Anthropology News • November 2010



World Heritage Tourism
UNESCO’s Vehicle for Peace?
Michael A Di Giovine U Chicago Heritage tourism is considered a means of economic development, employment and poverty alleviation, but also of neo-colonialism, inauthenticity and museumification. For UNESCO, it seems to be employed for a far more ambitious goal: to produce “peace in the minds of men.” This contention rests not in tired reiterations of multiculturalism discourses but rather in analyses of the phenomenological attributes of tourism, heritage and globalization. Phenomenologically, tourism is a voluntary, temporary and perspectival interaction with place. Nelson Graburn drew on Victor Turner’s understanding of pilgrimage and ritual to contend that it is undertaken to experience a formative change from the everyday. Tourism’s circular, return-oriented movement provides a particular ritual structure; it can be considered not only a rite of passage but a rite of intensification, a cyclical rite renewing the social order after periods of anomie, and may even create a sense of communitas—a sensation of Archaeotourism human unity that transcends sociopolitical boundaries. Tourism is also perspectival; John Urry points out that the meaning of a touristic encounter is created through the tourist gaze, a socially organized process of seeing a place that decontextualizes a site from its social-spatial milieu and imposes a narrative claim upon it, like a museum does to the objects it displays. Heritage sites’ efficacy in moving people rests on the perspectival nature of their encounter. Rather than being passive or inanimate symbols, these structures are perceived as active mediators, binding a society’s members in a discrete imagined community. Heritage sites are thus often integral to a community’s placemaking strategy, a social and material process mediated by memory, which creates emotional attachments among those who see themselves as part of its environment. A collectively comprehendible narrative claim is created, linking the individual interactant with society through the selective employment of the monument’s own life story—a claim often built around arbitrary yet clearly demarcated boundaries that gain precision when defined in binary opposition to each other; this often ignites protracted conflicts among disparate groups vying for physical and ideological possession of the place.
Angkor Archaeological Park

One example is the Angkor Archaeological Park, a 400-squarekilometer World Heritage site containing the archaeological remains of roughly 600 years of the Khmer empire. Articulating claims that his capital was the cosmological center of the world, the Vaishnavite king Suryavarman II created Angkor Wat as a metonym for Mount Meru. The rival Shivite kingdom of Champa staged a devastating attack on Angkor shortly thereafter but was pushed out 15 years later by the MahayanaBuddhist Jayavarman VII. Arguably the most powerful Khmer ruler, Jayavarman sacked Champa’s capital and undertook an ambitious religious and urban revitalization program by commissioning Buddhist monasteries, hospitals, rest-houses and an impressive network of laterite roadways stretching from present-day Thailand to Vietnam. But such an exposition of power caused an iconoclastic backlash, and in the 15th century the armies of Ayutthaya captured Angkor for the exposition of their own political and material claims as the preeminent force in Southeast Asia. Performing their annexation of Khmer power, the Thais carried to their capital the linga that Jayavarman had pillaged from Champa, erected replicas of Angkor Wat and

constructed a new narrative claiming Angkor was created by the first Ayutthayan king—which still causes controversy today. Likewise, after the French naturalist Henri Mouhot discovered the temples in 1860, the French also employed the monuments to produce Orientalist narratives positing Western Europeans as heirs to—and protectors of—the luminous torch of civilization. Like Jayavarman, they carried off monumental symbols to be displayed in their own nascent nationalistic temples—museums and World’s Fairgrounds—to mediate between individuals in France and the colonial experience in Indochine.
The Heritage-scape

UNESCO’s World Heritage program reappropriates these sites for their own global placemaking endeavor, creating a worldwide imagined community that I call the heritagescape. Positing in its constitution that people’s identities are problematically based on traditional territorial conceptions that are constructed and diffused through these emotionally charged monuments, UNESCO’s goal of creating lasting peace includes a fundamental reworking of the geopolitical system not through conquest, but by reordering individuals’ sense of place. By simultaneously celebrating the differences that create conflict, is the ever-growing phenomenon of archaeotourism. Rachel F Giraudo is a PhD candidate in anthropology at University of California–Berkeley. Her research focuses on cultural heritage, tourism and development in southern Africa. Her dissertation, based on fieldwork at the Tsodilo World Heritage Site, investigates heritage tourism as a means of sustainable development for Botswana’s ethnic minorities. Benjamin W Porter is assistant professor of Near Eastern archaeology at University of California–Berkeley. He is also co-director of the Dhiban Excavation and Development Project, an international project based in Jordan that is designing an archaeological site for domestic and international visitors in collaboration with local community and government agencies.

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expand as a niche leisure tourism market, pertinent issues will require more discussion, such as the commodification of the past and the privatization of heritage management. These issues are relevant to anthropologists and archaeologists engaged in a critique of archaeotourism as hegemonic development, as well as those interested in the economic opportunities that archaeotourism potentially provides communities. Second, future studies should both inform archaeologists of their role within local and regional economies and also outline ways to generate more collaborative archaeological practices that incorporate this awareness. Participatory research approaches in archaeology do have important contributions to

make to disciplinary research ethics, pitfalls of sustainable development but its practitioners need to become will help them make smart and critbetter informed of the main themes of ical contributions to the crux that development studies literature before adopting a disapproving position against attempts to link archaeotourism with economic sustainability. One possibility is to find a place for development studies in graduate-level training in archaeology and in archaeological research design. No matter what One development initiative at the Tsodilo Hills was the side archaeologists creation of a curio shop for community members to sell find themselves their crafts to tourists to supplement their incomes. on these debates, In this photo, development workers aid community members in balancing their financial accounting books. familiarity with the Photo courtesy Rachel F Giraudo possibilities and



November 2010 • Anthropology News

and positing some unanimously recognizable universal culture, UNESCO proposes a peaceful world system based on the structural unity of difference—a “culture of cultures” as Sahlins famously wrote. If a heritage object temporally connects individuals with the socio-spatial milieu from which they came, UNESCO’s World Heritage objects are intended to transcend the temporal and spatial situatedness of one culture’s heritage claims, ensuring that everyone equally possesses each World Heritage site; rather than basing identities on collective antagonism toward difference, tourists consuming the World Heritage narrative can celebrate and internalize diversity. UNESCO’s process changes a site’s narrative; it is decontextualized, evaluated for its universal value, idealized and redefined by fitting it into a predetermined set of typologies that can be understood, in part, through touristic interactions. The site’s official description is also a product of politicking as stakeholders struggle to determine the site’s specific discourse, often producing unintended consequences. For example, the World Heritage Committee designated Angkor in 1992 on the basis of four criteria that oscillate between valorizing the Khmer empire as profoundly influential producers of cultural masterpieces, and another espousing more Orientalist claims of a civilization that

moved from East to West, leaving only “remains of … cult structures in brick and stone.” Its French-colonial title, Angkor Archaeological Park, also reveals this discursive oscillation between the historical focus of

interchangeably in historic preservation, instantiated within the Angkor Archaeological Park, they produce the same two conflicting narratives that the visitor to Angkor must problematically negotiate. Sites such as Angkor Wat and the Bayon can be considered restored—that is, they were cleared of the jungle’s stranglehold and partially reconstructed as they are imagined to have appeared for its intended use by the host society—espousing a narrative that valorizes Khmer culture. Consequently, guides pause before cleaned bas reliefs depicting deities and daily life-processes to discuss Khmer history, aesthetics and folklore. However, sites such as Ta Prohm and Preah Khan have been preserved— reinforced, but left in the ruined state the French found them, “vestiges” of culture suffocated by nature— prompting guides to encourage visitors to amble at leisure through the disarray of crumbled ceilings, causeways and walls.
Unity in Diversity: The Peacemaking Nature of the Heritage-scape

archaeology and the leisure-oriented activities of a natural playground. These narratives are not simply conceptual but materially manifest themselves in the manner in which the site is subsequently conserved and packaged for touristic consumption. At Angkor, edifices are alternatively “restored” or “preserved.” While these two terms are used somewhat

Just as Angkor Wat’s meaning is complexified through tourist interactions with other monuments in the Angkor Archaeological Park, so too is its meaning as a World Heritage site deepened through its juxtaposition with other dissimilar sites in the World Heritage List. The heritagescape can be considered a map of the list, its primary geographic features not national boundaries or political capitals, but places equal in their asso-

ciations and value. Like the objects in a museum, each site gains complexity through its juxtaposition with the greater collection of disparate sites across the heritage-scape. Thus, the heritage-scape is not simply a network of specially delineated destinations with their own local social relations, but a unique place with its own social context that is constantly evolving and expanding. It is this meta-narrative of “unity in diversity,” illustrated by the list and experienced by visitors traveling the heritage-scape, that can potentially foster “peace in the minds of men.” These differences ultimately define us as individuals; these differences are ultimately what we all share. These differences make us part of a human society. Searching for this difference, for this diversity outside of the everyday, tourists too become one with the heritage-scape’s sociality and form a uniquely universalized identity. It is this identity—constructed and continually revised in a dialectical fashion as they amass ever-themore interactive experiences within the heritage-scape—that can create world peace. Michael A Di Giovine is a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago and author of The Heritagescape: UNESCO, World Heritage, and Tourism (2009). He is currently researching cultural revitalization in Southern Italy associated with religious tourism and the cult of 20th-century Catholic stigmatic and saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.

Continue discussing tourism at the 2010 Annual Meeting.
Sessions include: • Contemplating New Movements in Tourism • Boundaries in Motion: Narrative, Performance and Tourism • Heritage and Tourism in Motion • Mobilities of Development • Heritage Markets

For details, and to search for more sessions, workshops and papers, go to


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