Published: 21 March 2016

Impersonation in ethnic tourism

Dr Jingjing Yang, Lecturer in Tourism Development at the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management investigates the use of ethnic culture of marginalised peoples in the tourism industry.

It is not uncommon that traditional ethnic culture is used and marketed by governments and the tourism industry as a resource for attracting tourists and investments. For example, Tourism New Zealand features Maori culture as something specific to New Zealand while the Australian Northern Territory identifies Aboriginal culture as one of its tourist resources at Uluru.

Equally the phenomenon that some ethnicities utilize the attractiveness of another ethnic culture and impersonate membership of another cultural group for their own benefits is not unknown. Examples can be found in China, the United States, New Zealand, Australia and Fiji. Indeed, Maori, Islanders and Murris employees in Australia’s Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park have been found to impersonate Djabugay people to provide a Djabugay cultural performance (Dyer, Aberdeen, & Schuler, 2003). In such circumstances, it is these external actors who represent (and may misrepresent) the indigenous culture.

Adopting Goffman's (1959) theories about presentation in daily life, Dr Jingjing Yang’s paper  ‘Impersonation in ethnic tourism: The presentation of culture by other ethnic groups’, discusses the use of the culture of marginalized peoples whose very marginality forms the focus and subject of a tourist gaze and tourism development. This paper (a) examines to what extent Goffman's theory (1959) regarding presentation of self in daily life can be applied in discussing commercial cultural performance, and (b) explores the operational mechanism of impersonation in multi-ethnic communities.

The discussion is based in an ethnic community, Xinjiang, China where Dr Jingjing Yang resided for a year for fieldwork. This study supports the notion that Goffman’s (1959) theory can be used to analyse the situation of indigenous minority tourism. Sociological theory, anthropological research method and management practice are all involved and the implications for both theory and practice are discussed.

Read the full paper.

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