Anthropology of Tourism

Discipline: Anthropology
Instructor: Adams
Credits: 3

Field Class: Panama Download Syllabus

Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world. It has transformed host communities, social life, the natural environment, local economies, artistic productions, and politics. Tourism is also intrinsic to our lifestyles-most of us have been tourists or fantasize about visiting new places. Mayan ruins, the Panama Canal, Costa Rica’s nature preserves, Machu Piccu, and Old Havana are all destinations that conjure up powerful images for western travelers. Why do such diverse places draw us and what are the cultural, economic, ecological and political ramifications of our visits? Over the past two decades, tourism has become an increasingly vibrant arena for anthropological and sociological study. The course examines some of the key research and debates in the field. Many of these debates surrounding international tourism are directly relevant to the UN Millennium Development Goals (especially goals pertaining to ending poverty, gender equality, environmental sustainability, and global partnership). In this course, in addition to reviewing key themes in the anthropology of tourism, we will also draw on anthropological insights about tourism to explore how the tourism both challenges and enhances possibilities for attaining these Millennium Development Goals. Drawing on case studies and field observations, we will examine what circumstances enable tourism to become an avenue for local empowerment, gender equality, and economic development, whether and under what circumstances eco-tourism and green tourism are viable forms of sustainable development; whether tourism is a peace-building force or tool for terrorism (or both), and why, in some cases, tourism can succeed as an avenue for cultural preservation and in other cases it leads to degradation (even becoming a form of neo-colonialism). More broadly, the course highlights how the study of tourism and tourist practices enhances our understandings of inter-ethnic and international interactions, gender relations, neocolonialism, race and racism, media and representation, cultural performances, the marketing of crafts, and our culturally-shaped notions of authenticity, preservation and desire.

Field Class

Country: Panama

This Field Lab takes us to Casco Viejo, the striking historic area of Panama City that was named a World Heritage Site in 1997 and has undergone dramatic touristic gentrification in recent years. A walking tour will take us to the local Fish Market, along the ramparts, to a variety of local businesses (to a local crafts gallery/studio, to a plaza where Kuna sell molas, etc) and will enable us to talk with various stakeholders about what the touristic redevelopment of Casco Viejo has meant to them. Ultimately, our visit will give us an opportunity to assess the extent to which Casco Viejo's touristic transformation has contributed to UN Millennium Development Goals.