Noy, C (2004) 'This Trip Really Changed Me: Backpackers' Narratives of Self Change', in Annals Of Tourism Research, Vol 31, No 1: 78 - 102.
[This article makes a strong case for the study of narrative in general, and the study of specific narratives in tourism in particular. Studying narrative helps illuminate the processes of forming an identity in modernity, and it has a performative or an active aspect when narratives are outlined to others -- the narrator gains a certain kind of cultural capital ('narrative capital'). Narratives take place in a social context as well, and clearly derive some of their generic features and specific contents from the social context -- thus there are recognisably Israeli, and global capitalist, a themes in these specific Israeli backpackers' narratives. This theme is pursued via discussions of authenticity and existential authenticity. At the same time, narratives are developed with specific audiences and social groups in mind as well. Finally, being able to develop a narrative, especially one of self change, provides a major pleasure for the backpacker (and, by extension, the adventurer).]
Tourism does involve a lot of talk, although talk is not that well analysed. Research on backpacking is an exception, however. At the same time, backpackers may not be typical of all tourists [and, later, Noy suggests that Israeli backpackers may not be typical of all backpackers]. Backpacking traditionally involves 'extended multi-destination travel... non-institutionalised... pursued individually, on a relatively low-budget' (79). However, these experiences are rarely as individual as they seem, and involve much communication and social construction, a distinctive sociality, involving communication between the experienced and the inexperienced via storytelling. Backpacking may therefore be a useful pole case. The backpacking experience is converging with more commercially organised and conventional tourism anyway.
Major themes in narratives involve a dramatic personal change, with both psychological and geographical travelling. Notions of authenticity are also involved. Narratives can be analysed in terms of 'two major self change genres... the Romancticist and the religious' (80) . The sociality involved in developing these narratives provides a distinctive pleasure for the backpacker 'constituting a central experiential attribute of the trip' (81) [an awful lot of useful looking research on backpacking is summarised on this page]. Backpackers are searching for authenticity, and adventure, and expect to develop a suitable narrative to tell to others.
Israeli youth classically undergo trips after college or after obligatory military service, as a kind of rite of passage. They commonly say they wish to avoid other Israelis, but do not do so in practice. This shows the role of 'unique culture or themes pertaining to present-day Israeli society and culture' (82) -- the desire to travel, travel as a response to a siege mentality, the decline in the traditional role of military service as a transition to adulthood, the importance of travel experience in joining subcultures and gaining a collective identity, backpacking as an indication that one has become 'Westernized' [akin to the benefits received from the Grand Tour, says Noy]. These cultural themes form a context for that which is seen as personal and individual in backpacking.
40 interviewees were contacted by snowballing [the problems are raised later -- this could produce an unusually cohesive group or one that is especially keen to tell their stories]. Narratives were sought following some prompts. Narratives were interpreted by comparing similar themes across different narratives as well as seeing how elements were linked together within narratives. Self change, especially at the conclusion of narratives was a common theme. Retelling the narrative was also seen as a pleasurable performance, linking past, present and future.
There is a background of recent work on narrative as offering insight into personal identity, following social-constructionist approaches, including those of Giddens on modernity Narratives involve a sequential linkage, sometimes extending into the personal future. They often feature descriptions of particular turning point in life, as in self change. These are often dramatic and set aside from ordinary life -- so backpackers claim 'they are wiser, more knowledgeable, more socially and emotionally apt, etc., than they were prior to the journey' (84).
Their experiences are based on Romantic imagery, involving 'adventure and authenticity while encountering the constructed "Other"' (84). The destinations chosen are ideal to provide such experience. Backpackers deliberately seek out backstage regions [and MacCannell's work is summarised briefly. Wang is cited as arguing that even existential authenticity has become a commodity in modern tourism]. Backpackers are pursuing 'hot authenticity', involving a quest for both authentic destinations and authentic selves (quoting Selwyn, page 85). The accounts are full of terms such as '"real", "genuine", "pure", "virgin"'and the like, and these terms were applied even to 'heavily populated metropolises' (85), and there is often a contrast with routine tourism and commercialism. In this way, the trip is separated from the rest of life, and this inspires accounts of personal change. These accounts still draw upon cultural resources, in this case the notion of authenticity and adventure in early Zionism (86).
A particularly interesting example of a female narrative is provided on page 88. This narrative features an individual voice in dialogue with 'a social voice', expressing 'a normative expectation' (88). It is clear there is some definite expectation that a trip will produce personal change. The theme emerges in most of the narratives studied, and indeed discussing self change seems integral to the travel narrative. The female example expresses a certain reservation about conforming to this expectation, but she still does conform. The expectations can even be found in a published backpacking guide (cited on page 89). The changes are reported as profound, affecting knowledge or confidence [classic romantic 'language register', says Noy, 90]. The claim is that greater openness and tolerance arise from encountering authentic others, and this claim is widely shared. There is an inherent reference back to the host society too, at least insofar as it is unable to provide these transformative experiences.
It is perfectly possible that not everyone did experience positive self change, but dissenting voices are excluded or managed. There also are some gender differences, so that males seem to claim that risk and endurance are essential to personal change, while females refer to the whole experience. This connects to the work that suggests that risk and adventure narratives are classically masculine, especially in Israeli society with its 'militaristic, chauvinist discourse' (91).
Authenticity in the narratives mostly relate to existential dimensions. Notions of authenticity are linked in a self justifying circle, so that authentic destinations induce authentic inner experiences, which authenticate the self change narrative. The self change narrative in turn helps to see the experience [the consumption of constructed authenticity for Noy] as a unique authentic one. There is a 'cyclic quality' here, where interpersonal communication conforms to the information supplied by commercials and by experienced trippers.
The stories seem similar to actual romantic literature, and 'carry expansionist, semi imperialist qualities... imperialist and neo-colonial themes' (93). [Noy suggests that encounters with others overseas follow cultural patterns developed at home, especially through encounters with Palestinian Arabs: these patterns include references to militaristic notions of conquest and authority] . There is a broader context in the whole notion of adventure, and the successful adventurer becomes legendary or heroic. The other main genre detectable in the accounts is one of religious pilgrimage. Pilgrimage clearly involves a challenging trip to encounter otherness, and again more conventional tourism has been described in this way, so that 'modern tourists, although by and large secularised, travel within a symbolically religious universe' (93). There are clear similarities between conversion narratives and self change narratives, and a similar belief that there are sacred sites, where one is more likely to encounter otherness.
Both genres involve the person in telling of the experience, and these become performances, actual enactments: they are 'not only compelling, but also impelling', and (94) telling a conversion story becomes a ritual of faith. The confidence needed to become a speaker is also important in confirming change and encouraging others. The interpersonal context is therefore crucial. Interpersonal storytelling is still important in Israeli society particularly, and thus the ability to perform is a major pleasure for the back packer.
In conclusion, narratives show how commodified authenticity can be subjectively interpreted in terms of transforming identity. There are obvious effects of romantic and religious genres and social contexts, including interpersonal ones. It is difficult to generalise about all tourists, who may not be seeking such self transformation, but diversion or recreation instead. At the same time, the main themes are found much more widely, and 'leisure discourses may have their own self change rhetoric' (97) [of course they do, as the work on illegal drugs, or risk, indicates,although these studies also show the need to develop a narrative that permits 'normal life' to resume]. Talking and narration assumes the existence of narrative capital, and this is required in order to join some of the sub-groups in Israeli society, especially those that stress a 'Western' identity. The dangers of snowballing are acknowledged, as is the position of the researcher as a suitable outsider [or narratee]. Excluded narratives also require further research, as do those who seek explicitly religious conversion. The political implications also need pursuing, since self change is so intertwined with the Israeli military and political situation.
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