Seeking Self in Other

Seeking Self in Other: The push and pull of heritage tourism

Tourism itself comes with the desire to experience difference and distance. Dean MacCannell writes that the tourist is motivated by the idea of the Other, which he describes in six general themes: the cultural other, the other sex, the other intense pleasure, the other love, the other place, and the unconscious. Ultimately, he argues, the unconscious is the predominant Other, for it “contains every lost object of desire.”

Every lost object of desire. The tourist, MacCannell suggests, is perpetually searching for him- or herself through the act of traveling, whether they do so knowingly or not. What is this search for self? In his argument MacCannell points to Said’s discussion of the Orient as the counterpart of the European, thereby framing his own analysis (perhaps unintentionally) in terms of not just a “cultural other,” but a racial Other as well. Yet not all tourists seek their binary opposition. There are also those tourists who travel to places to which they have been racially linked, joining the trend of heritage tourism (also known as roots tourism, genealogical tourism, etc). In one perspective, heritage tourism is read as a means of finding one’s past – a benevolent, empowering activity. In another, less idealistic sense, it is an attempt to understand a place that has been linked to the tourist solely on the basis of their race or ethnicity. Heritage tourism becomes a search for identity, not by encountering the Other, but by engaging with an Other that should be much closer to oneself. [ read more ]

Photo credit: Brant Ward, The Chronicle, article available here
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