Space, place and tourism: New conceptualisations

Authors: Light, D.

Conference: Spatii altfel (Alternative Spaces)

Dates: 10-11 December 2015

Journal: International Review of Social Research

Issue: In preparation

ISSN: 2069-8267


This paper considers the issue of ‘other spaces’/’spaces of the other’ in the context of contemporary practices of tourism. It begins by reviewing the concept of space as it is conceptualised in Anglo-American human geography. It reviews 4 different ways in which space is thought about and spoken about: space as location; space as movements and flows; spaces as imagined and represented; and spaces as experienced.

The paper then focuses on 3 specific aspects of the relationship between tourism/tourists and space. Firstly it looks at imaginings of tourism places. This links into a broader interest in imaginative geographies within Anglo-American human geography. In many ways tourism space and places are the focus of fantasy, dreaming, reverie and mind-voyaging. The ways in which we imagine tourism spaces/destinations is also important in constructing and reproducing particular myths of those spaces. In particular tourism places are frequently imagined as being different, strange, and exotic – in other words, they are eagerly anticipated because of their Otherness. The implications of these imaginings for those spaces themselves are rarely considered. Second I focus on the embodied nature of a tourist’s experience of space. Tourism is very often conceptualised as a primarily visual experience (“sightseeing”) which is passive and predominantly cognitive. However, there is increasing interest in how being a tourist in space also involves the body. Being a tourist is an embodied experience involving all sorts of ways of ‘sensing’ space that often pass without comment. This is an Other dimension of the experience of space that is often overlooked but which merits more detailed scrutiny. Thirdly I examine the performative nature of tourist space. The spaces that tourists visit – usually conceptualised as ‘destinations’ – are usually thought of as stable and unchanging entitles whose existence is taken for granted: they are ‘just there’. However Anglo-American human geographers are increasingly treating tourism spaces as ‘performed’; that is, created and reproduced by the practices of the tourists who visit them. I use my own research into Halloween tourism in Transylvania to illustrate how tourists ‘make’ space through their performances but also how those performances reinforce myths of Otherness that are attached to Transylvania. I end by arguing that embracing some of new ways of thinking about (and understanding space) can illuminate the fluid and open nature of space but also shed new light on the nature of the tourism experience in space.

Source: Manual