2 May 2012
Venue: Room 802 (Anthropology Tea Room), Human Sciences Building (Building 201)
Host: Michelle MacCarthy, (The University of Auckland)
This seminar summarizes my PhD thesis, in which I look to the Trobriand Islands, a place well known to anthropology, as a site of encounter between local residents – keenly aware of their difference, both from other Papua New Guineans and from foreigners abroad – and the visitors who come from far and wide to experience such difference for themselves. Through ethnographic fieldwork with both Trobrianders and tourists, I examine how the touristic experience is conceptualized both by resident Trobriand Islanders – how they choose to represent and enact Trobriandness; and by visitors– how they experience and narrate their interpretation of that enactment. I explore how the tourist experience is framed, both for residents and visitors, in terms of concepts such as authenticity, tradition, and cultural commoditization, which have particular meanings as analytical concepts in anthropology, but are also appropriated and deployed in the discourses of both Trobriand Islanders and the foreign visitors who travel from afar to experience alterity. Other concepts which anthropologists roundly reject as having analytic validity, such as primitivity and reified views of culture, are likewise used by both parties to the tourist interaction as a means of conceptualizing and contextualizing difference in ways that fit with the prevailing metanarratives regarding perceptions of primitivity. Through interactions fostered by formal performances, informal village visits, souvenir shopping, and tourist photography, cultural tourism provides a site of intercultural encounter and (mis)information about Otherness negotiated and interpreted in ways that reinforce, rather than reform, preconceived ideas about radical alterity.