Perkins, H., and Thorns, D.  (2001)  'Gazing or Performing? Reflections on Urry's Tourist Gaze in the Context of Contemporary Experience in the Antipodes', in International Sociology, Vol 16, No 2: 185 - 204.

Urry's work has been highly influential, but it sometimes assumes that its framework can be applied outside of Europe, and it can be criticised. In particular,  'the gaze metaphor is too passive to encapsulate the full range of the tourist experience... a better metaphorical approach to tourism is to talk about the tourist performance' (186). Performance has increased as a tourist activity as tourism itself has changed, and performance has always been important in societies like New Zealand. It is much more likely these days that tourists will want to combine gazing with actually participating.

Urry did agree that the circumstances of the gaze could vary 'temporally and across social groups' (187). Most of his examples focus on the development of tourism in Britain, however -- the rise of the seaside holiday resort followed by the all-inclusive holiday camp and then the package tour. Tourism became much more flexible in the 1960s and was based far more around  'individualistic patterns of activity' (188), although the package tour still persists. Urry's work points to the ways in which these experiences were organised and co-ordinated by the gaze, including the images provided in tourist advertising before departure. As a result, 'authenticity' became more a matter of conformity between these images and the actual sights. Selwyn suggested that any attempt to make overall sense of the tourist experience was abandoned in favour of a series of local spectacles. It is true that tourist professionalism involved in place promotion has become a major industry for city tourism. Urry's post-tourist reacts against this organised gaze and attempts to avoid it [and sometimes celebrates it ironically, surely?].

The debate about authenticity also included discussion of commodification, including Cohen's work on staging tourist spectacles which stripped away local meaning, but also created  'a "false touristic consciousness"' (190 quoting Cohen 1988). Tourism then became a matter of mass deception.

Turning to tourist activity helps criticise these perspectives. An excessive focus on authenticity and searching for it avoids noticing the substantial continuation of mass tourism, including package holidays to Thailand and Australia. Such holidays invite the tourist to immerse themselves in the classic activities of sun, surf, shopping, sex, and bodily enjoyment, far away from the 'ascetic' tourism of Urry's gazers. Tourists on holiday sing and dance in public. Even working-class holiday makers in Britain wanted not only to see landscapes but to walk or cycle through them. Encountering nature on holiday classically involves activity too. Writers such as Game also refer to the bodily sensations of touch, feel and smell  [and see Stollar on this], and on resisting the objectifying gaze. Tourists are capable of actively interpreting advertising texts, and locals can resist attempts by tour companies to manage them (some references on 192).

Tourism in New Zealand shows the importance of context, because adventure and participation have always been major themes. Both domestic and overseas tourists engage in  'physical, intellectual and cognitive activity and gazing' (193).  [A brief history of tourism in New Zealand ensues, 193 - 5. Both domestic and overseas tourism has increased since the 1980s, and overseas visitors are now more likely to visit from  'Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Germany' (195). There is a tourist circuit which continues to emphasise  'scenery, wild nature, thermal springs and the Maori' (195)].

Adventure tourism has grown, both in its 'hard' and  'soft' forms  (196). It is common to invite tourists  'both to gaze at spectacular scenery and grapple with the challenge of nature' (196), although there is an upper age limit for activities such as bungee jumping. Domestic tourists also have a tradition of socially accessible participation, both in terms of city tourism, and also adventure activities and outdoor recreation, often combined with visiting friends and relatives. Frequent stays in the country form 'an important cultural tradition in New Zealand' (197), partly because of easy access to uncrowded landscapes, although there are variations according to  'age, income, education, gender and social class' (198). There is a long tradition of building do- it- yourself holiday homes in rural areas. There are  now signs of purpose-built holiday accommodation developing and also the  'growth of specially developed holiday areas', an example of a trend towards gentrification.

Thus the gaze does not always cover the full range of tourist experiences, especially in New Zealand, which indicates that local context is an important variable. It could be possible that UK inhabitants do spend more time gazing, but this might not apply in other societies, where more opportunities for participation are available.

[I still have a few doubts myself about whether such participation really has escaped any disciplining gazes or apparatuses. Both  'gaze' and  'activity' seem to be taken rather literally here. It seems to me that views of the landscape while descending from a parachute might be just as conventional as those taken from a viewing platform. Having said that, there is no doubt that the adrenalin rush is likely to be quite different, of course -- but is that now also capable of being organised by the tourist industry? On another tack, I was expecting to find the notion of tourist performance pushed still further, in the sense that gender can be a performance (see Butler) -- in other words to investigate the extent to which tourists are 'playing/performing the tourist' in response to attempts to structure their experience. Urry does get close to this with the ironic tourist. Do active New Zealanders 'perform the active New Zealander', bungee jumpers 'the bungee jumper' ?]

back to key concepts