I read this book for my extraordinary "Tourist Performances" class with the eminent Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett at New York University's Performance Studies
program a couple of years back, and have fished it out recently to re-read some of the fun and really unusual stories. This is a must-read for anyone interested in looking deeper at what can happen- or what happens every day- to local culture when we travel to encounter it. The book does not really dwell on discussing how good or bad tourism is- it looks instead at our active role as visitors, even if we don't notice it, in creating these "authentic" cultural performances that some of us look for on travels. Bruner argues that many of these performances are "created" for us, and are not necessarily what the locals would present to each other. The most interesting point though, is that these "creations" often take on lives of their own and can go on to inspire new creations that eventually sometimes become considered traditional by the locals.
Bruner travels to various places in the US, Asia and Africa. I particularly recommend his piece "Maasai on the Lawn", about Mayers Ranch near Nairobi in Kenya, a tourist attraction owned by a British ex-colonial family where "Maasai 'tribal' dancing [is] followed by tea and scones on the Mayers' lawn". Some of the photos that accompany the piece are amazing, like the one above which is of one of the Maasai performers holding a photo of himself- the first time he actually got to see one, in other words the first time someone thought to show him a photo they had taken of him.
Bruner looks at the complexity of this tourist performance and where he is so much more interesting that many others is that he explains the ways in which the Maasai are agents of their own destiny in this "production", not helpless natives. It's an academic book but it's a fun read.
Here is from the back cover:
Recruited to be a lecturer on a group tour of Indonesia, Bruner decided to make the tourists aware of tourism itself. He photographed tourists photographing Indonesians, asking the group how they felt having their pictures taken without their permission. After a dance performance, Bruner explained to the group that the exhibition was not traditional, but instead had been set up specifically for tourists. His efforts to induce reflexivity led to conflict with the tour company, which wanted the displays to be viewed as replicas of culture and to remain unexamined. Although Bruner was eventually fired, the experience became part of a sustained exploration of tourist performances, narratives, and practices.
Synthesizing more than twenty years of research in cultural tourism, Culture on Tour analyzes a remarkable variety of tourist productions, ranging from safari excursions in Kenya and dance dramas in Bali to an Abraham Lincoln heritage site in Illinois. Bruner examines each site in all its particularity, taking account of global and local factors, as well as the multiple perspectives of the various actors—the tourists, the producers, the locals, and even the anthropologist himself. The collection is essential to those in the field as well as to readers interested in globalization and travel.
"Since the mid-1950s, Edward Bruner has been studying people on the move. Always the consummate ethnographer, often an inquiring tourist, and sometimes an even more inquiring tour guide, Bruner documents contemporary cultures of travel and reflects tellingly on changing anthropological sensibilities. His insistence on touristic practices as social performances in their own right, not mere imitations of something else, is crucial for untangling culture theory from our folk notions of ''authenticity.''" (Richard Handler, co-author of The New History in an Old Museum
Culture on Tour: Ethnographies of Travel. Edward bruner University of Chicago Press, 2004.