Authenticity, tradition and culture questions

Please answer the following two questions respectively with no less then 300 for each. I would post some other students’ examples to help you understand the article that the prof mentioned, so that you don’t need to read the article to answer the questions. Also, please don’t forget to have references cited.

QUESTION 1:

Chambers and Theodossopoulos both present views on “authenticity” and “tradition” that challenge commonly held ideas about these concepts. Please see my notes for this week as well as the chapters by Chambers (pp. 97-102, 113) and Theodossopoulos (pp. 115, 126-128, 131).

Questions

1. Are there similarities in how Chambers and Theodossopoulos view tradition and authenticity?

2. Why do you think some people, perhaps yourself included, find it difficult to let go of common notions of authenticity (i.e., authentic as something that is “traditional,” that has remained “unchanged”) and adopt Chambers’ definition?

* Feel free to focus on either one of these questions.

Student example 1:

#2.

I’m really glad we’re talking about authenticity this week. I feel like in the last few weeks we’ve been creeping towards this point of needing to define and discuss it. I agree with Chambers that people who have the most autonomy over the decisions in their lives and communities can be said to live a more “authentic” way of life (Chambers 2010, 101).

I think the ideas of “authenticity” tourists wish to see when they visit a certain place are based in often romanticized views of the subject being “traditional” and “unchanging”. I also think we are stricter with the term authenticity when we apply it to indigenous groups. The stereotypes of being close with nature and living a simpler life come to mind and if there is any discrepancy here (e.g. wearing western clothes, using modern tools) they are seen as less authentic. These can be difficult views to change if you’re not really thinking about it. I think what’s helped me is thinking of it from an Anthropological viewpoint. As Anthropologists we have to acknowledge that cultures are not unchanging. They change and grow therefore what is considered authentic and traditional will have to change and grow as well.

I really liked Chamber’s point that, “without significant degrees of autonomy, any notion of authenticity is meaningless” (Chambers 2010, 101). I feel like in some cases we’ve seen, e.g. the Maasai performance and Mayers Ranch and the buildings in Djenne, these situations where the local people have little control over their decisions on tradition and heritage are marketed to tourists as being the most “authentic” experiences. What do you guys think? Are there any other readings where this has been the case?

Chambers, Erve. 2010. Native Tours: The Anthropology of Travel and Tourism. Long Grove, II: Waveland Press.

Student example 2:

#2 I think authenticity is something that every tourist and local will think about everywhere around the world that welcomes large groups of tourist. Because of this there will be many questions about the authenticity of a culture, or rather the lack there of.

It would seem difficult for people, and perhaps myself to let go the common notion of constantly trying to determine if something is authentic enough, simply because there might not be enough knowledge of the culture. For instance, I would continue to question the authenticity of a certain culture because I wouldn’t know if that was traditional or normal for that culture. Chambers noted that “we have a tendency to think of traditions as those behaviours and things that have remained unchanged for a long period of time” (Chambers 2010, 113). This would be the traditional sense of authenticity. It might also be difficult to let go these ideas because of the activities and performances that are promised to provide meaningful and original work of arts and because of this promise, we come to expect that what we will experience is “authentic”. Before travel we as tourists have high expectations of our experiences, assuming that what we will see is the ‘real deal’. We would assume that the things we experience are what happens within a culture from the past to the present, without any alterations. However, “in reality, many traditions are highly adaptable to change” (Chambers 2010, 113). We as tourists need to understand now that not every traditions is unchanged and that they are adapted to new cultures and what tourist want to see.

To adopt Chambers definition of authenticity: “the value and authenticity of any object of material culture or performance is probably best judged by it social vitality, rather than how long it has been around” (Chamber 2010,113), would be more beneficial to how we view different cultures. If we view performances as something that evolves over time, it would lessen our need to constantly question authenticity and just enjoy the performance for what it is. Some may find it difficult to adopt this new definition because there will always be the heightened sense of wanting to know more about something which could then lead to unravelling the truths or alternations of that performance. Because tourists typically travel to learn, it might become hard from them see performances as “authentic” if it is continuously changing. In the broader sense, do you think that just because a culture or performance changes ever so slightly they are considered less authentic, or could the changes possibly increase its authenticity?

Chambers, Erve. 2010. Native Tours: The Anthropology of Travel and Tourism. Long Grove, Il: Waveland Press.

Student example 3:

1) There certainly are similarities in how Chambers and Theodossopoulos view tradition and authenticity. Chambers believes authenticity can still be achieved under modernity as long as people maintain control over cultural changes that are happening to them. To Chambers (2010, 101), “all cultures are dynamic by their very nature”. Change does not necessarily inauthenticize: “many traditions are highly adaptable to change and […] are invariably subject to reinterpretation in the present” (Chambers 2010, 113). Similarly, Theodossopoulos believes that the Embera communities are not any less authentic just because they have embraced cultural tourism and found a way to benefit from it in multiple ways. They are able to justify their participation within their own cultural framework, working under the conditions of modernity in an “Embera way”. Importantly, the Embera communities maintain autonomy over their representation and have a solid understanding of themselves and their indigeneity (Theodossopoulos 2010, 125-6). Both Chambers and Theodossopoulos believe there is no such thing as inauthenticity as long as people have control over how their culture changes and which parts of their identity/culture are to be displayed.

Chambers, Erve. 2010. Native Tours: The Anthropology of Travel and Tourism. Long Grove, II: Waveland Press.

Theodossopoulos, Dimitrios. 2010. “Tourists and Indigenous Culture as Resources: Lessons from Embera Cultural Tourism in Panama” In Tourism, Power and Culture, edited by Donald V.L. Macleod and James G. Carrier, 115-133. Bristol: Channel View Publications.



QUESTION 2: Commodification of Culture = Bad?

Commodification is a process “whereby goods and services that were once considered to be outside the realm of direct economic value and exchange are transformed into commodities that can be bought and sold” (Chambers 2010, 96). As we have seen throughout the course, culture (such as material objects, dances, music, ceremonies etc.) can be commodified to be sold to and consumed by tourists.

The commodification of culture in the context of tourism is often viewed negatively (Cole 2008, 24, 27). Anthropologist Stroma Cole presents a different view: “People can use cultural commodification as a way of affirming their identity, of telling their own story and establishing the significance of local experiences […] Tourates [i.e., hosts] are active strategists and they manipulate their ‘otherness’ to their own ends” (2008, 27).

The questions that came to my mind were: Who controls the process (local people, tourist agencies, the government or others)? Do local people feel pressured to participate in cultural commodification by other (more powerful) actors?

Please note: Cole’s book I cite in this post is not a required reading in this course. We read one of her journal articles (week 4) and one of her chapters that was published in an edited volume (week 10).

Questions

1. Why do you think commodification of culture is often viewed negatively by tourists?

2. Can you present examples (from the readings or otherwise) that support or challenge Cole’s view on cultural commodification?

References Cited

Chambers, Erve. 2010. Native Tours: The Anthropology of Travel and Tourism. Long Grove, Il: Waveland Press.

Cole, Stoma. 2008. Tourism, Culture and Development: Hopes, Dreams and Realities in East Indonesia. Clevedon:

Channel View Publications.

Student 1:

Commodification is defined as a process “whereby goods and services that were once considered to be outside the realm of direct economic value and exchange are transformed into commodities that can be bought and sold” (Chambers 2010, 96). It has been illustrated in the readings that every aspect of culture can be commodified, for example tangible goods such as material objects and arts or intangible good such as customs, traditions and performances. A prevalent problem in modern tourism is heritage commodification. I believe the main reason tourists perceive commodification of culture negatively is because it results in acculturation and inauthenticity. Local groups and host communities tend to primarily focus on the tourist’s desires which deters from their own authentic practices and ultimately inherent meanings of cultural heritage is lost (Cole 2008, 24). I believe commodification is usually understood in an economic perspective from both tourists and locals. The visitors in foreign destinations tend to view the local culture as inauthentic and purely a display for economic gain, thus removing its true value. The dominant opinion is that “the moment culture is defined as an object of tourism, its authenticity is reduced” (Cole 2008, 24). I believe this decrease in the authenticity of a culture destroys the local identity and cultural values and results in a standardized culture. Tourists comment on indigenous performances as being staged, static and not truly tribal (Theodossopoulos 2010, 126). According to Greenwood (1978), “tourism that developed on the basis of western capitalism causes commodification which, in turn, ruins the values of local identity and culture”.

I also think cultural commodification plays an integral role in the behavior of tourists, purchasing an experience as if it were a product. There are certain expectations involved when one buys a product. Similarly, when travelling to a host community, tourists have certain expectations. I find my expectations are never parallel with my actual experience whilst travelling. I believe locals are pressured into commodifying their unique cultural heritage, architecture, and performances, in order to maximize the potential appeal to tourists and the income that will flow from this interest in satisfying tourists needs and demands (Olsen 2003, 99).

To what degree does authenticity play a role when it comes to commodification? Commodification is frequently considered as a negative aspect of tourism. Are there any positive impacts of cultural commodification?

Chambers, Erve. 2010. Native Tours:The Anthropology of Travel and Tourism. Long Groove, II: Waveland Press.

Cole, Stoma. 2008. Tourism, Culture and Development: Hopes, Dreams and Realities in East Indonesia. Clevedon: Channel View Publications.

Olsen, Daniel H. 2003. “Heritage, Tourism, and the Commodification of Religion.” Tourism Recreation Research, 99-104.

Greenwood, D.J. 1978. “Culture by the Pound: An Anthropological Perspective on Tourism as Cultural Commoditization”. In Hosts and Guests: The Anthropology of Tourism, edited by Smith, Valene L., 129-138, 301. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Theodossopoulos, Dimitrios. 2010. “Tourists and Indigenous Culture as Resources: Lessons from Embera Cultural Tourism in Panama.” In Tourism, Power and Culture: Anthropological Insights, edited by Donald V.L Macleod and James G Carrier, 90-106. Bristol: Channel View Publications.

Student 2:

1. Tourists may see the commodification of culture in a negative light because they feel that this practice takes away from their view of the authenticity of the place they are visiting. Many tourists have a view of authenticity as a community or culture that has remained untouched. However, Erve Chambers argues quite the contrary in his definition of the authenticity of culture when he states that “authentic cultures… have the wherewithal to play a significant role in participating in those processes that will shape their lives” (Chambers 2010, 101). This means that if a community feels that it is in their best interest to adapt to the visits of tourists, the autonomy that comes with this decision is what makes a culture authentic. Whether it be developing handicrafts for tourist consumption or demolishing historical sites to develop a golf course, the fact that the community has decided to do these things proves their authenticity.

2. An example that supports Stroma Cole’s argument is that of the major festivals in the Swiss village of Interlaken, which attract many tourists. Erve Chambers writes that, “(Regina Bendix) notes that, despite the presence of large numbers of outside spectators, the villagers continued to be engaged actively in using festival performances as a means asserting and reaffirming their local identity” (Chambers 2010, 98). An example that challenges Cole’s view on cultural commodification is the promotion of The Alarde festival in the Basque village of Fuenterrabia as a tourist event. The Alarde festival began as “a means for emphasizing village solidarity and celebrating Basque identity” (Chambers 2010, 97). The festival became a tourism spectacle when the Spanish government began to promote it as such. For many of the villagers, this stripped away the importance of Alarde and the festival transformed from a ritual to an occasion for political tension (Chambers 2010, 98). The commodification of the village of Fuenterrabia’s Alarde did not establish the significance of local experiences at all; it destroyed the festival altogether.

Chambers, Erve. 2010. Native Tours: The Anthropology of Travel and Tourism. Long Grove, Il: Waveland Press.

Student 3:

As we learnt in the notes and readings this week, Commodification is the process “whereby goods and services that were once considered to be outside the realm of direct economic value and exchange are transformed into commodities that can be bought and sold” (Chambers 2010, 96). Economically, the idea of commodification makes sense, but in the cultural sense it can be seen negatively by tourists.

From all the examples presented in this course so far it can be seen that tourism is two-fold: to expose a country or culture to the world and to bring in some sort of income for the locals and the economy as a whole. Commodification can satisfy both these aspects but would focus more on the monetary benefit. For instance, in Parara Peru in the Embera community “they expect a standard fee from every visitor for the food, hospitality and cultural presentations they offer, and share the profits fairly among the members of the community” (Theodossopoulos 2010, 120). This is commodification because while the Embera community is portraying their culture and norms, in return they are expecting to make a profit. Tourist may see this as negative because of the possibility of being exploited for a performance that is not authentic. They might have the view that what the locals are offering (tangible or intangible) is simply just a way to make money and, the locals are simply portraying what the tourist want to see and then charging a price to it. Expecting money in return for something may take away from the activity or performance in itself.

There is also the idea that producers and manufacturers exploit the different aspects of culture in order to create a product to sell to tourists. Tourists would believe that these products are connected to the culture when in fact they are simply being exploited by it. For example, in southwestern United States manufacturers are creating Indian-like tokens to sell to tourists, and are only vaguely part of their culture (Chambers 2010, 114). Tourists may not be aware of this and will buy them thinking they are bringing back a piece of Indian culture, when in fact they are not. I think overall the commodification of culture is viewed negatively by tourists because of its exploitation and trickery component that host countries have over tourists. Do you think this aspect of exploitation will continue to be effective as tourists become more aware of different cultures and performances.

Chambers, Erve. 2010. Native Tours: The Anthropology of Travel and Tourism. Long Grove, Il: Waveland Press.

Theodossopoulos, Dimitrios. 2010. “Tourists and Indigenous Culture as Resources: Lessons from Embera Cultural Tourism in Panama.” In Tourism, Power and Culture: Anthropological Insights, edited by Donald V.L Macleod and James G Carrier, 90-106. Bristol: Channel View Publications.

 
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