Debunking the Debunkers: Developing a Conceptual Framework to Explore the Nature of Authenticity

Authors: Beer, S.

Conference: PhD Networking Conference 2008: Exploring Tourism II: Issues in PhD Research

Dates: 29-30 May 2008


The subject off authenticity and the authenticity of the tourist experience is one that has attracted a large number of commentators in the academic press over a considerable period of time. Debates have centred on the nature and definition of authenticity, how it can be explained and how it can be measured. Most recently a point has been reached where the whole idea of authenticity is being brought into question. Many commentators consider Authenticity to be a non-concept that should be replaced by more explicit terms such as genuine, actual, accurate, real and true. Some authors maintain that a Heideggerian perspective on the study of authenticity should be adopted, based primarily on the relationship between the tourist, the person that is consuming the experience, and the experience itself. This has been argued with regard to both object authenticity-that is the authenticity of things- and existential authenticity - in this context the nature of a state of being that might be produced through tourism activities.

This particular philosophy, based on an Heideggerian approach, finds its roots in the continental existentialist movement, as championed by individuals such as Kierkegaard, Nehemas, Rousseau and Satre among others. In this context - the term authenticity has a very specific meaning within existentialist literature- analysis is concerned with what it means to be human, the nature of the self and the nature and pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of an understanding of authenticity is not, however, limited to the existentialist movement and has been prominent in the study of metaphysics for as long as this subject has been discussed. After all authenticity could be considered to be "define reality", and the nature of reality is a fundamental question within all philosophy.

There would seem to be two fundamental flaws with regard to the existentialist approach. Firstly the argument ignores debate within other philosophical traditions. For example there are ontological and epistemological questions to be posed with regard to the nature of this defined reality. Secondly an existential perspective focuses on the nature of the relationship between the person who is experiencing the experience and the experience itself. In effect the approach ignores the role of other influences, society in particular, in shaping the individual - and therefore the self that is the centre of the experience- and also the experience itself. This was a major criticism of Heidegger's work. Levinas, for example, further developed Heidegger’s ideas to look at the importance of other factors.

In many ways existentialism may be considered a political movement of liberation from society. There can be little doubt that existential experience in effect exists, but to argue that (at best) it is the product of the engagement of the self with something in a pure way, uncorrupted by anything beyond the self, is more difficult to sustain; an unobtainable ideal. All conscious human action is a product of genetic predisposition (nature) and experience (nurture). Some commentators consider that much human action is “selfishly directed” to ensure the passing on of genetic information; the so called selfish gene concept. But there is also anthropological evidence to suggest that individuals will cooperate and share as this will increase the likelihood of survival for them and their offspring. Other motivational evidence suggests that individuals yearn to be part of groups and to share experience, security and love. Given this it would seem that the true expression of authentic existential experience -experience unfettered by the influence of society- is counter intuitive.

This paper proposes a modified conceptual framework for the consideration of authenticity, particularly with regard to the authenticity of food, and the consumers experience of food as a tourist. This experience not only focuses on tourists when they are in the tourism setting but also when they return home and continue their purchasing lives as "ordinary" consumers. Instead of a paradigm based on the consumer (the Self) and the thing that is being consumed (the Thing) and the subsequent experience, the model brings into play the role of other influences such as society (Others). This conceptual framework can be used to explore the dynamic between the three constituent players, and also to examine this dynamic overtime.

With regard to the consumption of food this is particularly important as society in the form of government has specific laws which actually define the authenticity of certain food types above and beyond simple trademark legislation. Not only can this model be applied to examine that situation, object authenticity, but also the nature and authenticity of the existential experience and how it may vary depending on the perceived authenticity of the products consumed.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Sean Beer