Identity tourism

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Identity tourism research dates back to a 1984 special issue of Annals of Tourism Research guest edited by Pierre L. van den Berghe and Charles F. Keyes[1] This volume examines the ways in which tourism intersects with the (re-)formation and revision of various forms of identity, particularly ethnic and cultural identities. Since that time, various scholars have examined the intersection between dimensions of identity and tourism. An important early contribution to the study of identity tourism was Lanfant, Allcock and Bruner's 1995 edited volume "International Tourism, Identity and Change"[2] As with the Keyes and van den Berghe special issue of Annales of Tourism Research, this volume moved us away from studying the impact of tourism on identity to investigating the intersection of tourism and identity in more dynamic ways, among other things looking at how "local" and "tourist" identities are mutually-constructed. Likewise, Michel Picard and Robert Wood's path-breaking edited volume "Tourism, Ethnicity and the State in Asian and Pacific Societies" (1997, University of Hawaii Press), examined the ways in which tourism intersections with ethnic, cultural, regional and national identities, as well as with the political agendas of Pacific island and Southeast Asian states.[3] Abrams, Waldren and Mcleod's 1997 volume Tourists and Tourism: Identifying with People and Places also offered compelling case studies examining issues surrounding the construction of identity in the context of tourism. Among other things the chapters in their volume investigated tourists' views of themselves and others in the course of their travels, the relationship of travelers to resident populations, and the ways in which tourists' quests for authenticity are entangled with their own sensibilities about their own identities.

Various case studies of tourism and identity merit mention here. Edward Bruner's 2001 article "The Masai and the Lion King: Authenticity, Nationalism and Globalization in African Tourism"[4] offers a penetrating examination of how various Kenyan tourist sites entail displays of particular identities ("Masai" "Colonialist" etc.) and how tourists' engagements with these identity displays are varied, nuanced and complex, articulating with their own narratives, sensibilities about African heritage and quests. Kathleen M. Adams' 2006 work on tourism, identity and the arts in Toraja, Indonesia illustrates how tourism is drawn upon by different members of the community to elaborate different dimensions of identity. In "Art as Politics: Re-crafting tourism, identities and power in Tana Toraja, Indonesia"[5] Adams documents how tourism has challenging older elite identities in the community and has made Toraja ethnic group identity more celebrated within Indonesia. Amanda Stronza's 2008 work on tourism and identity in the Amazon has illustrated how tourism appears to be causing new differentiation of identities within the community she researched (see "Through a New Mirror: Reflections on Tourism and Identity in the Amazon").[6]


The emergence of the internet as a venue of identity expression has affected identity tourism as well. There are various programs and applications, such as chat rooms, forums, MUDs, MOOs, MMORPGs, and others in which a user is allowed to establish an identity in that particular space. This online identity could be different from a user's physical identity in race, gender, height, weight or even species. In chat rooms and forums, a user creates their identity through text and the way they interact with others. In MMORPGs, users create a visual representation of their identity, an avatar. This allows users to easily tour more than just ethnic and cultural identities.

With the development of virtual reality, identity tourism has the opportunity to become much more salient than previously thought. For example, a man who identifies as a woman could create that identity in an MMORPG or forum. However, with immersive virtual reality technology, such as Oculus, that user could create a female character and be placed inside that characters head, experience moving as their character moves and control what they are looking at. This level of immersiveness provides a much more salient identity experience, which allows users to connect more to their avatar. Lisa Nakamura[7] has studied identity tourism in cyberspace, using it to describe the process of appropriating an identity involving another gender and/or race than one's own on the web. This kind of cyber-identity tourism mainly refers to the web but also touch other media forms, such as video games.[8] Being able to 'tour' the internet with a new identity opens the possibility of the net being an identifiable space.

Critical reception in "Race In/For Cyberspace"[edit]

As cyberspace presents itself as a new and utopic paradigm for democratic participation that transcends the lines of racial difference, a radically different interpretation re-locates racial identity (negotiation and construction), performativity and relations within conventional categories. Lisa Nakamura's "Race In/For Cyberspace:[9] Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet," has served as a seminal work on the politics of racial identity in digital communities, garnering nearly 300 Google Scholar[10] citations. Alondra Nelson and Thuy N. Tu, among others,[11] couch the work of Lisa Nakamura amidst the scholarship that addresses contemporary racial representation and performance in cyberspace and resists the binary conception of race in more mainstream discourse on the "high-tech transformation" of our social world through increased participation in cyberspace.[12] According to Nelson and Tu, Nakamura's work critically challenges the conception that race can mirror the dichotomous logic and language of computerization, asserting that it is more complex than the binary structure of computational logic. While Nakamura's analysis of racialized identities holds weight in cyber-discourse analysis[13] around racial performativity, construction and negotiation, a critical response to the text focuses on the extent to which Nakamura may have over-stated the intention of "white" people who participate in these cyberspaces to exploit race and power. Some appreciate the extent to which Nakamura details how the status quo power structures are very much in existence in new technology, including the internet, and they[14] attempt to draw attention to the idea that not all dominant group members (i.e. Caucasians) have the intention of replicating racial power in these spaces. Such critiques further contend that many white people who frequent cyberspace may very well see it as a space that transcends race and opens up exploration[15] into a variety of identities. Nevertheless, the larger analysis of "Race In/For Cyberspace" resists and critiques the conception of race neutrality on the net and shares Nakamura's call for more discourse around race and racism in cyberspace (See citations 8-11).

Affirmations ring for the complex nature of (cyber) race relations and identities[16] that Nakamura discusses in the piece; however, more current readers challenge the piece by placing it within a techno-historical context. Noting that the essay was written at a time that corresponds to limited graphical web browsers (See citations 14&15), such readers question[17] how racial construction and performance play out in a more visual-based medium. How does the evolving format of cyberspace re-configure the tools of (self) representation?


  1. ^ "Introduction tourism and re-created ethnicity". Annals of Tourism Research. 11: 343–352. doi:10.1016/0160-7383(84)90026-4. 
  2. ^ "International Tourism, Identity and Change". Retrieved on February 18, 2014.
  3. ^ "Tourism, Ethnicity, and the State in Asian and Pacific Societies". Retrieved on February 18, 2014.
  4. ^ Edward M. Bruner (2001). "The Maasai and the Lion King: Authenticity, Nationalism, and Globalization in African Tourism". doi:10.1525/ae.2001.28.4.881. Retrieved February 18, 2014. 
  5. ^ "Art as Politics: Re-crafting tourism, identities and power in Tana Toraja, Indonesia". Retrieved on February 18, 2014.
  6. ^ "Through a New Mirror: Reflections on Tourism and Identity in the Amazon" (PDF). Human Organization. 67 (3). 2008. doi:10.17730/humo.67.3.a556044720353823. 
  7. ^ Nakamura, L. (2000). Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet. Retrieved on October 30, 2007.
  8. ^ Flew, T. and Humphreys, S. (2005). "Games: Technology, Industry, Culture." New Media: An Introduction, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne 101–114.
  9. ^ Nakamura, Lisa. "Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet". UCI Humanities--Race In/For... Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  10. ^ Google. "Search: Race In/For Cyberspace". Google Scholar. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  11. ^ Murphy, Graham J. "RCCS--Cybertypes...--Review 1". Resource Center for Cyber Culture Studies--Cybertypes. RCCCS. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  12. ^ Nelson and Tu, Alondra and Thuy. "Race In Cyberspace". Politics and Culture: Race In Cyberspace. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  13. ^ Annul Alsop, Elan Paulson, Ephraim Dalglish, Dr.Mark McDayter. "Cyborg Feminism". Exploring the virtual classroom. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  14. ^ E, Meredith. "Critical Response: 'Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet'". Meredith's Creatively Titled Blog. Google Blogspot/Blogger. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  15. ^ Stowell, Calvin. "Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Racial Passing on the Internet". CALVINSTOWELL'S WEBLOG. Word Press. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  16. ^ Islam, Rahul. "Race in/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism & Racial passing on the internet". Network Cultures by Rahul Islam. Google/Blogger. Retrieved 10 October 2015. 
  17. ^ Mueller, Derek. "Nakamura, "Race In/For Cyberspace"". Earth Wide Moth. Earth Wide Moth. Retrieved 10 October 2015.