LIGHTNESS, CONTROL AND DISSOLUTION:

splashburgerInternet and Web Development

Oct 22, 2013 (3 years and 9 months ago)

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LIGHTNESS,
CONTROL

AND DISSOLUTION
:

CHALLENGING THE DEMOCRATIC POTENTIAL OF TOURISM SOCIAL MEDIA

by


Ana María Munar

Copenhagen Business School, Denmark



&


Richard Ek

Lund University, Sweden



Abstract:

The interest for te
chnical innovations has

always been a
cornerstone in tourism
. It
is there
fore
hardly s
urprising that social media
have

become a

popular
research
topic
(Sigala, Christou, & Gretzel, 2012)
.
However, w
hile critical studies have gained momentum in tourism
research
,

these are seldom applied to the
field of tourism information technologies in general and to the analysis of
tourism
social media in particular

(Munar, Gyimóthy and Cai, 2013)
.
This paper

adopts current critical and radical political philosophy
(Habermas 1987, 2006;
Tesfahuney,

2010;

Žižek, 1991, 2000;
Rancière
, 1999
) to interrogate the democratic
potential of the social media “revolution”. We

argue

that tourism is a mediated practice

of po
litical character.
This claim is neither unique nor exceptional

(see for example Hall, 1994; Burns and Novelli, 2007;
Mosedale,
2011)
.

Still
, power and politics remain

an overlooked area of knowledge in tourism
(Tribe, 2010
)

and r
esearch

from a perspective
of political
philosophy is scarce.
The

dominant ontology
in technology
studies
conceptualizes the tourist not as
a
citizen but as a digital consumer motivated by efficiency gains,
utility
maximization and the constant seeking of pleasurable experiences.

This article challenges this
ontological perspective.
Inspired by the work of Bauman

(1998
)
,
we regard the tourist as perhaps
the

ideal
type when it

comes to imagining the

archetype of a
lat
e
-
modern
citizen
,
the prime citizen,
of a post
-
political
world
.

In doing this
,

we follow a long standing tradition in tourism scholarship. The

conceptualization of the
tourist and tourism as the epitome of modernity or late
-
modernity

has deep

roots
in

the canon of
tourism
studies
.
Jafari in his article “
Tourism mo
dels: The sociocultural
aspects”

(1987)

explains

how tourism
emanates from dysfunctional modern societies structured thr
ough systems that drain individuals both
2


physically and mentally. Tourism in his view is a catalizator that helps stabilizing

social systems which
are
structurally unbalanced
, but also a prac
tice that increasingly becomes “the norm” rather than the excepti
on

as


for an increasing number [of tourists] , the ord
inary life is and “interlude”

located

between
two nonordinary
unboundednesses” (
159).
While touristic types of activities can be trace
d back to ancient times
(Nash, 2005)
,
t
ourism

as a mass phenomenon
is
deeply linked to

the emerg
ence of

industrialized societies

and
capitalist
systems of production and consumption.
After all
,
tourism activities are

not a peripheral part of society but
increasingly

a

shaper of the ordering of the modern world (Franklin 2004)
.

This

conceptual

article
contributes to this long tradition of modernity
analysis in tourism by
examining

political and technological dimensions of this phenomenon.
MacCannell

([1976] 1999)

proposes

a
n

epistemological
avenue
to comprehend
the evolution of
modernity through
the examination
of

singular
elements of the touristic system
:

the

making of

the
tourist attraction

and the

social

act of sightseeing
.
T
o

him
the study of tourism is “
the ethnography of modernity”
([1976] 1999
:
5)
.
We ad
o
pt this

epistemolog
ical
proposal
.
Our examination focuses on social media, as the epitomic ex
ample of the latest evolution of

tourism.
We address the complex nature of virtual communication and argue that, while tourism social media
have participatory and deliberative potential, these communicative practices also strengthen the post
-
political
and post
-
democratic condition in tourism.
This

analysis is illustrated

through the discussion of
three
met
aphors: the
tourist
-
light, the menu and the stranger. The tourist
-
light
embodies the triumph of hedonistic
practices in virtual worlds. The menu r
epresents the increased colonization

of
life
-
space
s
by the
commercialization and corporate regulation of the social web
,

and the
commodification
of social and
mediated experiences.

The stranger symbolizes the structural imperative to reduce the political faculty of the
digital tourist
.
Digital t
echnologie
s are not neutral utopian spaces, but social spaces shaped as a result of a
complex interrelation between technologies and the way in which
societies are structured.
Inspired by
political ph
ilosophy, insights of this article
counter the current
mainstream

research

and

challenge

democrat
ic narratives of new
media.
Finally, there is a need to expand dominant

research agendas and to
advocate for a political turn in tourism technology studies.