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Anthropological Quarterly 77.4 (2004) 827-830

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Culture and Tourism

London Metropolitan University
Edward M. Bruner. Culture on Tour: Ethnographies of Travel. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2004. 312 pp.

Edward Bruner became aware of the significance of narrative in tourism and the differences between the touristic and ethnographic gaze as a result of serving as a guest lecturer on an upmarket tour to Indonesia in 1987. Some of the insights gained from this experience can be seen in a paper entitled "On Cannibals, Tourists and Ethnographers" (Bruner 1989) that appeared shortly afterwards and which eventually turned into a steady stream of papers that have culminated in this book. Readers familiar with Bruner's work will recognize the settings, cultures and issues immediately: the Maasai of East Africa, Ghana and the Black Diaspora, Lincoln's New Salem, Israel and the Masada, Bali and Sumatra in Indonesia. What the reader is offered, therefore, is essentially a polished version of a series of well-considered articles spanning fifteen years of research. The book offers little especially novel beyond the previous articles, although some new material has been added and the articles on which it is based have been thoroughly re-worked to create a monograph that is considerably greater than its parts.

This monograph deserves a warm reception since a book based on previously published articles is long-established practice within the social sciences, not least because it opens up a specialist field, in this case the anthropology of [End Page 827] tourism, to a wider readership. What Bruner's work shows in particular is that while social scientists can stand back and analyze why there are tensions within a given social setting it is often very difficult for the participants, which in this case concerns tourists and the people working within tourism, to comprehend why this should be so. Take for example the vexed question of African-Americans visiting the heritage slave sites of Ghana, often bringing with them a set of assumptions, namely a shared sense of Black identity, about how contemporary Africans might relate to them. As Bruner argues, Ghanaians do not hold an essentialist view of blackness, though they are well aware of similarities in skin tone, but it is not for them a dominant classificatory criterion of affiliation. Wealthy African Americans are seen primarily as Americans, tourists and foreigners, and not brothers, and Ghanaians moreover do not see the slave trade as being definitive in the way African American visitors do. A case in point is the contested World Heritage Site of Elmina Castle, which has had a long and complicated history that began with colonial intrusion and the slave trade and went on to become a focal point in the struggle between the British, the Ashanti and the Elmina people, and a seat of government. Bruner asks: who owns the castle? Is it the Diaspora blacks, the descendents of slaves, the local population, the traditional chiefs who remained there, USAID and the other international agencies that fund restoration, or the tourists for whom the site is now dedicated? The question is essentially rhetorical since there is in reality no clear cut answer, because all the groups mentioned by Bruner are, in a sense, stakeholders.

Another problematic issue covered in this volume is that of authenticity since it has implications for the way heritage sites are managed and interpreted for tourists. Taking the example of New Salem, which is famously associated with President Lincoln, Bruner shows how the staff of the heritage site struggle with the need to conserve the genuineness of the site while making compromises in order to make the visitors' experience more enjoyable. Modern accretions that would not have been present in Lincoln's day include: unobtrusive restrooms, a hidden motor to operate a carding machine, benches beside paths, gutters to channel rainwater off the log cabins, cement caulking in the walls, heaters for the store and tavern. Perhaps the most dramatic is the dense foliage surrounding New Salem, which gives the village a more rural ambience than it had in the 1830s since the original residents would...


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