READING  GUIDE to: Sundbo, J. & Darmer, P. ( eds) (2008) Creating Experiences in the Experience Economy, Edward Elgar: Cheltenham

[The book begins with a summary of rather basic stuff about the experience economy replacing the knowledge economy.  There are some rather eclectic theoretical resources used here, including theories of art, semiotics (in the chapter on food), and some travel writing (rather uncritical, for example in the chapter on Rome).  I have summarised the chapters that mostly address the mechanisms involved in creating experience]

Chapter 8.  Sundbo, C.  Experience offerings: who or what does the action?  (157-76).

We should be examining the relations between employees and the physical environment, using ANT with its notion of non human actants.  This is seen well in high tech environments.  Leisure offers space and time for consumers but it is work for providers.  We need to analyse the ‘experience offering’, as the basic unit, focusing on what is provided rather than what is actually experienced.

As an example of the study of empirical actants, including machines, we might examine:

1.       Nightclubs like the one that features automatic ordering and interactive tables joined by a wifi network.  An ‘ordering cup’ allows a dialup and then codes are inserted.  Since the machinery makes a difference, it can be considered as an actant, although there is no technological determinism here.  Instead, the whole network needs to be examined with machines at important nodes.  This network redefines human activities such as the role of the waiter.

2.       A high fashion store, a branch of Prada, profiles its customers, permitting a personalised service, including offering handheld computer firms to access information and display the goods on offer.  These are portable which lets employees interact with customers directly.  Changing rooms display video views.  Managers register the product and display options like sizes and colours.

These examples show how the designer physical settings affects interaction, and offers a number of options like self service, or remote service, or interpersonal service.  Customers react differently to these different options, and Prada is surveying them.  This area needs more research, they say.  Self service is the most likely growth area that the other options are worth bearing in mind.  There are implications for management in that objects and machines have to be managed too.  However, design seems to offer the answer rather than employee training.

Chapter 9.  Baerenholdt, J., Haldrup, M. and Larson, J.  Performing cultural attractions (176-202).

This is about how consumers produce experiences, drawing examples from Danish heritage sites.  The implications of ‘authenticity’ are the issue.  The sites indicate the end of tourism as a separate bounded activity, and the move from culture to experience.  This sort of offering would be denounced as faked by critics and tourism such as McCannell, or Urry.  The turn towards performance emphasises doing, and acting rather than consuming.  There are different conceptions of performance though:

1.      Goffman and impression management, the notion of back and front stages and so on.  This conception is popular but it overemphasises reflexivity rather than ‘habitual’ and routinised modes of behaviour (179).

2.       Butler, where the subject is produced by performance, by  discourse.  This is conservative and aimed at the reproduction say the authors.

3.       Thrift and ‘non representational geography’.  Here, social worlds are produced by doing an acting, embodied practice.  This involves interactions between objects and technologies which offer ‘affordances’ (180), the potential for being performed.  The emphasis is on actions rather than texts, the body rather than symbols, ‘the construction of reality rather than its representations’ (180).  Choreographies and scripts are powerful in guiding such performances, but are never total.  ‘Tourism is performed rather than preformed’ (181).  Performers have repertoires of cultural experiences and imaginations, and how they draw on these is the issue, including how the past and the present are united, how we might detect their traces in performances.

The two case studies discussed here involve the performance of tourist photography, based on a study of a heritage site involving a ruined castle on a Danish Island, a classic location for the romantic gaze, and a, with a much more international appeal, capable of engaging fantasy and providing a ‘fantastic realism’ (182).

1.     Even visual gazes are embodied and embedded in cultural scripts.  This is shown by observing and viewing photographs taken by tourists.  These reveal that ‘personal photography dramas’ are being enacted (183).  Urry talks of a hermeneutic circle, where tourists capture images they have seen already, [rather like an ideological circularity in Althhusser].  Commercial photographs choreograph tourists’ photographs in this view.  But this is too reductive, since the environment also determines what can be photographed—paths, fences, forbidden access areas, viewing stations.  Tourists or engaging in a performance, active photography.  They are not just doing documentary recording either.  Families and other significant others are involved, with future audiences in mind.  People pose, arrange and present themselves.  Shots are therefore personalised.  Families are an important theme of tourist photographs, so that it might be possible to describe a whole ‘family gaze’ (186).  Photographs are taken at a site as well as of one, and ‘photographs are usually taken to make memories for the future’, sometimes as an ‘anticipation of fantasy’ (188).

2.       For visits to museums have long been dominated by perspectives of what counts as proper use or authenticity.  They display epistemic regimes of the past, classifications and fray means of the world.  Commercialised heritage still attempts to interpret sites for visitors.  The Viking ship museum organises virtual transitions past ‘auratic’ actual excavated ships into an activity room.  There are also replica ships and demonstrations of shipbuilding.  The museum managers wants to illustrate and preserve shipbuilding skills.  However, visitors want to search for their origins and fantasise.  They actively construct perceptions, for example in prioritised in the replicas over the wrecks as more real (189), possibly because you can interact with the replicas and thus experience reality more vividly.  The role of the real wrecks is to act as a trace, as in Benjamin, of one’s own identity, that which is being constructed using museum artefacts.  There are lots of opportunities for fantasy and entering the popular world of the Vikings, and one interviewee referred to several television programmes they had seen.  The visitors were keen to play in the activity room, and to celebrate Viking character as well as their skills.  This was seen as a matter of adventure, innovation.  These characteristics allegedly transferred down the generations, according to some American visitors who were seeking their Viking roots.  So there is an interplay between the object and fantasies, an ‘imaginative repossession of the past’ (195).  Perceptions of Viking culture see it as cosmopolitan and far reaching so it is easy to connect with it, and lots of people can claim it as their legacy.  This unity between fantasies and objects is ‘fantastic realism’ (196).

So this performance the same as ‘staged authenticity’?  Views of authentic history are controversial.  Wang has three types of authenticity—the objective authenticity of experts, constructive authenticity projected by tourists, and existential authenticity where one achieves a sense of authentic being.  The family gaze is like the last one, while fantastic realism approaches constructive authenticity.  Far more is involved than just intended meanings by the designers.  Fantastic realism draws on a huge vocabulary of signifiers, including some provided by the media.

Although the production processes are important, they script but do not prescribe performance.  What is involved as a relation between culture and objects, and discussions of the authenticity of objects are still too limited.  It is the affordances of objects which is the most important element of performance, whole ‘practices and politics of connectivity’ (198).

Chapter 10. Christrup, H.  On sense and sensibility in performative processes (203-31).

Performance takes place with many people and with multi sensory stimuli.  For example church services involve environmental symbols, prayers, music, embodied spirituality.  Can we make the same opportunities arise from commercial settings?  There seem to be two possibilities [I could only really find one]:

‘Space – spirit interaction’.  The case study here is what goes on in performance at theatre.  One example involves a Danish light artist attempting to evoke emotions and memory in a way which is ‘underpinned by brain research’ (204).  Apparently, there are some harmonies between brain activity and electromagnetic fields.  The audience can express emotions and this can affect their interaction [with a reference to Durkheim here].  Touch is also involved.  The particular Danish theatrical performances then taken as a case study, and events are analysed along a dimension covering space, time, interaction and engagement.  The idea of flow could also be used as a model.  Apparently,  fundamental emotions are tested, including ‘fear, anger, shame, contempt, fright, pain, interest, and joy’ (206).  The theatrical processes are based on a fear of anger and shame, and are supposed to move to joy and interest.  The theatre is conceived as a ‘jolly chora’, ‘a big heart/heat space’ (206).  The initial activity however is ‘ego roulette’.  The intention is that the audience expose and then confronts their theories, and therefore develop their identity through ‘kairos (intense moments that open a window on new actions)’ (207), a sustained psychological state of coherence.

An analysis of an actual performance follows.  The audience first gather at a rather anxiety-provoking space, as if they were in the military building, threatened with a deadly virus.  A number of other locations are then offered, and the audience choose them in order to experience different kinds of interaction with other members and with actors.  The audience is prompted to self discovery.  They ‘lose oneself and find oneself again’ (207).

The wacky neuroscience involves an argument that emotions are always linked to facial expressions and have physiological dimensions.  How these linkages occur is a complex matter rooted in socialisation.  We all face ‘universal existential situations’, but have different reactions to them [although there is a hint of an underlying oedipal model].  The ego controls emotions, so that for example, anger becomes moralising.  The basic ego reactions lead to anger or fear or shame.

Ego roulette lists these reactions as options—for example moralising, manipulating, promoting oneself, controlling in a chaos, retreating, timidity, imaginative escape into the future, blaming others, and passive acceptance.  There are also a ‘life expanding’ positive alternatives, located in the jolly chora—exhilaration, love, compassion, serenity and so on (210).

Performance theatre tries to provoke ego reactions so that the audience becomes conscious of this ego roulette and can therefore develop more positive options.  Performances include things like a monologue by an actress on her own sad past which challenges the audience by asking them questions.  Audience members experience guilt and sadness after recognition, and then go on to experience an initial ‘loneliness and abandonment’ (211).  The actors recognise these ego reactions as useful ‘types’.

The development from ego roulette to the chora takes place through emotionally intense encounters with actors and the audience—kairos.  Coherence is also described (by more psychological theory) as some kind of stable states, involving increasedi efficiency, harmony, and  ‘reduction and internal mental dialogue, reduced stress, mental clarity’ (213) [very much like flow then?].  Physiological clues of emotional states include heart rates such as palpitations when people get angry, and this leads to a repetition of the dubious claim the electromagnetic forces can induce similar emotions in other people, apparently up to a range of 1.5 metres (214).

So did a commercial theatre activity successfully induce multi sensory stimulation and engagement?  The authors says yes, that the theatre is popular with audiences, that they did interact with each other.  Is it ethical to manipulate people like this?  There are still some doubts.

Identity creation takes place through loss and then regaining one’s self.  There is a need to go beyond the ego level and connector is something bigger, but this is not an individual and rational process.  It is like trying to commune with nature (215)—‘mountains are immense, and mutable, and “present”’.  Participating in childbirth is another example.  The experience of presence is the issue.  It is very valuable but first one has to lose one’s self and this can be painful.

What are the commercial applications of the model?  Can commodities help to create identity?  What are the commercial implications of ‘longing to be long’ (217).  We can buy a commodities of the first stage and then join the community and be creative, Coe produce experience.  Cultural heritage is good and so a new community developments rather than top down planning.  Another example turns on a community arts project where CCTV was used to encourage deliberate performances [and various installations].  [More odd physiological stuff ensues about the effects of sound on the electromagnetic fields of brain cells].

Should this sort of activity by voluntary or state funded?  There is a lot of investment in experience – producing activities in Denmark, but the same techniques can be used by companies to sugarcoat exploitation (220).  Professionals need to be able to interact with clients as well, and managers [so this is ethically rather cool here, more or less advice on how to commercialise?].

Interactions blur boundaries.  Psychological coherence means we are less open to manipulation.  A state of coherence can be developed through training, for example through heart rate feedback after various bits of music are experienced.  We can also train to read other people’s bodies, including their micro expressions.  Professionals need to achieve this coherence to be effective, including becoming aware of their own reactions to stress, and how to avoid destructive interactions.

They need a ‘communication compass’, as in Jung (223).  The compass points are thinking, intuition, feeling, and sensing, and these dominate our consciousness at different times.  The trick is to RE awaken the others.  There is a correspondence to Schon on the notion of a reflective practitioner, and the compass also underpins De Bono’s thinking hats.

The usual model of rational action [GP ID] his two abstract.  In reality, projects developed out of interaction, and this needs to be incorporated.  For example, the notion of implementation really needs to be rewritten as ‘proactive management with an uncovering of possibilities and obstacles’ (224).  The notion of goal should be rewritten as ‘vision, tentative aim’.  Brain research shows that emotion is involved, and therefore this should also be acknowledged for example, that the preparation stage often involves tension and confusion, the initial disagreement can lead two ‘inner certainty, joy and happiness’ at the implementation stage, which should itself be rewritten as processes of ‘inculcation’, and ‘illumination’ (226).  Such outcomes can also be unexpected.

Alpha waves are involved, and theta waves too for some, producing a trance like state (beta waves were associated with salt, gamma waves with will) (226).  Gamma waves explain states such as Kundalini—highly energy, flows of energy between different states.  The issue is whether these states can be induced by training.

Overall, excellent performers play with emotions and conscience as well as practical competence.  Interaction often leads to improvisation.  Arts and the theatre can help here.  There is an important notion of a double consciousness, able to offer an initial interpretations and then remain open to reinterpretation—‘reflection in action’ for Schon.  This is supported by experience, work on the brain, and the wisdom of the east.  We all need to go for  jolly choras, ego roulette free zones, and coherence.

Chapter 11 Harll, A and Gram, M.  Experience Production by family tourism providers (232-52)

The emphasis is on the production of experiences again, rather than just looking at promotional material.  Choosing the location is a family matter, but individual preferences vary.  Different preferences are reconciled in a number of ways, including asking what children like and dream about.

Pine and Gilmour on the experience economy is extended by considering the production of memorable events.  There is an ideal ‘sweet spot’ where multiple pleasures are available, including aesthetic and escapist: all senses are engaged.  Pine and Gilmore refer to theming, with the provision of positive signals, the minimisation of negative experiences, and the provision of souvenirs.

Involvement begins with preparation and extends afterwards.  Some expect emotional rewards, others offer more rational calculations.  New ‘post Disney’ opportunities are available through interaction, rather than just experiencing a controlled environment. 

German children seem to like activities and play, and activities include participation in, for example, panning for gold.  They like to shop.  They like interaction with others.  The older ones like extreme activity.  There is a general liking for beaches, and hotels.  British children were the least involved in the choice of destination.

Parents stressed sharing with the family, children having fun, rest and recreation mixed with activity.  They like beaches, but are not as interested in contact with others. 

With joint decisions, children are active in the process, and can exert indirect as well as direct influence.  Their role is increased as family affluence increases.  Parents might be feeling guilt at working.  There is a decline of paternal authority, in favour of children’s enjoyment as a high priority.  Children’s priorities include less have an interest in ‘educational’ material.

Discussion groups were held with children and with the German parents, and there was a further survey  of German children.  The children were offered a range of pictures, and invited to choose ones which represented a good holiday experience.  Photographs from Danish advertising material were chosen, and were rated as relevant by the groups.  Nevertheless, it is difficult to record interpretations and reasons for choice.

The children shows pictures representing abilities and sensory experiences, then togetherness.  They said they chose ones that looked fun.  Some responded to the ‘niceness’ of the photograph.  They chose photographs of water in particular.  There seem to be some connection with their existing leisure, and their own standard perceptions of a holiday.  They avoided pictures showing babies or the opposite sex.  The parents varied in their preferences, valuing peace and quiet, relaxation, scenery, and commercial pleasures, and simple joys.

Thus children like different experiences.  They are not worried about authenticity or commercialism.  There is some conflict in the tastes of boys and girls, adults and children start.  Adult tastes were seen as ‘boring’.  It is therefore clearly a problem for the tourist industry to attract families.  They need to provide different experiences.

[What a conspicuously banal piece of work!]

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