tourism & cultural anthropology

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Involving local communities 

Lately the increasing tourism in so called ecologically and culturally unspoiled areas has become a profitable subject of anthropological research. It offers worthwhile critiques of western societies and different groups which enjoy various ways of intercultural contacts while travelling and choosing certain destinations. Travelling in its various manifestations became an impressive pattern through which we encounter other cultures and our own. Though individual tourism denies the dimension of masstourism it became its multiplier. The visited people again are involved in very dynamic changes being asked to adapt to new ways of being. 

The contact between these culturally diverse approaches to life enlighten us about other cultural possibilities  supporting an awareness that we represent merely one approach out of many.

Explication involves situating travelling in a particular context where different social and cultural groups and individuals act.

It involves the creation of a framework of these groups and to interpret the framework within a specific code of meaning. Believing that culture is the creation of symbolic meaning and that these meanings differ even among the individuals involved in a single cultural exchange (such as a communication between visitors and visited people in a village) then there can be, to recall edward sapir¹s phrase, "as many cultures as there are individuals in a population."


Do local communities want to be involved?

During my fieldwork and research on the island of S.te Marie, Madagascar i compared the potential of small community tourism with luxury tourism by means of qualitative and quantative research.

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I defined various groups and representatives of economical interests involved in the researched area which embody different socio-economical imperatives and cultural values. Interviews with representatives and sudden contacts provided me with an growing insight into local reality. 

A very typical way of moving and reacting slowly called mora-mora (probably imported by pacific traders who settled down on madagascar´s east coast) reflects not only a specific tranquility but also a way of handling things. Repairing a car or building a house f.i. sometimes follows a strange way like starting to repair tools and therefore getting missing parts and so on. This process may sound absurd to western rationality but is an integral part of everyday life creating the most with what is available.

On the other side various elements of tourism on Ste. Marie, only installed two decades ago, offer proof that a cultural regime for authentication - with all its implications from eating habits to all kind of consumption and imported products can be a decisive force which creates changes or what appadurai calls a turnstile-function (appadurai, cambridge 1986). Do local people consume to participate in an authentic consumption?

Also Gregory Batesons theory that living systems are looking to optimize its variables (homöostasis) and not to maximize them gives a reasonable explication for local socio-economical behaviour. I observed an "ethic of optima" as being growlingly supressed by an "ethic of massima" starting already from early contacts with colonalization. 

The feedback of quantative reckoning  though the difficulties of creating infrastructure and economical behaviour  is systemicly positive as it prevents excessive exploitation by neoliberal market doctrine. Maximazation and instrumentalization of human and natural ressources find on Ste. Marie direct limits which leave future options for more sustainable intervention open. 

The creation of a standardized and homogenized touristic offer is rejected and gives space for touristic models dealing sucessfully with specific cultural patterns. Certain realities are slowing down a touristic opening but in a long term also help to protect from rapid harmfull changes.

How can community based tourism on the island of S.te Marie be improved?

The following observations are based on the fact that in various areas of madagascar projects are imposed from the outside - motivated by the pursuit of rapid economic growth - often override local needs, socio-cultural conditions and cultural costs. Therefore one of the central questions of my research implied how the needs and aspirations of local people can be taken better into account

- a local development strategy which takes loacl needs into account is absolutly essential, especcially in disadvantaged areas: local involvement is crucial to appropriate development which meets the needs of local people and safeguards their natural and cultural environment

- activities like the Natural Resources Management of the WWF in various areas of Madagascar can safeguard employment in disadvantaged areas allowing partnerships between business (ppt), local government, volontary and community groups and foster greater understanding of local conditions, ways of problemsolving and mobilising and administering resources

- local involvement makes a community more supportive, confident and productive, with a sense of pride and commitment to the future. positve synergies can be spelled only be creating a wide cooperation between private outside investors and local decisionmakers

- carefully developed tourism can provide real economic, environmental and cultural benefits to the community - in turn, genuine community involvement can enrich the tourism experience and product

- when a community is involved in the direction of tourism development it is more likely to become an active partner and to provide checks and balances since it has a particular stake in the region and commitment to environmental quality. There is a positive didactic between the long-term viability and the involvement of the local community

- local involvement means more than employment the usal low-paid, seasonal menial and service jobs, such as waiters, chambermaids and gardeners. General access to qualified jobs can be supported by offering educational programms, training and formation in the promotion of home-based b&b acommodation, farmhouse holidays ect. to the local community

- ownership by a local elite does not ensure the equitable distribution of benefits or environmental accountability. Certain regions of S.te Marie give prove that foreign investments do not „trickle down“ to all levels of society. Careful examination shows that local identity is an important issue for the sharing of new income.  Empowerment means here to create a frame („roundtable“) where all concerned groups are represented and help marginalised groups to articulate an opinion. It means to enhance crosscultural cooperation, win-win approaches and improvement of local identity in order to compete with changing tasks of an emerging society

- attention though must to be drawn to the fact that environmental  change is closely related to the interplay of various political and economic interests, from the conservation-oriented politics  of foreign donors  to the livelihood interests of rural farmers. A close rapport between city-based officials and the local population is essential to successful implementing

- the creation of natural reserves gives the choice of disruption and displacement or integrating local communities by enhancing a wide range of local enterprises, services and activities. As a result it can prevent the adverse consequences of rapid uncontrolled ventures. The involvement of local people in small scale projects can better prevent conflicts that affect cultural understanding and give support to multi-cultural education

- the creation of natural reserves combined with small scale accomodation and local involvement can contribute significantly to raising living standards. They can form a complementary frame to the demand of mass tourism and give an enriching alternative to the mass market.

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updated: octobre 2011 contact me