Wednesday, December 31, 2014


'Dreams' by Janet Ramsden, Flickr, Creative Commons

I read somewhere that filmmakers are dream merchants, mobile entrepreneurs who sell ideas to those with a more sedentary outlook. I doubt that this means they are Faustian dealers at all times. Dreaming is a ubiquitous human characteristic: we can all afford it in our most private moments without any help or immediate external intervention. Incidentally, as mobile subjects, filmmakers are often granted the badge of strangerhood because they cross imagined, symbolic or actual, territorial borders to make art so frequently. It seems to me that this explains better why they are often feared, excluded from host communities and even persecuted in some cases much like the dispossessed vagabond-migrants (not that this likeness removes class and status considerations).

'Dreams' by Ragesh Vasudevan, Flickr, Creative Commons

The role of filmmaking in pushing ideational, cultural and political boundaries stands out for its Imagineering quality. By his I mean that filmmakers facilitate a particular type of engineering that played a vital role in articulations of modernity, and now in the so-called post-modern adventure.  Imagineering makes dreaming come alive with the help of technology through image – though I would also add sound and possibly other sensory input. Its power stands miles apart from the crude positivist arguments of the scientific establishment that analyses phenomena on calculated schemata of cause and effect. Imagineering is not a diagnostic tool, but an indicator of the endless possibilities of the gifted human being to hope, create and imagine different futures.  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Auto-biography: losing your tools in the digital age

From Photocosmos, Facebook

Interconnections between biography and travel are many in published scholarly fora, but they usually do not endeavour to discuss the burden of such projects’ execution in too much detail. The ‘details’ I am mostly concerned with are not slides of pen and intimate revelations, but epistemologically ingrained omissions during and after different forms of fieldwork – including both terrestrial and virtual ethnographic journeys.

First things first: the so-called ‘ethnographic tourist’ (Graburn 2002) is, today a venerated subject area in anthropological and tourism theory. But today we also deal with cyber-ethnographic imaginaries, which are not as well represented in tourism research (e.g. Germann Molz 2012; Tzanelli 2013). As a result, there is little mention of the traveller’s progressive reliance on technological tools to convey their mobile discourse to the public (e.g. D’Andrea 2006). These tools (cameras, mobile phones and tape recorders) tend to figure as supplementary of the traveller’s hermeneutics rather than as centrepieces of their mobile show. There is still some prejudice over actor-network theory approaches, probably because they tend to consider ‘networks’ as inanimate formations. As a result, travel autobiography does not always take seriously its ‘auto’ prefix, focusing instead on the grammar of the traveller’s mobile articulations – that is, the art of re-presenting their trajectory in space and time. But what happens to the tools used in such articulations in the digital age? Do we have to habitually discard them for their alleged instrumental value – or should we examine their validity as travelling connectors per se?  

There is certainly a danger in such a move, when certain semiotechnologies (Langlois 2012) are prioritised over other ones. Hermeneutic uses of camera-work tend to focus on the technology’s ocular capital, turning for example auditory signs/messages into auxiliary ‘things’ in the travel narrative. Phenomenologically, it seems, so to speak, that such selectivity follows the original script of ethnographic mediation, which articulates our humanity on the basis of our ocular capital. It is difficult to refute that the ethics of travelling are, methodologically and epistemologically, connected to our attitude towards coordinated sensory-as-aesthetic input and output while we are on the move.  

D’Andrea, A. (2006) ‘Neo-nomadism: a theory of post-identarian mobility in the global age’, Mobilities, 1 (1): 95-119.

Germann Molz, J. (2012) Travel Connections. London: Routledge.

Graburn, N.H.H. (2002) ‘The ethnographic tourist’, In G.M.S. Dann (ed) The Tourist as a Metaphor of the Social World, Wallingford: CABI.
Langlois, G. (2012)’Meaning, semiotechnologies and participatory media’, Culture Machine, 12: unpaginated. Available at:

Tzanelli, R. (2013b) Heritage in the Digital Era: Cinematic Tourism and the Activist Cause. London: Routledge.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Oriental itineraries and the direction of human perception

Agia Sophia mural, Thessaloniki, Greece
Image by Rodanthi Tzanelli, 2010

The reference to the ‘Orient’ is one of the oldest and most persistent in interdisciplinary literature. Its contemporary migration to the cybersphere is anything but unanticipated – what with the rise of new digital travel agencies, or the proliferation of individual travel accounts on diverse cultural destinations and territories. In fact, apropos Said (1978) one may note that the ‘Orient’ continues to exist in domains of cultural production precisely because of its definitional ambiguity. As the cybersphere is a thoroughly deterritorialised ‘space’, or, according to some, a non-space of abstract qualities, talking about the ‘Orient’ or plural ‘Orients’ comes naturally online.

The very same ambiguity allowed academic scholarship to constantly reconstruct the term’s essence, territorial boundaries and cosmographic imaginaries. Today encompassing as diverse geographical areas as those of the African, Asian and South American continents, the ever-expansive international scholarship on ‘Orientalism’ and the so-called ‘Orient’ performs the self same genealogical trick of which it accuses its colonial predecessors. It is true that there is no immunity even for this new class of scholars, who toil over postmodern variations of this well-established concept and who constantly have to invoke their epistemological limitations in the face of objections.

But I would argue that there is something exceeding the usual epistemological brawls over the concept’s spatial determinacy to overdetermine, in plain Althusserian terms, the very scholarly field’s epistemic intentionality. Just like ‘globalisation’, which ties humanity’s cosmological coordinates to a European ecumenical analytic (Inglis and Robertson 2005)), the ‘Orient’ betrays, quite literally, our scholarly sense of direction. Not only does it denote our orientation in a spatio-temporal fashion, it also relates in some ancient languages to a Darwinian-like arrow of progress(-ion). The most obvious example of this phenomenon is the Greek equivalent term of Anatolí, a télos or end mapped on our horizon accordingly (aná). The Orient is the child of (post)modern hermeneutics then – a hermeneutics catering for our new mobile epistemologies.

This realisation generates more questions: to what extent do we move conceptually beyond past prejudicial discourse in our writings about those we demarcate as our other(s)? If the ‘Orient’ is our original postcolonial classificatory ‘sin’, then how do we actually change our cognitive and phenomenological orientation? Finally, how can we avoid the problem of a deleterious ambiguity in the human sciences if we manage to erase the concept, its mobility genealogies and cosmological records from our social knowledge?

Inglis, D. and Robertson, R. (2005) ‘The ecumenical analytic: “Globalization”, reflexivity and the revolution in Greek historiography’, European Journal of Social Theory, 8 (2): 99–122.

Said, E. (1978) Orientalism. London: Penguin Books.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Scholarly-gender orders: mega-events as lightning rods in global cultural contexts

Photo: Rodanthi Tzanelli

For almost a decade now, I have been following the development of literature on mega-events, with extra focus on the Olympic Games (and more recently, the World Cup). My main observation has hardly changed over the years: within the critical tradition of the social sciences, scholarly discourse highlights the merits and problems mega-events generate in urban milieux (e.g. tourist and otherwise beneficial policies for host cities, protests for human rights violations, housing improvement or destruction of whole localities). Within a ‘less critical’ (a-la Frankfurt School) tradition, there is emphasis on the production of multiple mobilities (professional migrations, consumer products, the expansion of entertainment industries and technological apparatuses). One might attribute either thesis to paradigmatic or disciplinary preference, but I do not think that this is enough. In any case, the problem with the clash between these two discourses (for, this is what they are), has consequences for the quality of academic production. It is not that either scholarly analysis is ‘bad’, but that both are clearly politically dichotomised, making for younger generations in academia difficult to acquire an all-around appreciation of the mega-event. Of course, this bifurcated view is political in nature – for, in spite of the progressive neo-liberalisation of tertiary education, academia is still a space accommodating the need to pursue vocational, rather than mere professional orientation.

Scholarship on mega-events is part of two intersecting subject areas or ‘thematics’: that of globalisation and mobilities. As such, it promises an analysis of world-views, global politics and life-world considerations. It almost always commences with suggestions for the enlargement of public spheres – whether these are defined in consumerist or political advocacy terms – and ends up with overt, or covert conclusions on the state of global and national/regional, on the one hand, or cultural and political citizenship, on the other. Yet, there appears to be a – more conspicuous, by the year - gap between them: there is hardly a handful of scholars focusing on the ceremonial spectacle per se; when this is part of their analysis, it usually functions as the ‘maiden’ of broader globalisation arguments, and is almost never detailed enough to capture one’s attention. The analysis of the ceremonial content is subsumed by the general political context, or side-lined as by-product of nationalist mobilisation. Worse, those who pursue it as a self-contained subject area, they can expect a career in event management, but not in globalisation or critical mobilities.

How has this come to be? My own nagging suspicion is not utterly unrelated to a broader gender politics, which (unfortunately) highlights the obduracy of ‘tradition’ in what we consider as ‘progressive’ academic contexts: the subjection of artistic to political analysis, with a matching gender stereotyping. Contemporary rejections of the idea that art and spirituality are ‘endemic to economic activity, rather than superfluous or in opposition to it’ (Molotch 2003: 13) implicitly suggest that making and appreciating art are for those to whom we can assign ‘the unessential tasks: women and effete or neurotic men’ (Molotch 2004: 343). But contemporary scholarly rejections of artistic – by extension cultural – sociological analysis of mega-event ceremony, suggest that those who waste their time on such ‘bourgeois’ projects, allegedly always undertaken by elites, are not ‘polemical’ enough in their vocation. Rigorous polemics, of the manly type, can secure academic prestige and sufficient recognition.  

I have been there as a writer. What is missed in this witch-hunting, is the possibility to consider artistic-ceremonial performance as a social parable and broader cultural symbolisation, subsuming, but not always obeying to dominant discourse; making politics; imagining new world orders. For, how can we criticise something we have not taken seriously but discarded as inessential? And is this wilful omission not an admission that doing or analysing ‘politics’ necessitates divorcing the cultural from the political, while wedding it exclusively to the economic as a mobility accessory? The problem with such an attitude is that it endorses a gender-as-scholarly hierarchy of value (e.g. Connell 1987, 1995 on ‘gender order’ as social ordering), rendering critical analysis repetitive, over-structured and ‘fossilized’. Perhaps we should re-form then our problematique around the possibility of coupling successfully artistic politics with political art - but not before considering ceremonial texts in their various environments of production. 


Connell, R.W. (1987) Gender and Power. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Connell, R.W. (1995) Masculinities. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Molotch, H. (2003) Where Stuff Comes From: How Toasters, Toilets, Computers, and Many other Things Come to be as They Are. New York: Routledge.

Molotch, H. (2004) ‘How art works: form and function in the stuff of life’. In R. Friedland and J. Mohr (eds) Matters of Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 341-77.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The hero and the plot of mobility

Photo: Inner Journey by Hartwig HKD
(Flickr/Creative Commons)

Tourism scholarship has always sought to prioritise the two ends of the leisurely system of global mobility: at one end stands the tourist, the person that moves across borders and through time and space to reach the desired destination, the holiday, the accommodation, the beach, the sightseeing complex. At the other end stands the system itself, the hotel, the resort, its labour organisation and bureaucratic structures. In terms of narrative, a dated business model placed the tourist at the centre of research for reasons other than scholarly investigations (customer satisfaction, maximisation of profit). Beyond this model, social scientists sought to elucidate the nature of individual experience in terms of authenticity, originality and adventure (e.g. Cohen 1979). Cultural anthropologists took an extra step towards examining communal constructions of experience as perceptions of authenticity, but with the individual as a starting point, contemporary tourism theory did little to bridge the collective with the individual in terms of plot.

By this I mean that the prioritisation of human capital (the tourist, the tourist group, the host community) constantly shunts aside the actual scheme of movement. The urgency to rescue the human from the pressures of ultra-modernity, post-modernity or trans-modernity (Ateljevic 2008) – no doubt, humanism’s offspring – suggests that the ways the travel’s quotidian aspects are assembled into a ‘plot’ are less important – nay, they are parts of an evil structure preying on human agency. We tend to forget that even hermeneutic movements by people sit on the structural lattice of experience. However, the belief that, by shedding light on the tourist-subject as the journey’s hero (Tomazos and Butler 2010), we manufacture a ‘Holy Grail’ to narrate social research plausibly does no justice to the social webs of movement as such. There is a ‘stronger program’ (Alexander and Smith 2001) of tourism analysis still waiting to be discovered, investigated and developed as an epistemology and methodology of mobility – the politics and poetics of movement (Cresswell 2006, 2010) enacted by everyday heroes but with movement claiming centrality in the narrative and humans populating it with meaning. Should it be passed in silence?    

Alexander J.C. and P. Smith (2001) ‘The strong program in cultural theory: Elements of structural hermeneutics’, in J. Turner (ed.) The Handbook of Social Theory. New York: Kluwer.
Ateljevic, I. (2008) ‘Transmodernity: Remaking our (tourism) world?’. In J. Tribe (ed.) Philosophical Issues in Tourism, Bristol and Toronto: Channel View Publications.
Cohen, E. (1979) ‘A phenomenology of tourist experiences’, Sociology, 13 (2):179-201.
Cresswell, T. (2006) On the Move. London: Routledge.
Cresswell, T. (2010) ‘Towards a politics of mobility’, Environment and Planning D, 28 (1):17-31.

Tomazos, K. and R. Butler (2010) ‘The volunteer tourist as “hero”’, Current Issues in Tourism, 13 (4): 363-80.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Abertura: travels in memory

Thessaloniki, Prigipos 2010
Image: Rodanthi Tzanelli

Abertura: opening up; the gradual, ten-year process of democratization on which Brazil embarked after the end of Getulio Vargas’ regime (Valente 2012: 150). As a word it is easy to define chronologically, but as a concept it is complex to situate within global mobilities of culture – their movement towards a final purpose, a completion. But is ‘democratisation’ a universal condition or its local nuances overdetermine its definition (s)?
Let us begin by conceding that most cultures undergo aberturas, which citizens invariably experience from below. Abertura opens up so as to give shape and meaning to a polity. It stretches collective memories to the point of breaking, so that cracks are revealed and weak sports are better amended. It may be naïve to disconnect processes of healing from wounding; hence, the solution often lies with the perpetrators of trauma. Art and artistic creativity recognises this link and insists in returning to the source of the tragedy. Freud might have been right to argue that society always moves things towards its own death; that art finds way to articulate the things humans conceal from themselves; and that individual and communal desires converge behind ideas of healing what cannot be avoided (death) with ritual. Remembrance of traumatic events thus comprises a great source of creativity for the artists.
Notably, the original Greek root of the verb ‘to remember’ is not mnemonevõ (from which comes mneme and the function of the mnemonist) but enthymoúmai. Memory relies on our ability to contain (en) thymotic properties within (thymós as spiritedness, affect and anger) before communicating them to others (the role of the mnemonist as communal story-teller, historian or artist). This containment allows time to lapse before transforming affects into intelligible emotions. Spontaneous expressions or anger or rage may have a rationale, but not necessarily a language accessible to others. Art finds a language, an order and a structure to communicate the incommunicable even when it claims de-constructive techniques as its methods. It may induce strong emotions to audiences, but it channels them into pedagogical processes of viewing or even performing/participating in ritual.
It seems then that artistic pursuits can share in articulation techniques with the state. The image of the state as a gardener weeding out undesirable plants, matches that of the artist, who airbrushes portraits from colourful canvases; the charismatic national builder as a cosmetic architect; the nationally venerated musician who composes agreeable melodies (symphony from symfonía: agreement); and the choreographer who harmonises embodied performance. Audio-visual arts appear to be close to statist techniques (even when they disagree with the state in their aims and objectives). It has, for example, been suggested (Baker 1995) that in highly mobile and transitory spaces of ‘combative cultural politics’, film-making is streamlined through three distinctive modes of acceptance: resistance, habituation and interference. Films of resistance produce alternative social paradigms whereas films of habituation attune to existing networks of power and reinforce them. Films of interference disrupt institutional arrangements but do not necessarily proffer viable alternatives. All three modes emulate the principles of abertura as political dialogue or openness, challenging or reinforcing norms and values.
The substitution of thymotic esoterism with mnemonic articulation in art activates a sort of travel through things past. When this process is not enabled and amnesia dominates the cultural domain of ritual instead traumas eventually implode. Some suggest that the safest route to healing is one’s confrontation with the past. Perhaps neither silence nor en-thymotic revolution can institute a long-lasting combative cultural politics, as both seem to foreclose paths to mnemonic articulations that do not exclude but open communal spaces up to new cultural horizons.

Baker, R. (1995) ‘Combative cultural politics: Film art and political spaces in Egypt’, Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics, 15: 6-38.
Valente, F.L. (2012) ‘Afterword’. In S. Maranhão, Blood of the Sun – Poems, translated by A. Levitin. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed, 147-51.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Interdisciplinary Journeys: On haptic connectivity and wholeness

Interdisciplinary Journeys: On haptic connectivity and wholeness: 'Connect' by Benny Lin  Flickr, under Creative Commons licencing Why were haptic experiences excluded from studies of soc...

On haptic connectivity and wholeness

Flickr, under Creative Commons licencing

Why were haptic experiences excluded from studies of sociality for decades? It seems that until recently, touch was either promulgated as an instrument of positivist or empiricist analysis, or consigned to the pit of tourist paraphernalia. Today there are reputable tourist studies of the body (e.g. Veijola and Jokinen 1994; Veijola and Valtonen 2007) that support a shift towards holistic phenomenologies, but ‘tourism theory’ itself continues to suffer from accusations of frivolity. The origin of such exorcisms is the idea of experiential authenticity as ordinary, lacking in seriousness and gravity (McCabe 2005). Almost by analogy, the body is something to be discarded as a hedonistic vessel rather than the cradle of human essence.

The renunciation of the body is certainly rooted in Western European contexts. A hermeneutics of suspicion would readily connect this absence of engagement to the ways bodily abjection guided Christian and Cartesian discourses of what it means (or ought to mean) to be human. Haptic dilemmas run deep in other cultures with their own sensory hierarchies and rules. I recall a friend’s anecdotal presentation on Indonesian tendencies to brush off with others in public spaces but not look at them in the eye because straightforward looking is regarded as rude (and yet, touching nude bodies might still be a taboo in some of Indonesian religious contexts such as the Muslim). Hindu appreciation of the senses as a whole translates into the concept of the rasas or ‘flavours’ (yet, even then touchability is not excluded but localised: one hand is clean but the other is unclean and cannot perform decent duties; the tongue can come in direct contact with edible alien items).

There is something too immediate, and hence ‘out of control’ about touch and its bodily mechanisms that civilised humans cannot accept in Western (and European) contexts (though counter-cultures might fight against such objections). Eliasian debates on the management of the body aside, the European legacy of empiricism might still be too strong to allow mainstream acceptance of the haptic in ‘normal’, everyday rituals. Touch is characterised by ‘firstness’ (Peirce 1998) - that is, engagement prior to comprehension. Observation and sight allow safe time to pass between first contact and comprehension of what we see (ocular connections to the world do not have to be ‘felt’ in the same affective way). The awkwardness of touching and being touched is thus carefully side-lined in serious academic discourse in the name of propriety. As a result, the traditional, nomothetic homo academicus can never become complete: a collection of fragments in need of collation is spread across books, conference presentations and photographs, but the whole remains as socially absent as the human body.   

McCabe, S. (2005) ‘“Who is a tourist?” A critical overview’, Tourist Studies, 5(1):85-106.
Peirce, C.M. (1998) ‘Harvard lectures on pragmaticism’, in N. Houser and C. Kloesel (eds) The Essential Peirce, vol. I: 1867-93. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Veijola, S. and A. Valtonen (2007) ‘The body in tourism industry’, in A. Pritchard, N. Morgan, I. Ateljevic and C. Harris (eds) Tourism and Gender. Wallingford: CABI.
Veijola, S. and E. Jokinen (1994) ‘The body in tourism’, Theory and Society, 11: 125-51.    

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Conchita’s Euro-vision: On 'good art', aesthetic standards and transphobia battles

The winner of the 2014 Eurovision competition, Conchita Wurst, was a surprise of a different order: not only had the Austrian singer been earmarked as an oddity in her own country, she had consciously fashioned herself as an activist artist. Her own press statement in the aftermath of the Eurovision results (‘Europe showed that we are a community of respect and tolerance’) hints at some radical revisions to Europe’s social contract, according to which recognition is not determined or impeded by biological fixities or social conventions but based on flexible definitions of individual needs and characteristics. This may be the first widely televised step against transphobia, but its implications need unpacking.

Born in 1988 as Thomas (‘Tom’) Neuwirth, but better known as the drag persona of Austian reality shows, Conchita has been target of several transphobic campaigns in Austria and abroad.  The persona was born in 2011 for a TV show television in 2011 in response to the performer’s earlier experiences, who called for tolerance to difference (a call today broadcast from her personal website). ‘Wurst’ (meat sausage) figures in a Germanic phrase that points to this celebration of difference within originality ('Das ist mir doch alles Wurst’: It's all the same to me), as is the case with the universal stereotype of the ‘Everyman’ or ‘Ordinary Joe’: the hero (-ine) whose insignificance deceives spectators, suggesting that they can only anticipate narratives of banality from this fictional character’s everyday life. In Conchita’s case it has all been about celebrity TV, after all: her singing, emotional over-acting and sleek singing can define ‘the camp’ in the era of Internet and TV reproduction. Following this train of thought, her polished surface can only reveal the usual empty shell tabloids explore every day in their spicy (invariably sexualised) articles.

But even tabloid gossip has depth. In fact, these days tabloids remind us that Conchita was not born just for prosaic audience consumption. With a rise in popular support of right-wing parties across Europe following the 2008 global recession (Austria has been a worrying case in point) and an unprecedented spread of standardised ideals of beauty by global cultural and cosmetic industries that dichotomise gender and sexuality (they are addressed either to men or women), the singer’s aesthetic presence in a global event can only be read as a political intervention of sorts. It is constantly argued that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but eyes are trained by social institutions such as the media to see, expect and interpret reality in specific (plausible) ways. Conchita’s porcelain, perfectly make-up face conforms to such conventions, but her well-trimmed beard clashes with them. Not only is she close to obligatory portrayals of Jesus, her Eurovision entry connects to formulaic ideas of Christian resurrection: the ‘Rising Phoenix’ is an archetypal image of life after death, community rebirth or even radical nationalist insurrection in countries with troubled history, such as Ireland. Reactions to her selection for the Eurovision by Austrian national broadcaster ORF (more than 31,000 people liked an ‘Anti-Wurst’ Facebook page) suggest that links between national identity to gender and sexual propriety survive in our globalised world.

The 2014 Eurovision fostered a convergence between narratives of resentment (the winning song’s lyrics are about an imagined, differed revenge) and image (Conchita’s natural beauty, enhanced by cosmetics and new technologies) to outline a world-wide social change in aesthetic standards. Aesthetics are not just about prettiness but also about the politics of perception and action: can we admire beauty without excluding alternative versions of it? Notably, Conchita’s Eurovision entry was visually complemented with her gold attire and a set of flaming wings projected behind her on the stadium’s scene. This audio-visual synergy presented as a cherubic character rather than a ‘disgusting’ drag queen. The combination responded to petitions calling on Belarus’ state broadcaster to edit Wurst’s performance out of its Eurovision broadcast because it turned the show ‘into a hotbed of sodomy’ (a move followed in Russia). Where audiences were used to hyper-sexualised female singers (a theme also attacked through mockery in the German and Polish entries in more conventional feminist ways), they were presented with an ambivalent message: ‘trans dirt’ can be glamorous and recognised in artistic circuits, hence beautiful and socially accepted.

Theorists of gender and sexuality stress the significance of public performance of gender and the role of repetition in consolidating one’s social identity and subjectivity: we are (exist), as gendered and sexual human beings, in relation to our peers and society; our public presence plays a role in this recognition and our social integrations. But we can also constantly become what we aspire to be by challenging social norms and expectations. Narratives of gender and sexuality meet half way – or so they should in a society respecting individual and sub-group rights. In this respect, collecting 12 points from many European countries – amongst them, several with over-active fascist-populist movements – produces a series of controversial discourses: first, European audiences are beginning to accept the Euro-pop consumption of marginalised social identities (homosexual, transvestite, drag and what is known in gender studies as ‘queer’). Second, the artistic elites (Eurovision judges) appear to promote new tolerance agendas that incorporate art into policies of equality (still not harmonised at European level). Finally, popular venues, such as that of Eurovision, can streamline such agendas into global public consciousness in as imperceptive ways as those employed by harmful propaganda machines of old times (e.g. the Third Reich).

One may object, claiming that the result was based on popular vote, but votes are based on aesthetic preference. This amounts to a revision of aesthetic perception (what we see, hear and understand as beautiful, pleasing and just) that does not validate gender and sex hierarchies (orders of propriety, beauty, eroticism, desirability, femininity or masculinity). Can this have real, positive consequences for disenfranchised groups such as that to which Conchita belongs, or will the ‘movement’ collapse into a machination that ensures high viewing percentages and no real citizen engagement in equality battles? And where does this leave the search for good art, when artistic competition is overtaken by activist networks? 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Interdisciplinary Journeys: The death of community and the rise of individuali...

Interdisciplinary Journeys: The death of community and the rise of individuali...: Image by Moyan Brenn, Flickr Creative Commons I am intrigued by the well-developed Wikipedia en...

The death of community and the rise of individualised tourist mobilities

Image by Moyan Brenn, Flickr Creative Commons

I am intrigued by the well-developed Wikipedia entry (25 April 2014) on ‘individualism’. Its exploration of the concept’s journey in philosophical, psychosocial and political terms would appeal to interdisciplinary students: ‘an individual is a person or any specific object in a collection’ the author(s) note. ‘Individuality is the state or quality of being an individual; a person separate from other persons and possessing his or her own needs, goals, and desires’. Intriguingly, the need for un-divided human existence runs against the dominant Cartesian discourse as much as it parts ways with socialist ideologies of collectivising, communicating and ‘communing’ in life as a group. Individuals can be, according to pious preachers, only if they do not concentrate in egotistical objectives (exclusively or at all). Aristotle’s zóon politikón (or political animal-being) suggests that the human monad can only flourish (or survive, according to Enlightenment scholars such as David Hume [Morris 2013]) in harmonious, well-ordered (and governed) polities. Yet, post-modern lifestyles encourage individuals to part ways with the community in search of experiences they can only collect through various combinations of embodied and cognitive travel.

Why tourism is so closely connected to individualisation in contemporary societies? If (according to some theorists) social fragmentation is the worst of contemporary ailments, personal reflexivity should be fortified by intersubjective (physical and/or cognitive) interaction to create relational human beings. In fact, one may note that the Western quest for freedom of the Self seems to clash with popular tourist trends such as that of family tourism, in which personal biographies co-exist with collective ones and memories are simultaneously individual and collective (Halbwachs 1992). Even the neo-nomadic ethos of post-modern mobilities (including professional migration, experimental tourism and film tourism) appears to pair personal pursuit off with shared interests in travel ‘themes’ (Cohen 2011; Cohen, Duncan & Thulemark 2013): tourists grant their movement through landscapes and performances with meaning only in relation to travel companions and shared experiences en route. In all these scenarios, post-modern tourists and their tourist mobilities, however critiqued, can act as egotistical creative agents or forces (Skoll & Korstanje 2014).

But such phenomena might not be developing in simplistically binary ways (a Cartesian habit we struggle to forsake). I would argue that individualisation (the process of becoming an individual) and individualism (the corresponding ideology or post-modern ‘cult’) gesture towards holism, the return to a uniform Self. If the utopian ‘community’ was lost with modernisation and cannot be retrieved any longer, we can still pick up the pieces of the Self and put them together in its stead. Thus the tourist monad (or ‘nomad’) fills the haunting gap of ‘community’ with unanticipated consequences for humanity.

Cohen, S.A. (2011) ‘Lifestyle travellers: Backpacking as a way of life’, Annals of Tourism Research, 38(4):117–33.
Cohen, S.A., Duncan, T. and Thulemark, M. (2013) ‘Lifestyle mobilities: The crossroads of travel, leisure and migration’ Mobilities. HTTP:
Halbwachs, M. (1992) On Collective Memory. Edited & Translated by Lewis A. Coser. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
Morris, W.E. (Spring 2013 Edition) ‘David Hume’, in Edward N. Zalta (ed.) The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Online), Stanford: Stanford University Press. HTTP:
Skoll, G.R. & Korstanje, M. (2014)’Urban heritage, gentrification and tourism in Riverwest and Albasto’, Journal of Heritage Tourism. HTTP:
Wikipedia (25 April 2014) ‘Individualism’. HTTP:

Friday, March 28, 2014

Mind-walking and the death of the infantile tourist

Virtual Mirroring by Anhish Lohorung

Modernity and cyber-tourism
The tourist is the quintessential ideal type of global modernities: as a pilgrim to foreign lands for religious or consumerist sublimation, or a banal visitor to the hyper-real sites of Disneyworld, (s)he toys with realities and experiences that organised systems of leisure produce, modify or discard. I would contend that scholars who highlighted that, for the elites, (mass) tourism as a social practice vulgarises consumption (Urry 1995), communicate with those who suggest that touring is a return to childhood imaginaries of play that enrich personal knowledge of the social world (Dann 1989). The background of discovering ‘authenticity’ (in new places and cultures) is certainly part of both formulas here, but I am less interested in discovery and more focused on the retrieval or recovery of the authentic, for reasons I outline below.  

We would expect authenticity to oppose industrial progress here, but this is not necessarily the case. Note that the idea of control of such anomic milieus is a constant in these theses: the tourist transgressor is, in effect, part of (post)modern imaginaries of surveillance that, instead of destroying pleasure, they amplify it tenfold. Consuming a place, its culture and people as objects, involve performance in public, which, when repeated in various locales, might end up producing new versions of Self or identity. However, these days such consumptions are de facto split into virtual and terrestrial (‘real’): tourists perform ‘on location’, in visited places, but may also consume place and culture online first or only, as cyber-tourists (Prideaux 2002). The cyber-sphere is a post-industrial site of pleasure for all, defying distance or temporal constraints. Yet, the split between the virtual and the terrestrial may even revise or reinstate conceptions of elite, authentic or vulgar consumption, with various consequences.

The death of tourist childhood
What could these consequences be? The datum of anomic touring (or ‘tourist anomie’) is anything but exceptional (though, under certain conditions, it may become so). Notably, it seems that its fundamental principles always reinstate a Freudian civilizational order, in which personality development (maturation) or subjective regression are a dead certainty: tourists transgress and learn through their experiential journeys. Nevertheless, I would suggest that contemporary splits between terrestrial and cyber-journeys might also upset this traditional Freudian order. Where once upon a time ‘tourist play’ served to  save or restore one’s childhood utopia, cyber-touring legitimates a Cartesian split that discards needs and satisfies desires through instant inner journeys or ‘mind-travel’. Cyber-tourism allows for a peculiar maturation of the subject-tourist, who now has to perform in a global public spheres and who is scrutinised for his/her choices and actions by diverse gazes (individual, corporate, collective-native).

Perhaps we should replace Freud’s conclusions (closer to Dann’s (1989) original thesis) with those of an iconoclastic Lacanian theorist to reconsider this phenomenon. In A Child is Being Killed, Serge Leclaire argued that ‘in order to achieve full selfhood we must all repeatedly and endlessly kill the phantasmatic image of ourselves installed in us by our parents. Thus, ‘“primary narcissism”, a projection of the child our parents wanted’ (Leclaire 1998: 35, 54), gives way to infantile Self-murder as a process of maturation – an inner journey to making one’s Self whole, independently from their primary carers (parents). Cyber-touring deviates from terrestrial touring in this respect, allowing space for the production of the mature tourist Self in public.

One may subsequently ask: if infanticide is part of the cyber-tourist’s journey, how come and tourist phantasmagorias continue to appeal to utopian worlds of perfection? And if part of this tourist utopianism appeals to sharing, solidarity, family, neo-nomadism and the likes, is the tourist child truly dead or it continues to haunt postmodernity’s Arcades?

Dann, G.M.S. (1977) ‘Anomie, ego-enhancement and tourism’, Annals of Tourism Research, 4: 184-94.
Dann, G.M.S. (1989) ‘The tourist as child: Some reflections’, Cahiers du Tourisme, Serie C, No. 135. Aix-en-Provence: CHET.
Leclaire S. (1998) A Child is Being Killed. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Prideaux, B. (2002) ‘The cybertourist’, in G.M.S. Dann (ed.) The Tourist as a Metaphor of the Social World, Wallingford: CABI.
Urry, J. (1995) Consuming Places. London: Routledge.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Anatomies of academic passion

I hate bureaucracy but cannot live and dream without it. This is especially true during my study leave, which I can mostly spend dreaming the possibility of a harmonious world in vivid, ordered colours, sounds and delicious smells. Visit and browse through my Google-locked Artsite’s ‘Poetry and Poetics’ for past daydreaming records.  

IMAGE: Bürokratie / Bureaucracy II by Christian Schnettelker and Flickr 

There is an element of bibliomancy attached to study leaves
Nobody feels particularly eager to divulge.
Instead, she’s buried under piles of hints and applications,
Promises that she’ll find the map of lost scholarly treasures
Mornings which turn to evenings of ideas in motion.
The bureaucratic prophet whispers in her ears
And she departs on journeys with a lot of unrelated baggage
She sheds half way to undefined but glorious destinations.

Meanwhile, the ring of academic inspiration
Partakes in wedding rituals for which it never was intended
It decorates the finger of those brides who loved someone else
And run away with them before the priest completes his pitiful prayers.

The bibliomancy of study leaves is destined to achieve a happy ending
Only because the applicant crafts her destiny
Only because she captures beautiful ideas in her pages’ magic net
Only because the study leave will never acquire fixed purpose
Before her pilgrimage calls into being that temple
In which the ring will rest until its new proposal.

Leeds, 06 February 2014

Friday, January 31, 2014

The sound of Eden

 Image: Music note Bokeh by Daniel Paxton

Contemporary soundscapes are characterised by diversity few can comprehend: indeed, analyses by scholars of sound range from those focusing on the communicative importance of sound to the nightmare of primeval sonic pollution. Cityscapes in particular are believed to host the most complex sonic polyvocalities, with different sounds and noises corresponding to different lifeworlds and social milieus (Erlmann 2004). The declining neighbourhood murmur of human socialities is mixed with the imposing noise of automobilities (the car, the train or the tube) and the human conversations one encounters in the spaces of entertainment and consumption, such as bars, pubs, clubs and restaurants.
Much has been said and written on differences between ‘sound’, ‘noise’ and ‘echo’. Additional considerations of artistic manipulations of sound, its shaping into melody and music, suggest the presence of contractual agreements over what is acceptable as ‘civilised’, good sound, and noise aesthetically eroding the social. But in sociological analysis understandings of ‘aesthesis’ are not – cannot be - confined to sensory stimuli. The crude positivist mantra of factual analysis may make noise but does not allow scholars to comprehend the meaning of sound in situ, its ‘melodies’ and contrapuntal conversations (Bhaskar 1989; Bhaskar 1993). The point comes close to DeNora’s (2000 2003) call for ethnographic research into music, but also exceeds its hands-on-data applicability. For, aesthetic journeys demand broader philosophical investigations on the socio-cultural environment in which sounds are made, experienced and finally theorised. Such successive echopoetic chains transform sound (échos) into a creative (poìeisis) human venture through perception of its sonic and social assemblage. We do not merely hear things, we understand them as cultural and social practices. As such, ‘sound’ and ‘noise’ come into being only though our agential intervention on their sonic meaning.
The mastery of sonic meaning is an exercise in epistemic classification. It civilises the invisible aspects of our built environment, by making them more agreeable to the ear, and conforming them to visual, tactile and olfactory narratives. And through this struggle to retrieve the long-lost aesthetic unity, postmodern humans arrive at the gates of Edenic perception as secular angels.   

References cited
Bhaskar, R. (1989) Reclaiming Reality. London & New York: Verso.
Bhaskar, R. (1993) Dialectic. London & New York: Verso.
DeNora, T. (2000) Music and Everyday Life, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
DeNora, T. (2003) After Adorno. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Erlmann, V. (2004) ‘But what of the ethnographic ear? Anthropology, sound and the senses’, in V. Erlmann (ed.) Hearing Cultures, Oxford: Berg, 1-20.