Kelner, S  (2001)  'Narrative Construction of Authenticity in Pilgrimage Touring', a paper presented at the 96th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, [online]

[This is a clear discussion of the debates about what constitutes authenticity, and a move beyond academic disputes in suggesting that narratives have to be constructed so that tourists can manage different conceptions and tensions. In particular, the approach seems to converge with discussions about realism in media and the role of narratives in delivering a knowledge effect].

The concept authenticity has taken on several meanings in the past [and these are summarized very clearly in what follows]. The most comprehensive is offered by Wang (1999), which refers to the authenticity of objects,  'further broken down into  "subjective" and  "constructive" forms' (2), and  'activity related authenticity'. Work has moved steadily away from the objectivist to the more constructivist position, away from a concern with the qualities of objects measured against some expert standard, as in Boorstin: authentic experiences had been commodified, with the willing complicity of tourists themselves. MacCannell's view is similar, with his notion of staged authenticity.

For constructivists, the experience of tourists themselves is more important. For Wang, there are  'five features... First, "there is no absolute and static original or origin on which the authenticity of originals relies." Second, our notions of origins are constructed to serve present needs and are contested. Third, "the experience of authenticity is pluralistic." Fourth, things are often labelled authentic when they conform to stereotype images. Authenticity is, in this regard, a projection of tourists 'own expectations. Finally, things once defined as inauthentic can be redefined over time through a process of "emergent authenticity." (Wang 1999: 355)'  (2).

 "Activity - related", or  "existential" authenticity is a matter of tourist experience, especially in terms of a search for authentic selves. It is a matter of tourist commitment to the sides they are witness in, the experiences that tourists achieve as reflect on their own experience rather than as 'they attempt to understand the Other' (3). There is a connection with Heidegger here. Authenticity in Heidegger involves narrative, a sense of self as integrated authorship, a matter of autobiography, although narrative is not so important in Wang's work.

However, it is hard to tie in these general views with tourism specifically  [Kelner wants to take a fairly exclusive definition, insisting that tourism, as opposed to leisure involves  'a tourist gaze upon an objectified Other', and, to a lesser extent, the need to travel]. Existential authenticity in particular seems to forget that tourists are interacting with other people as well as reflecting on themselves. Conversely, 'object related authenticity privileges the toured' (5). The real issue is what happens when tourists encounter such objects, in particular what happens for the notion of the self. These issues are particularly acute in pilgrimage tourism.

A particular version arises in Taglit, special tours offered to North American Jews to get them to connect with Israel. It is provided cost-free. Typically, participants are homogeneous -- mostly white, Jewish, middle and upper middle-class college students or recent graduates' (5). They were offered a number of activities --'visits to Jewish holy sites, nature hikes, meetings with  Israeli youth, social events, tours of ancient and modern historical areas, and guest lectures on a variety of topics regarding Israel and Judaism' (6).

The main interest was in asking what made an object seemed authentic to the tourist. Kelner's answer involves  'idealized conceptions located within impermeable boundaries, communicated symbolically and legitimated by authority' (6). He argues that authenticity is only understandable by considering its opposite, that people think in terms of dualisms and boundaries [sounds very much like Piercian semiotics] . The authentic is on one side, protected by a boundary. It involves  'similar binary notions: Self/Other, here/there... now/then... familiarity/strangeness... change/stasis... fragmentation/holism... profane/sacred' (6). Similarly, there is often a fixed site for authenticity, in a specific place, time or actor' (6).

Tourists themselves have to engage in much selective perception in order to draw boundaries --  'The imagining of firm spatial boundaries is crucial to the construction of authenticity' (7). The same goes for divisions in time. The authentic belongs in the past, often at the beginning of modernity, or at some other agreed time -- such as, in this case, the Roman exile of Jews from Judea or the 1967 Six Day War. Particular actors, including collective ones, can also be held to bear authenticity, often in contrast to the observer, who can then become officially inauthentic, even if tourists do not actually feel this themselves. Similarly, authentic locals may need to be distinguished from inauthentic ones: in this particular case, divisions were made between groups such as secular or ultra-orthodox Jews. There is sometimes an echo of MacCannell's backstage region in the view that authentic locals are only found far away from the tourist industry.

This explains the common criticism of tourism, by academics and by tourists, that the boundaries are becoming blurred, and that the authentic is being threatened. Boundaries must be impermeable. However, breaches are common. Tourists therefore also have to learn to ignore them. They can do this because they are not always concerned with  authenticity or with academic rigour. By contrast, tourism can be seen as  'a form of play', involving a  '"willing suspension of disbelief"', or a selective perception (9). Indeed, Kelner argues that this must happen in order to maintain boundaries between the authentic and the inauthentic. Thus  'authenticity rests in over-simplification and selective perception', attention directed away from the self and all its contradictions, and the development of a believable narrative (10). Narratives can change with time, since memory is also selective -- hence 'emergent authenticity'.

The content of tourist constructions are necessarily idealized. This can take the form of an idealized version of the past, a verisimilitude  [or sense of realism in cinematic terms) based on  'images of what the object is supposed to look like' (10). There is a prior symbolic content, the result of the efforts of the tourist industry, and also a whole cultural legacy, produced by film TV and other media. These preconceived images are reproduced by interactional processes.

Visitors can expect a symbolic content to the objects that they view -- for example, expecting some religious feeling on encountering the Wailing Wall. Expectations can sometimes been generalized and thus applied to a number of sites -- such as an expectation of how old building should look. Given the flexibility of such constructions, authority becomes important -- tourism professionals, tourists and locals are all involved in potentially contesting definitions.

Sometimes a as a deliberate communicative act involved, such as when particular exhibitions are put on for tourists. However, tourists themselves can supply a symbolic meaning, including seeing themselves as doing ethnographic studies of every day life --'"the museum effect, rendering the quotidian spectacular, becomes ubiquitous"' (12)  [a bit like Franklin's argument on the universality of the tourist experience]. However, despite the search for the authentic, the routine aspects of ordinary life are often ignored, or  'treated as fact, not symbol' (12) -- working-class life in particular.

Existential tourists seem obsessed with reflecting on the self, but why do they bother to actually try to encounter other sites or other people? An narrative is important to connect personal experience and objects that have been gazed at. The organizers of Taglit made a real effort to establish boundaries, trying to insist that ultra-orthodox worshippers should be seen as authentic, especially in the way they refused to adopt modern dress -- they looked like original Jews. Tourists agreed that the ultra orthodox were unusually enthusiastic and committed to their religion when they visited them at home -- they somehow guaranteed the authenticity of the sites. Contrasts were frequent, such as with behaviour among Jews in the USA.  [extracts from what tourists actually said appear here and throughout]. The implicit territorial division also helps maintain the Zionist project  [proper Jews belong in Israel].

The themes were constantly stressed by group discussions, about Israel and Jewish lives. Narratives were therefore constructed about Jewishness and autobiography. Group leaders ask about Jewish upbringings and life histories, implying that  'one's life is not solely one's own and one is placed on an historical continuum... [which]... extends forward too  [to Israel]' (15). There is a close connection between religious and ethnic dimensions, which is unusual. These were stressed by the pursuit of seven pre- selected themes by the organizers of Taglit: 'The nature of contemporary Israeli society; the... encounter between North Americans and Israel; Jewish values; Zionism then and now; an overview of  Jewish history; the Holocaust and Jewish life; and what it all means for us' (16).

One day, for example is devoted to  'authentic Jewish death', with a visit to Yad Veshem [Holocaust Museum] followed by a visit to the military cemetery for those who died during the more recent wars between Israel and her neighbours. The very differences from American life guaranteed the authenticity of the event. A specific Israeli story was being told as well -- ashes to rebirth. Here, the story of modern Jewry is authenticated by a modern state, and,  'Israel's authenticity is an authenticity of territorial and cultural integrity' (17). Other Jewish stories of possible, including those at Ellis Island in the USA, but the ones in Israel are the most coherent and holistic, rendering American experiences as  'unsuitable for constructing a notion of modern Jewish authenticity' (17).

Reference  [lots more in the actual paper]

Wang, N.  (1999)  'Rethinking Authenticity in Tourism Experience', in Annals Of Tourism Research, 26 (2): 349 - 70

key concepts