage and tourist sites we have, in which the speaker has worked periodically for two decades. 

Short Bio: Tom Selwyn is Professorial Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, and holder of an Emeritus Professorial Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Foundation. He is widely published in the field of the anthropology of tourism/pilgrimage with regional interests in the Mediterranean (in particular Palestine/Israel and Bosnia and Herzegovina). He founded the MA in the Anthropology of Travel, Tourism, and Pilgrimage at SOAS in 2010 and was its director of studies until 2014. In 2009 he was awarded the Lucy Mair medal by the Royal Anthropological Institute, for which he was Honorary Librarian, Council Member for a decade and founder of its Tourism Committee. The present Leverhulme research builds on the contexts, substance, and aftermath of four tourism/ pilgrimage/ cultural industries projects he directed for the European Commission from the mid 1990s to the late 2000s which focussed in particular on Bethlehem and Sarajevo. From 2012-2015 he co-directed a research programme on the future of tourism in Ethiopia for the UK’s DfID and the British Council. He is visiting professor at NHTV, Breda, the Netherlands; the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne; and the University of Bethlehem.

The seminar series are free and offer a unique opportunity to meet colleagues, share experiences and ideas, and network on various themes affecting tourism research and practice within and outside the UK.

To book contact Gulizar Karaca (, Programme Administrator Department of Marketing, Branding and Tourism, Middlesex University, London.

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