ã 2001 Sean Gillen. All rights reserved. No part of this text may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author. 

This work was completed in part-fulfilment of an MA Tourism and Leisure. Lancaster University, UK 2000—1, and is reproduced here strictly for scholarly purposes.

Emotion, it has been demonstrated, is an immensely complex field, drawing on the biological, experiential, historical and socio-cultural in its individual experience.  By the same token, research into emotion should perhaps draw on the same sources in order to begin to fully understand its significance.  To further complicate investigation, emotionality is far from constant in its experience or expression, fluctuating throughout modern history and expressed in identifiable social trends and movements, most recently with the emergence of mass media culture, global commerce and new technologies, all of which expand the possibilities for emotional experience.  Alongside such developments, it has been suggested, have been the inherent requirements for emotional containment, to create social spaces that are conducive to furthering ‘civilised’ social progress, and the underlying psychological propensity towards emotional repression.  In contrast, or perhaps in response to this, the experience of emotion purely for the pleasure it brings has been discussed; feeling being commodified and consumed in hedonistic ways, rather than motivated by underlying tensions. 

Tourism in many ways effectively illustrates much of this thinking.  It has provided the means of expression, and perhaps even the medium of change in the experience of emotion.  In its rituals it can elicit a beneficial release of tensions and provide ‘mimetic’ alternatives to unrestrained behaviour, offering a ‘controlled de-control’ of emotion.    As the research presented here illustrates, attractions employ a variety of techniques in attempts to elicit an emotional response. Blackpool pleasure Beach typifies how theme parks successfully use emotional discourse and sensory manipulation (particularly that associated with the visual) to encourage very real emotional reaction. Moreover, in providing something to be feared, the sight also provides the opportunity for tourists to play with their role and character (thus implicating feelings of shame and pride in the experience) whilst also providing a shared experience of emotion that can augment social bonds.  In a different way, the Beatles Story Exhibition also demonstrates that by playing on the cultural and personal significance of an era, its music and prominent icons, it can for some at least be a genuinely important and moving experience.  In both accounts, two extremes of significance are evident, one that identifies a collective and deep emotional significance, another that indicates little significance beyond immediate pleasure, or indeed disappointment.  Hence, no matter how mediated the experience the tourist sight, it only provides the raw materials for emotion.  The actual experience emanates from the disposition and the culture of tourists themselves.

Nonetheless, it is propounded here (and indeed the research presented in this thesis supports the fact), that society does inevitably induce emotional tensions and needs that tourist sights in some ways are a response to, even if no single interpretation can explain all cases.  The task of elaborating and clarifying this situation further reflects the central problem of social enquiry – that between agency and structure; a problem that is of course beyond the scope of this thesis, as such little more than merely recognising the issue can be achieved here.

It has been intimated however, that a pivotal emotion of social significance is that of fear, reflected in ‘fatal attractions’ that can force the confrontation of deep fears, and in the attraction of paying homage to modern day heroes, through which individuals may escape a fear of confinement in their own mediocrity, or confront a fear of an irretrievable loss of the past, and of a previous Self.  In this mode of thought, fear and escape are thus intrinsically linked: without fear there is perhaps no desire to escape.  For Zeldin, fear, or more precisely attempts to liberate oneself from it, has been a vital motivation for social action throughout history.  Two recurring methods of liberation often emerge, it is suggested:

“The first has been with the help of fear itself, by escaping from one fear to another, which contains more hope.  The second has been through curiosity about something quite different which has temporarily blotted out the awareness of dangers”


(1998:169) (see references)

In this sense, the attraction of macabre themes of fatality seem somewhat less paradoxical than functional, presenting the tourist with temporary, distracting distress. The notion of curiosity, not unrelated to fear, is perhaps an inherent motivation for much of tourism in that it may focus attention on other people and places, about their comparative values, and their lifestyles.  But to be curious implies a lack of knowledge, and a lack of knowledge and understanding may often result in fear, such as in fear of flying, of foreign foods or languages.  Tourism, in its broadest sense provides the opportunity to confront such fear.  When the tourism place is one of sensation rather than the place of some Other this confrontation can become a confrontation with fears of the Self, and that is exactly what some of the more macabre sights sell to the tourist- their own emotions. The Beatles Story exhibition is unusual in this respect, in that there is unlikely to be a significant lack of knowledge of the Other, The Beatles. Hence it plays on curiosity for another time, and builds on people’s already held knowledge in offering a pilgrimage-like experience, as something to strive for that obscures everyday cares in its anticipation and fulfilment.

It is important though to acknowledge the other side of this - that of the positive emotion that can emanate from successful confrontation - satisfaction, fun, self esteem, and the bodily and psychological relief that can follow during the experience, immediately after it, or in later recollection.  Ironically then, perhaps the greatest fear associated with tourism might be the fear of not experiencing tourism, one that confines the non-tourist to a more monotonous, safe and uneventful emotional landscape.

Wiith regards the investigation of emotion in tourism however, some methodological points must be made. It has been argued in this thesis that a pluralistic approach is of real benefit in gaining insight into such a multifaceted field.  In practice, the application of a range of techniques has allowed a tailoring of field research to specific circumstances, offering adaptability to varying environments, whilst drawing heavily on both the tourist’s experiences and that of the researcher.  This approach has produced a broad perspective on the significance of emotion in the tourism sights used as examples.  However, in order to more fully investigate the social significance of the emotional experience, it would be necessary to gain a deeper insight into the tourists’ personal experiences.  Future research could therefore benefit from more in-depth interviews, as a follow up to the in situ investigations.  This would perhaps illuminate the deeper expectations, concerns, and fears that underlie the act of tourism as an ‘escape’.  Essentially, it is perhaps only through such an approach that apparent correlations between the theoretical and the actual significance of the emotional experience can be verified.  The benefits of such research are manifold, ranging from the broadening of sociological and touristic inquiry, to the improved capacity of the commercial sector to respond to the emotional needs of the tourist.

As it stands though, some important potential avenues of inquiry can be drawn from the research presented here.  Firstly, the gendered variation of emotional expression (both verbally and in action) at Blackpool Pleasure Beach is of significant interest; the implication being that in some respects men and women may be actually experiencing the sight on different terms.  Investigation could examine whether these differences are active at a surface or deep level, and to what extent the emotional discourse that surrounds and mediates the experience is gendered.  Similarly, given the assertions made earlier on the significance of culture in mediating emotion, it is perhaps important to ask whether tourists from divergent cultures actually experience a sight in different ways (an area touched on By Ireland and Kivi 1997).

The impact of media culture and new technologies on emotional experience has also been briefly raised.  With the increasing availability of modes of emotional intercourse, it is important to consider not only the impact this will have on the quality of social and emotional experiences, but also on the tourist industry which at present, depends on the movement and interaction of people.  Research could investigate the current state of these technologies, and speculate on the potential for more elaborate forms of escape through ‘virtual-tourism’, its provision of mimetic de-control of emotion and even the subsequent possibilities for virtual-transgression. In relation to this is the idea of continuing desensitisation to the objects of emotional consumption, as expressed in ever more violent films, increasingly macabre and distressing heritage interpretations, and even more extreme theme park rides.  Investigating whether the basis of such a trend lies in the social (expressed in an increased demand for such experiences), or in the commercial drive to exceed that offered by competitors, could also provide a fascinating insight into emotionality.

This analysis has only fleetingly alluded to the emotional benefits and pleasures of transgression, but this itself offers an avenue of research into tourism, particularly in considering popular destinations such as Ibiza and Agia Napa.  Given their reputation as the ‘spiritual home’ of dance music, such research could benefit from the application of the pilgrimage analogy in that these destinations are arguably as synonymous with ‘religious’ devotion to the music and its purveyors, as with acts of chemical and sexual transgression.  Analysis of the emotional context of such behaviour could shed light on a phenomenon that suggests a significance that is beyond the profane for it its devotees.

In conclusion, this thesis argues that if the social significance of tourism is to be fully investigated, its emotional contexts must be addressed.  It is hoped that future research could begin to develop a more distinct and refined approach, rather than relying on well-established perspectives for theoretical support.  As noted at the outset, emotion is like a light that helps make sense of the world, hence, attention to emotion might also help to re-illuminate the field of tourism and provide fresh impetus in the analysis of what is, after all, one of the most significant social phenomena of recent history.