Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Emerging Research Themes for Tourism: Insights from Geography

The annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers (AAG) is held every Spring. In 2011 in was held in Seattle, April 12-16. In the previous fall there are a plethora of CFPs (Call for Papers) from people who are organizing paper sessions. I am personally on several geography email lists, including UrbGeog (urban geography), EconomicGeography, CulturalGeog, and LeftGeog, in addition to the email list of the Recreation, Tourism and Sport (RTS) Specialty Group in the AAG.  

As an avid academic geographer, I find many of these CFPs (certainly not all of them) to be very thoughtfully written and informative in themselves.  And, more importantly, they are often (certainly not always) at the cutting edge of research thought in my home discipline of geography.

In fact, I often find the geography CFPs more compelling that those that are written for tourism sessions at the AAG.  Because of that, I collected some 100 CFPs for last year’s meeting and culled through them to find the most interesting topics that academic tourism geographers should be studying (IMHO of course).  I grouped the 100 CFPs into the three topic areas below. Here is a selection of some of the more compelling research topics that I came up with:

TOPIC AREA 1 – Economic and Urban Geography

1.       City Image – This is an old theme in tourism research that seems to be re-emerging in the geographic literature. Some of the key concepts being discussed include: global cities, sustainable cities, declining cities, postcolonial cities, spatial inequality, urban political economy, nature in the city, urban boosterism, cities in film and new or social media, city landscape, place identities as commodities, and comparing neoliberal  and conventional  forms of place marketing, including architectural, social, textual, and sensual  branding.

2.       City Hubs and Networks – This is also a concept that has been around for awhile in travel and tourism studies, though not a major part of the field. Emerging geography research is still looking at the idea of transportation hubs (air and sea), but also extending that into “brainports” (aka “centers of competence”), the influence of municipalities on regional policies related to theorizing policy networks, sustainability and environmental governance, transnational networking and sociotechnical regimes related to global civil society and NGOs, and the new geographies of global production networks focusing on the relationships between small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and international corporations.

3.       Mobile Technologies and Place – This is, of course, a major new area of emerging activity and research. As such we are still evolving ways to study it. Geographers are interested in: how mobile devices change the spatial and temporal flexibility of individuals and organizations; how they change the ways in which material places are used and perceived; how technology transforms social and spatial relations, affects social identification, and transforms state-society and nature-society relations; and how information, communication and telecommunication technologies are becoming (or not) integrated into the everyday practices of businesses and households -- and with what socioeconomic consequences.

TOPIC AREA 2 – Cultural and Political Geography

4.       Everyday Culture and Experiences – This has long been a topic of interest among cultural geographers, but has been addressed much less by tourism researchers. It includes tangible or artistic aspect of culture; folk and popular culture; visual and performing arts; uses of space and place in music lyrics, television plot lines, movies and film, contemporary novels, graphic novels and short fiction; social space and resistance on the internet. Overall it is the everyday practice of making the world habitable and providing for our needs, which are based on relationships among subjectivity, identity and place.

5.       Multicultural Peoples – This is a popular topic in the broader social sciences that tourism researchers have touched upon to some degree. Topics include multicultural people's sense of place and the various belongings they have to where they grew up, where they live, where they travel, and where their ancestors were from. Also of interest are the intersections of race with gender, class, religion, and space; spatialities of post-racial thinking; and the growing diversity in both metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas the developed world.

6.       People Mobilities - The multicultural peoples topic is related to the growing mobility of people worldwide. This topic presents many geographic research themes, including: the search for alternative mobility futures; slow movements; borders and their surveillance and securitization; embodied performances and affective mobility; friction, turbulence and rhythms of movement; mobile and locative social media and electronic gaming; and imaginary and virtual travel. Also of related interest are how class, gender, sexuality, are ethnicity are enacted, (re)produced and potentially transformed in mobile practices by individuals and their social relations, experiences, mobile strategies, and identities. At another level are issues of freedom of movement, challenges and changes in the global system of migration controls, and “no borders” politics in an era of rising anti-immigrant sentiment.

TOPIC AREA 3 – Planning and Sustainable Places

      7.       Green Economies – Sustainable tourism is a very popular topic for tourism research, but the broader geography research on the green economy still brings some new ideas, including: new forms of green commodification and the rapidly expanding markets on which these are traded; developing spaces of the green economy; the work of creating ‘sustainable’ cities, transportation networks, waste management systems, and alternative/renewable energy; how ‘green jobs’ differ from traditional jobs; green urbanism; Foucault's apparatus (dispositive; institutions that support power structures); and the political economy and material processes of the green economy.

      8.       Ethical Practice – This is a topic that is very new among tourism researchers, and has probably been better addressed by geographers. Major themes include: issues of civil, political and social rights, what might be called "place rights" or a "right to place" as an entitlement of citizenship, and what constitutes these place-based rights, theoretically and in practice; policy implications that arise from normative scholarship and practice; caring approaches to social theory; human rights and geographic place; defining hegemonies and counter-hegemonies; accommodation and subversion within social movements; meaning and materiality in societal mobilization; similarities between red and green social movements – and, of course, their relationship to tourism development.

As you might guess, there were many other topics among the AAG Call for Papers. Each of the topics above is based on three to four different CFPs. I am sure other academic disciplines have a lot that they can inform our tourism research. For me, I am glad to be a geographer as I find the entire discipline to be immensely stimulating and informative for my personal tourism research.

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