Monday, June 4, 2018

Dark Tourism

This is a review of Stone's (2018) edited volume, The Palgrave Handbook of Dark Tourism Studies.

I've deleted this review once and started over.  I want to get it right because when this review is complete, I plan to begin re-writing my own dark tourism paper.  In essence, this is a review of dark tourism and as such it encompasses much more than the volume shown in the image at the top of this post.  It also includes a literature review of the research area that goes by the name 'dark tourism' and, as such, will go over some key foundational texts in the area by way of arriving at a starting point for my own paper.  The subject of that paper is the new North Coast 500 driving route around the far northern Highlands of Scotland, one which includes for many tourists in the area visiting Inverness, the historic Culloden battlefield and Clava Cairns sites.  The latter is under pressure from increasing tourist numbers as it is included in Diana Gabaldon's novel Outlander, as well as the Netflix series by the same name.

Upon my arrival in Inverness in the summer of 2017, I got into a conversation with the taxi driver taking me to my hotel, and the topic of that conversation was Outlander.  Actually it was about how many tourists were coming to the area now that the TV series was out, and figures cited usually mentioned a 'doubling' of that figure for the area, with special focus on the Clava Cairns, a (highly inaccurate) representation of which features in the TV series.

As I'm reading The Palgrave Handbook of Dark Tourism Studies each new chapter suggests itself as a possible way of reading Culloden, the Clava Cairns, and the NC500 route, a trio I've come to see as a sort of 'package' that tourists will experience either in its entirety or in part.  The middle chapters of the volume especially, in section 3 (Dark Tourism, Society and Culture) for example, include 'Unwanted Tourism', 'Disaster Tourism', 'Spectral Tourism', mediated tourism, and others, each of which represents a potentially viable theoretical framework for my own paper-in-progress.

I had originally started this review intending to structure it around several key chapters that I felt were punching above their weight, especially chapter 10 (in section 2, "Dark Tourism and Philosophy"), on psychogeography.  I believe this chapter is quite 'weighty' in terms of its theoretical importance, as it brings together a very sophisticated Debordian derive-style of spectacular tourist consumption and a Foucauldian heterotopic framework for examining its two case studies: Chernobyl and the Auschwitz-Berkenau Memorial and Museum.

There are certainly other equally 'weighty' chapters in this volume, however, not least chapter 20 by Hartmann, "Tourism to Memorial Sites of the Holocaust", which attempts to synthesise all the literature to date on this type of site: the resulting bibliography is massive; while the analysis synthesises a useful typology.  This chapter is itself in section 4, the chapters of which consist entirely of those written by geographers.  For example, Hanna, Alderman, and Bright's chapter on tourism in sites of former slavery is one of the only to include maps.  The spatiality of dark tourism is thus elucidated through diagrams indicating how few slavery sites manage to do justice to the actualities of life lived everyday as a slave.

The Handbook is an astounding achievement.  There are no two ways about that.  This volume surpasses all that have gone before, synthesising the previous insights and, though those other volumes may be more specialised (see for example titles like Dark Tourism and Place Identity or Dark Tourism and Crime, two examples of Routledge titles in the field of Dark Tourism), a number of the 'classics' of Dark Tourism scholarship are here superseded.  Lennon and Foley's (2000) Dark Tourism, for example, is succinctly summarised here in Lennon's chapter 24, which updates, corrects, and with much more brevity says many of the same things as the (admittedly itself succinct) earlier monograph.


The Handbook also gives us a definition.  "Engineered and Orchestrated Remembrance" (chapter 1, by Seaton) is first encountered on page 13, and the admittedly abstract terms engineering/orchestration are demonstrated, however, to be central to the definition of Dark Tourism as a field, in addition to a small set of other criteria revolving around remembrance, commemoration, and mortality.  We come to know that this kind of tourism is not crucially limited by any aspect of supply or demand; and that there is no such thing as a 'dark tourist'; that darkness is itself subject to qualification and shading of intensity.

But we cannot get around the facts of EOR (Seaton, 2018, page 13): "The development of material forms to expedite these choices may be described in abstract terms as the engineering and orchestration of remembrance, where engineering is the choice of form and medium (headstone, memorial tablet, epitaph, etc.), and orchestration is their content, layout, and style (gravestone design, memorial speech, mausoleum features, etc.).  It is these commemorative forms that become central to much dark tourism."


And so, we come to learn how commemoration is, within an EOR framework, presented and one the recurring sites is Chernobyl.  This is a fascinating site that has evolved from a sort of 'ground zero' style place of absolute desolation, to one that is gradually being reclaimed by both natural processes (i.e. the return of wildlife and viable ecological relationships) and cultural ones, especially of a particular type of tourist, one that might be interested in psychogeography or nature (not to mention speculative fiction, as the movie Stalker is partly credited with providing some impetus for tourist interest in Chernobyl, despite its pre-dating the event by several years).

Engineering and orchestration are not, of course, particular only to Dark Tourist sites like Chernobyl, Auschwitz, or Culloden (the latter is of particular interest to my own research); instead we find that dark tourism relies upon them in very particular ways that allow for more precise shadings of commemoration, from the 'light' to the 'dark', where the former might include 'dungeon' tours or Madame Tussaud's; and the latter concentration camps or sites of terrorist attacks. Psychologically it is argued herein that Freudian processes are at work in how humanity wants to process the fact of its death; dark tourism can aid this.  It can also aid in processing educational material, for example, there is a kind of tourist 'out there' who will spend considerable amounts of time and money examining sites of slavery and associated murders, lynchings, and assassinations in southern US states.

This is not every tourist, to be sure; but at the same time, as mentioned above, there is no 'dark tourist' (Seaton points this out in the chapter that introduces part 5 of this handbook).  Places can become branded in such ways that they present along that spectrum (here referring to the seminal 2006 paper by Stone, entitled "A Dark Tourism Spectrum: Towards a typology of death and macabre related tourist sites, attractions, and exhibitions", published in the journal Tourism) mentioned above.

Researchers paying close attention to the development of dark tourist studies will need to pay very close attention to this Handbook.   It is now required reading also for business leaders and practitioners hoping to take advantage of the burgeoning of affect and consumption on the 'dark side' of tourism.  While most tourists will continue to stay lighter, simply because it is both healthy and in good supply, this 'other' side remains equally necessary, and is not likely to go away any time soon.

My main comment here, as a geographer, would be that EOR and dark tourism need more maps.  What better way to orchestrate, to engineer, tourist consumption of site than through the use of a map that can situate the participant in the landscapes of affect and intellect that often accompany such sites?  Tourism as a whole, and as a primarily visual field of consumption, relies upon imagery to be effective.  This is produced by both participants and suppliers of various brands, sites, and products that are part and parcel of the experiences the tourist wishes to leave with.  They want to have a lot of photographs at the end of the trip, by which to remember the experience, and by which to share it with others (see Urry's classic book The Tourist Gaze for more on visuality).

Maps epitomise the spatialities inherent with such an approach, and many a map will come home alongside the photographs.  The map's strength is that it includes much more than just the image: in also has text and drawings that allow for the synthesis of a great deal of information.

If dark tourism is even more about the transmission of information across generational lines than 'standard' tourism, with purposes beyond mere consumption, but of preservation of collective memory, then maps have a demonstrable value in that kind of intergenerational engineering.  Even in the discipline of geography, maps are overlooked, and there is only a small handful of papers (see Hanna and del Casino's Mapping Tourism for the best example) and books that look at tourism from the perspective of this very precise kind of EOR.

It is there (in maps), and it is geographers, that need to pay much more attention, and not only to this Handbook, but to some of their own backyards, some of which contain an embarrassment of riches in terms of human geographical materials, the subjects of which are active construction of ethnographically rich archives of material.

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