Way off the Beaten Path Or How I Became a Tourism Researcher

Dean MacCannell


Pour juger d’un homme, il faut suivre longuement et curieusement sa trace
[‘to judge a man one must follow his tracks for a long time and with curiosity’]
Michael de Montaigne, Essais V. 1
Juliet Flower MacCannell, trans.


The locution “Off the Beaten Track” It is as old as writing by and about tourists. It signals an intent to experience more than, or other than, the herds of tourists who came before and who will come after. The metaphor of a track or a path always implies a morality. Fundamentalist Protestants are admonished by their spiritual guides to “stay on the straight and narrow.” Fundamentalist tour guides proffer opportunities to “get off the beaten track.” These are only superficially opposing kinds of advice. Each bespeaks a casuistry that may be applied to certain behaviors as good, or bad. A good tourist is supposed to figure out how to get off the beaten path, ideally to get so far off that he or she is no longer called a “tourist.” The tourism research literature is redolent with moral distinctions between travelers who got off the beaten track and had authentic experiences versus tourists, or mere tourists, who stay on the beaten track and have pseudo experiences.[1] I have always held out hope that tourism researchers should be capable of making more subtle distinctions. Lucy Lippard persuasively argues that productive venues for critical art intervention in the ways we see ourselves and the world around us can be found squarely on the tourist beaten track.

My early experiences off the beaten track

By rigorously objective standards, my first tourist moments when I was no longer a child in tow, were off the beaten track. As a teenager recently transplanted from Seattle to San Diego, every weekend I could get away I crossed the Mexican border into Tijuana or travelled south to Ensenada to take advantage of the lax age restrictions for entry into Mexican bars and strip clubs.

2016-1(9)-TEM1-Fig1Figure 1. Dean MacCannell taking picture of tourist taking picture, Ensenada, BC Fall, 1957.
Source: Author's personal collection.

There were no maps of Baja California south of Ensenada and San Felipe. In 1957, the coastline was known but the interior remained little explored and unmapped. The mythic Picacho Del Diablo was said to be the highest point on the San Pedro Mártir, but no one knew its exact height, its exact location, or even its proper name. [Figure 2].

2016-1(9)-TEM1-Fig2Figure 2. Cerro De La Encantada also called El Picacho del Diablo viewed from the San Felipe Desert. 
Source: Unattributed image from the internet.

 Today we know it to be 3,095 meters or 10,125 feet. Some tourists who ventured into the mountains and deserts of Baja never came out. The few who got lost and did come out alive were most often rescued by Edward Douglas (“Bud”) Bernard legendary tracker and explorer of the region [Figure 3].  When someone disappeared in Baja, Bernard was the first one called by both Mexican and U.S. officials and by the families of lost loved ones.

Figure 3. Bud Bernard (on left) and Pat Donovan near the summit of El Picacho Del Diablo.
Source: Photo by Louise Werner from Climbing and Camping in Baja,by John Robinson, 1967

Bud Bernard attempted to climb Picacho Del Diablo in 1948 and successfully reached the summit on his third solo try in 1955. His was the fifth successful ascent and he was the 16th person known to have stood on the summit. His explorations established the first non ad hoc path up the final 1000 vertical feet. His approach has been followed by most if not all subsequent successful expeditions. He called his route to the top the “Slot Wash,” one of the few stable place names on or near the mountain [Figure 4].

Figure 4. Ascending the Bernard Slot wash route to the summit. 
Source: photograph by Dean MacCannell, April 1959.

I met Bud Bernard in the Anza Borrego Desert when I was 17. He taught me desert survival taking me to places where he had found dead and near dead lost hikers and showing me the plant, animal and water resources nearby that they unfortunately did not know to exploit. We were a climbing team in the southern Sierra Nevada and Baja for three years before I left San Diego State College for Berkeley to continue my undergraduate studies in anthropology.

My first attempt at Picacho Del Diablo with Bud and two others in April 1958 was unsuccessful [Figure 5].

Figure 5. Near the entrance of Cañon La Media. Bud Bernard is standing on right. 
Source: photograph by Dean MacCannell, April, 1958.

Having marked the course up the Slot Wash three years before, Bud was tantalized by the prospect of finding another, perhaps easier way. While the Slot Wash was doable it also had the reputation for being a “gut buster.” So we forced our way into a promising canyon that had never been explored. We were slowed by challenging vertical pitches and impenetrable thorny brush, and eventually stopped by a snow squall near the summit [Figure 6].

Figure 6. “Way off the beaten path”. Summit of Picacho del Diablo approached by non-standard route. 
Photograph by Dean MacCannell, April, 1958.

Bud was pleased to learn that the canyon he called “La Media” was not a good approach, but he was disappointed about my failure to summit and blamed himself for our willful excursion off the known path. I think he was more disappointed for me than I was.

A year later, in April, 1958 Bud sent me with a letter of introduction to the Los Angeles chapter of the Sierra Club planning the largest assault on the mountain to date [Figure 7].

Figure 7. Los Angeles climbers prepare at the entrance of Cañon del Diablo.
Photograph by Dean MacCannell, April, 1959.

I made it to the top with this group of strangers who were fanatically prepared and single minded in their purpose of becoming the largest group to summit and who assiduously followed Bud’s proven route. They had no desire to explore off the beaten track. Sixteen started and 13 reached the summit [Figures 8,9,10]

 Figure 8. Approaching the summit of Picacho del Diablo with the San Felipe Desert and Gulf of California in the background. 
Source: photograph by Dean MacCannell, April, 1959.
 Figure 9. On the South Peak summit of Picacho del Diablo. Source: photographer unknown. 
Possibly John Robinson, April, 1959.
 Figure 10. Dean MacCannell on the North Peak summit of Picacho del Diablo. 
Source: photographer unknown, April 1959.

The following year, my third attempt was with Bud and two other climbers. We contrived to come at the mountain from the west, rappel off the escarpment, traverse two miles across the face of the cliff to the base of the peak and use the Slot Wash to go up. Our failure was spectacular. After we rappelled down we found that one of our climbing companions had over stated his strength and abilities and was unable to continue. We had to carry him and his pack up more than 1000 vertical feet with only two or three places wide enough to set them down.  And he was the heaviest one in the group. When we got back to the top of the escarpment we found our support party had abandoned us because their horses had gotten sick.

Traveler versus tourist?

So here is the question: Was I a traveler in Baja and a tourist when I went to the San Diego Zoo with my school class, or ditched school to spend a day at the beach with my girlfriend? Were my experiences in Cañon la Media more authentic than the guided tour I took of the San Diego Union newspaper as a high school senior? For that matter, was my trip up La Media with Bud more authentic than when I went with the climbers from Los Angeles on the proven path up Cañon del Diablo and the Slot Wash? On reflection I can find nothing in my thinking, then or now, that might justify dividing the existential conditions of my adolescent curiosity into two morally opposed human types: tourist versus traveler. No human life is spent exclusively on or off a beaten track. Our lives are both on and off, but mainly crossing the paths of others, and given the infinite number of possible tracks, we are on and off, and crossing, all the time.

With all the problems that attend conceiving tourists as being on or off a track, this model is certainly superior to the other standard normative approach which is to treat the “tourist” as a social role in a fictive organization. We now have accounts of tourist types: “heritage,” “roots,” “revolution,” “sports,” “eco,” “dark,” “death, or thano-tourists,” “medical,” “extreme,” etc. No successful field of study has ever been constructed by adding up a series of exclusionary types as in “I study cruise ship tourism, she studies rock climbers, the rest of you can study the rest of it.” If this becomes the default methodological strategy, the field itself will forever be what lies beyond the scope of each and every run of research. And we will never have a field. Tourist is not a type of human being or even a type of consumer. And tourists are certainly not pre-sorted into tribes. It is a type of encounter, hopefully an interaction, that anyone can engage at any time and with specifiably varying frames of mind. A type of moment, if you will.[2] Treating it as a status or role or a demographic class or category will continue to carry us further from the truth of our subject.

Paradigmatic sketch of the field of tourism studies

Figure 11  is a draft schematic of the field of tourist encounters that I am proposing. My guiding hypothesis is that tourism will yield its events and encounters if we closely attend the intersection of tourist desire and the structuring of tourist experience.

2016-1(9)-TEM1-Fig11Figure 11. Continium of Tourist Desire. 
Elaboration Dean MacCannel, 2014.
 Figure 12. Continuum of tourist structure. 
Elaboration Dean MacCannel, 2014.
Figure 13. Graph of tourist Desire/Structure. 
Elaboration Dean MacCannell, 2015.

Figure 14 is the industry ideal of my “zone III” proposing perfect congruence between hyper-structured, totalizing tourist settings and tourist desire for ego satisfaction and reinforcement.

Figure 14. Hyatt, the ‘teleotype’ of Zone III.
Every now and then it happens. A little extra time on your hands and a whole city at your feet. Not to fear, however - Hyatt will help you.(...)[Y]ou’ll find the entertainment you desire right here in the hotel. Indulge in a soothing visit to our spa or salon. Unwind in our fitness center. Sample exotic cuisine. Or rack ‘em up for a game of pool. (...)In the event you find yourself with a free moment or two we’ll help you make the most of it.”
Source: Author's personal collection.

 As observers and scientists we should not try to fit presumptive moral frameworks over the myriad ways we humans service our curiosities. Our task is to discover the morality our respondents believe they are expressing through their actions, not to fit a morality over them—to discover what tourists think they are doing by asserting a moral distinction between those who travel “on” versus “off” the beaten track, or those who believe they are entitled and superior to their hosts—not to join moralistically with those who assert such things.

The social sciences and humanities in the past 20 years have shown themselves more than a little bit susceptible to moralistic constructions prior to observation and conceptual model building. The opposition tourist/traveler is only a small chapter in a larger project of Political Correctness. The domain of tourism studies is defined by cultural difference or differentiation, and always puts multiple moral perspectives into play. It is important that tourism researchers keep an open mind to the various moralities they are about to encounter, and especially to the ways those moralities regard one another and mutate. As a methodological principle this openness is perhaps more crucial than the earlier requirement of “cultural relativism” for anthropologists. Our subject is not simply one or several other different cultures. Our subject is the interaction of representatives of multiple different cultures and the products of those interactions.[3]

Tourism and hybridized moralities

The men and women I climbed with in the Sierra Nevada and Mexico in the 1950s were staunch environmentalists before that became a label. We rigorously adhered to a moral code of environmental preservation. We buried evidence of our campfires and carried all our metal tins, foil bags, plastic bottles, paper and other trash back to civilization for proper disposal. When we found trash left by others we carried it out as well, loudly decrying the thoughtlessness of those who did not clean up after themselves.

Here is a lesson about moral frames that I learned early in Cañon La Media. We were in a gorge that had not been mentioned in the notes and journals of any previous explorer. We had been sharing and enjoying the thought that no white person had ever before set foot there. Then we happened across what was unmistakably an earlier camp. It was a circle of scorched rocks containing a messy heap of charcoal with some ancient tin cans, a rotted tobacco pouch and a whisky bottle scattered nearby. We speculated that it might have been made by Donald McLain, 43 years earlier on his 1914-15 expedition. The age of the debris seemed about right. But a side trip up this then unnamed canyon was not referenced in any of McLain’s notebooks or journals.[4] The thought that we might be the first Whites to cast our eyes on this place gave way to a rush of solidarity with McLain or whomever it was who came before. We were thankful that he left his trash for us to find and comforted by the thought that we were not alone, at least in spirit. This was heirloom trash. The thought of condemning or removing it never entered our minds. In fact we immediately set about doing the opposite—building protective stone cairns around its perimeter so any future climbers would not accidently disturb it. We made a shrine of trash.

Had our commitment to environmental ethics changed? Not in the least. We knew that it is never possible to fit a single moral perspective over every situation a tourist might encounter. Attempting to fit politically correct moral perspectives over tourist behavior is a massive violation of the truth of our subject and will block discovery of actual conditions, moral and otherwise, that prevail in tourist encounters. Tourists are travelers in morality and must negotiate multiple moral frameworks by definition. They are perhaps the best ciphers available of the emerging global house of moral mirrors that will continue to de-center the human subject in the 21st century. The only responsible recourse for the tourist is to adopt an ethical position on the multiple moralities put into play by his or her movements.[5]

Graduate Study

Rural Sociology at Cornell in the 1960s was the epicenter of research on international rural development. Graduate programs in the social sciences were much more specifically problem focused than they are today. Sociologists worked on crime and poverty in the inner city and racial conflict. In my department, we were told in the strongest possible terms that it was our responsibility to discover the causes of third world underdevelopment. My graduate student cohort brought some idealism to this task, but mostly we shared a commitment to scientific detachment and empirical testing of ideas. We believed our idealism would best be served by coming up with new ways of thinking about development and strong empirical evidence.

We were squeamish about the terms “modernization” and “development.” They reflected prevailing theory (Chicago and Harvard) that held development to be a unilinear process wherein Third World countries would eventually end up looking just like the industrial democracies of North America and Western Europe. We struggled against a prototypical version of Political Correctness long before the term was invented. “Development” was merely a politically correct version of what 10 years earlier was called by its morally forthright name: “progress.” During the decade of the 1960s, “underdeveloped” gave way to “undeveloped” which gave way to “less developed.” Populations originally labeled “illiterate” became “non literate” and then “pre-literate.”

We understood that this proto-PC rhetorical cover did not make matters better—it made them worse.  It only served to reinforce and protect the original moral/theoretical setup that it pretended to oppose. In the 1960s the assumption of prevailing development theory was that the other peoples are simply inferior versions of us and if they could become more like us their collective lot would improve. This position was not sustainable in my Cornell White-minority graduate cohort. Overwhelmingly my classmates came from Iran, Pakistan (East and West), India, Kenya, Brazil, Cuba, Albania, Puerto Rico, and Taiwan with only a few of us from the United States.

We positioned ourselves in opposition to the Harvard and Chicago schools of “economic development and modernization.” Basically that meant we abjured anything that smacked of individual-level or psychologistic explanations of socio-economic phenomena. We focused on regional movements for self-determination not on individual need for entrepreneurial achievement. We struggled to master theory, but it was never theory for theory’s sake. We had a difficult problem to solve and we knew that enormous complexity demands robust theoretical models. If we ever expected to get beyond Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Pareto, Sorokin and the others, we needed to strip them down to their conceptual nuts and bolts and rebuild, customize and adapt them to current conditions.

My first graduate school conquest was French theory. If I have ever been on a beaten path it is the one that has permitted me to roam back and forth between Montaigne, Rousseau, Stendhal, Durkheim, Mauss, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Lévi-Strauss, Barthes, Derrida, de Certeau, Lacan and beyond. My second graduate school conquest was Juliet Flower who arrived at Cornell a year after I did to study French and Comparative Literature. I approached these two delightful unknowns with the same energy and enthusiasm that drove me up Picacho Del Diablo five years before.

My first trip abroad, was to the Caribbean when I was halfway through graduate school. It was not to study tourism. I was a part of a team doing research on small farmers’ use of new agricultural technologies in remote rural western Puerto Rico. But it was a wonderfully fateful trip. Juliet joined me in the field and we were married by a Basque judge in a small mountain town on July 25, 1965.

Figure 15. Juliet and Dean MacCannell mariage. 
Lajas, Puerto Rico, July 25, 1965.
Source: photographs by Frances MacCannell, author's personal collection.
Figure 16. Juliet and Dean MacCannell with Judge Irizarry in Lajas. Puerto Rico, July 25, 1965. 
Source: photograph by Jan Flora, 1965, author's personal collection.

When we went to the beach I noticed some things that caused me to suspect that tourism was about to become an important component of the development portfolio. I remarked that I should check it out when we got back to Cornell. When I got into Olin graduate library—and it was one of the best in the world—I found almost nothing had been written about tourism, and certainly there was no full-scale socio-cultural examination of it. That clinched it for me. Another chance to be one of the first to climb a mountain.

My graduate committee disapproved my study of tourism and development and I remain eternally grateful to them for their turn-down of my first thesis proposal. A Ph.D. dissertation on the economic role of tourism in international rural development would have been a different book than The Tourist. I down-shifted and  wrote my dissertation on the political economy of economic stagnation and poverty in the 48 Continental United States.

The path from Structural Differentiation in 48 States to The Tourist is linear even though there are no references to tourists or tourism in the dissertation and no references to the dissertation in The Tourist. In my dissertation on Structural Differentiation my measure of development was derived directly from Durkheim’s concept of “organic solidarity”[6] in his Division of Labor in Society. I hypothesized that what other researchers had been calling “economic development” and “modernization” was actually increasing social complexity, division of labor, or differentiation, a la Durkheim. This required making a small theoretical leap. I cautiously argued that Durkheim’s organic solidarity is not merely half of a conceptual binary that divides modern from traditional societies. Rather, it is a variable structural condition characteristic of every society. As such it should be susceptible to operationalization and comparative measurement across any series of similar social units such as American States. I added some recent developments in cybernetic theory to my conceptual definitions to emphasize that increasing social complexity is associated with increasing capacity to manipulate complex information. My new measures proved to be singularly effective at predicting variation in existing standard indicators of economic development and my work received the American Rural Sociological Association’s “dissertation of the year” award in 1969.

Figure 17. MacCannell’s dissertation on Structural Differentiation. 
Dissertation cover and table 12.
Source: Author's personal collection.

 My second trip abroad was to Paris in January, 1968. I defended my dissertation the month before and was ready to start work on The Tourist. Juliet studied with Derrida at the école Normale. I made observations of tourists and took notes, and sat in Lévi-Strauss’s course on “Myth” at the College de France. In March we hitchhiked to London and back. After the May revolution we hitchhiked to Istanbul by way of Copenhagen and Berlin. We encountered almost no other tourists along the way especially after we passed through the Iron Curtain and hitchhiked across Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.

We had very little money and regarded the tourists who carried Europe on $5.00 a Day as financially better off than we were. Had we spent more than $3.00 a day we never would have made it back. We returned to Ithaca in August, 1968 with 38 cents to our name. This may be the reason I have not been able fully to accept models based on assumptions about unequal economic and power relations between tourists and their local hosts. Most of the generous European bourgeoisie who gave us rides were far better off than we were, excepting perhaps some low-level French gangsters who once picked us up outside Paris in an ancient American convertible.

The theoretical framework for The Tourist was set before I left graduate school. The germs of my holistic treatment of tourism as a global structural phenomenon, as a “total social fact” within the French School, were fully anticipated in my dissertation. Even the basic explanatory variable is shared by the two projects. On p. 11 of The Tourist, “My analysis of sightseeing is based upon social structural differentiation. Differentiation is roughly the same as . . . “development” or “modernization.” And on p. 13, “ . . . sightseeing is a ritual performed to the differentiations of society. Sightseeing is a kind of collective striving for a transcendence of the modern totality, a way of attempting to overcome the discontinuity of modernity, of incorporating its fragments into unified experience.”[7]

With its emphasis on difference and differentiation as explanatory variables, The Tourist may be theoretically located somewhere between Durkheim’s Division of Labor in Society and Derrida’s L’écriture et la différence.[8] I did not get around to acknowledging Derrida’s influence on The Tourist until the “Preface” to the 1989 edition. écriture was not available in English translation until a year after The Tourist was published. But I was certainly aware of it. Juliet read it aloud to me translating directly from French into unhesitating English in April, 1968. Her cadence was full of expression, communicating not just Derrida’s words but also his way of understanding. We realized immediately that we were witnessing an unsettling of Western philosophy. Step by step, Derrida dismantled the idea of presence, transcendental being, and Being itself. More precisely he showed us the way that language and the sign inserts itself into being and takes apart (or deconstructs) presence more or less automatically. Derrida would later confess that he took many of his cues from Lacan as he defied Western philosophy in his early writings.[9] But this only enriches the trajectory of his critique by giving it a psychoanalytic as well as a philosophical inflection.

Derrida’s philosophical project was far more ambitious than any we might conceive within the restricted precincts of tourism research. But I still found myself in agreement with the passages where he develops the logic of the alignment of notions of structure with transcendental being—any structure, poetic or social, tends toward totalitarian closure and violence insofar as it resists anything that might change it. Derrida consistently reminded us that acceptance of the products of structural thought constitutes a kind of intellectual laziness that blinds us to the deconstructive forces that have always threatened forms and structures from every angle both within and without.

The early Derrida reinforced my desire to study humanity in transit, in unfamiliar settings, where assumptions of shared common language or culture do not hold, where borders and boundaries are meant to be crossed and not to contain. I have tried to keep tourist studies open to its own most radical potential. Some tourists and students of tourism are understandably attracted to standardized itineraries, resorts and cruise ships on the model of total institutions, bucket lists, and tourist bubbles, all forms and structures imposed on travel and sightseeing and designed to contain and control its essential freedom and openness. Or, to paraphrase Derrida, they are all ‘schematizations that permit subjectivity to gaze over totalities divested of disruptive forces.’[10]

Derrida’s philosophical proofs notwithstanding, social life is structured, something that I brought up with him on more than one occasion. Derrida offered me no concessions. Social life might well be structured he allowed, but it is also fallen, arbitrary, contingent and accidental, and of no real interest to a philosopher. I assumed that he was talking out of the Heideggerian side of his mouth, not the French side. In his last book, Juliet tells me, Derrida confesses to feeling shame about the pleasure he took from his travels because he always imagined Heidegger, the uber-autochthon, to be looking over his shoulder, criticizing him for any diversion from the hard business of doing philosophy:

Heidegger always travels with me without knowing it—if only he had known, the poor guy—I hear him pull me aside (‘Aren’t you ashamed to travel all the time?’) [ . . . ] How can you denken at such speed?[11]

Derrida goes on to say that he had only to think about Montaigne to make the specter of the censorious Heidegger disappear.

In the early pages of The Tourist, I attributed to “modernity” a structure defying ethos—a drive to break down all barriers as between classes, cultures, genders, nation states—a deconstructive drive if you will—even though the term would not enter general usage for another several years. Despite my use of extended italics, the basic thesis of The Tourist, linking back to Durkheim and my dissertation and forward to deconstruction, is its most under examined aspect.

In 1970-71 Juliet and I left assistant professorships in Philadelphia and returned to Paris for a year where I finished the first draft of The Tourist and our son Daniel was born.

 Figure 18. Steamer to Paris, bag tag.
The Vietnam war was raging seemingly without end and we did not want him to be born on US soil.
Source: Author's personal collection.
Figure 19. Dan and Dean in the Tuileries. 
Source: photograph by Juliet Flower MacCannell, April, 1971, author's personal collection.

A moment after Juliet took this picture in the Tuileries a bus pulled up and disgorged dozens of British tourists. Several of them approached snapping our picture. One of the aggressive picture takers burlesqued a French accent: “Luke zee tee-peek Franch pawpaw weet heez bo baybay.” In the instant I realized the plasticity of tourist information and that under specifiable performative conditions a tourist can be transformed into a tourist attraction. See The Tourist pp. 109 ff. and 135 ff., esp. p. 127.

2016-1(9)-TEM1-Fig20Figure 20. Tourist covers

 I was fairly certain that student and faculty opposition to the war combined with the movement of the last of the baby boomers through the university portended a precipitous drop in support for higher education. Generous funding for the Colleges of Agriculture to this day continues to be a cornerstone of federal policy designed to maintain the global preeminence of U.S. agriculture. This generosity extends even to the social scientists in the College of Agriculture. It is a residue of federal Land Grant policy designed to maintain the dominance of U.S. agriculture. I was hired at the then top ranked college of agriculture in the United States, the University of California at Davis, as Research Rural Sociologist in the California Agricultural Experiment Station (75%) and Assistant Professor of Behavioral Sciences (25%).

I have always been a strong advocate of activist faculty and university outreach into the community. So I was delighted to come to Davis to continue to do applied, empirical research on rural communities. Soon after I arrived, I wrote the first Poverty Report for the California Office of Economic Opportunity; received the California Legislature’s first Policy Seminar Award to do research on poverty and wealth in California rural communities; I wrote the rural community sections for the United States Secretary of Agriculture, Robert Bergland’s Final Report on Agricultural Change in the United States; and I was selected by the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment to head the team responsible for the social component of the United States Congress Environmental Impact Report on the laws limiting delivery of federally subsidized irrigation water to farms over 320 acres.

The principal finding in my work for the U.S. Congress was that the strongest predictors of rural poverty and inequality in the United States is the scale and levels of capital and chemical inputs in the industrial agricultural sector. Analytically this was not a heavy lift as the relationships fairly jump out of the regression models at every scale from individual communities to multi-state regions. But it is a relationship that most of my rural sociologist colleagues were unwilling to explore and for good reason. Studying and publishing about this relationship in the United States will not necessarily get you killed, but it will bring a swarm of death threats, some of them uncharacteristically face-to-face. My work for the Congress was credited by environmental groups and small, organic, and sustainable farm advocates as the reason acreage limitations were retained in the 1984 revise of federal irrigation policy.

When I was invited to lecture at Ahmadu Bello University in Northern Nigeria in 1986, ten years after the publication of The Tourist, it was not as a tourism researcher but as rural sociologist on the social impacts of water policy. Of course I was also a tourist.

In 1996, 20 years after The Tourist and four years after publication of my book Empty Meeting Grounds: The Tourist Papers, Juliet and I accompanied our friend Willy Apollon to Haiti. It was not because of our shared interest in Lacanian psychoanalytic theory or anything that had to do with tourism. There was a U.S. embargo on tourism at that time. We went to Haiti to assist Willy’s team in writing a proposal to the World Bank for a loan to establish rural markets. Of course, I was also a tourist. We went to the village where most Voodou initiations are performed and met with the religious leaders there. When I visited an art gallery in Port au Prince and the owner asked me why I was in Haiti, I answered ‘just a tourist.’ She flew into a rage, “don’t you dare claim to me you are a tourist. You’re no tourist. You are with some kind of diplomatic mission, or you’re a military fact finder or something. But don’t try to tell me you are a ‘just’ a tourist.”

Because of our research and writing on semiotic theory, Juliet and I were invited to participate and present at the decade for A. J. Greimas at Cerisy-la-Salle in 1983.[12] Of course we were also tourists.

 Figure 21. A. J. Greimas, Maurice de Gandillac and Paul Ricoeur at Cerisy-La-Salle, 1983. 
Source: photograph by Daniel MacCannell, author's personal collection.

When I went to Madrid in 1983 it was to assist with the establishment of Research Group 50 of the International Sociological Association, the “Sociology of Tourism.” But we spent several lovely days at a resort in the Basque country.


Figure 22. Dean MacCannell, Marie-Françoise Lanfant, Edouard Bruner, Michel Picard in Madrid, 1983. 
Source: author's personal collection.

 When Juliet and I were invited to India in 1987 it was as the United States representatives for the “All Commonwealth Conference on the Intellectual Legacy of Erving Goffman.” But we took an extra ten days to visit Brindavan Gardens, Shrivanabelagola, and the wonderfully carved temples. When I went to Santander, Spain, 1988 it was to assist in writing the charter for the International Academy for Tourism Research.  But we were also tourists. The Spanish Minister of Tourism wanted to take us to the caves at Altamira, but we were turned back by the conservators—his employees actually–who told him firmly that not even he was allowed entry. So he took us to Picasso’s studio instead.

Figure 23. Hammering out the United Nations Charter for the International Academy for Tourism Research. Santander, Spain, 1988. 
Source: photograph by Dean MacCannell, author's personal collection.

The first time I went to Japan, it was to give a lecture.[13] But our hosts made certain that we saw the sights.

 2016-1(9)-TEM1-Fig24Figure 24. Michael Sorkin, Joan Copjec, Nelson Graburn, DeanMacCannell in Japan, 1994. 
Source: Photographer unknown.

 When I took my Davis studio class to Philadelphia in October, 2001 it was to show them Lily Yeh’s Village of Arts and Humanities. But after the field trip we rushed to Manhattan to check on our friend Michael Sorkin whose studio is only three blocks from where the Towers had just fallen. He took us on a walking tour around the edge of the pit.

Figure 25. Sightseers waiting in line to view the pit at Ground Zero in Manhattan three weeks after the Towers fell, October, 2001. 
Photograph by Dean MacCannell.

When I returned to Paris in 1995 it was not as a tourist or a tourist researcher or a rural sociologist. Juliet and I accompanied Victor Zaballa and Ann Chamberlain as their artist assistants helping them install a conceptual sculptural piece in the Gallery atop La Grande Arche at La Defense.

Figure 26. Ann Chamberlain and Dean MacCannell installing.
Photograph by Juliet Flower MacCannell

 I was not able to do anything touristic on that trip. Because of the demands of the complex installation, I spent every waking moment helping assemble the piece in the gallery. I was there for so many hours that the curator came to believe I was Victor Zaballa.

Where do I go from here?

Tourism studies has rushed forward as if it does not constitute an epistemic challenge to the human sciences as they were originally constituted. But we have reached a limit and can go no further continuing to assume that our subject matter is culturally unified groups with identifiable boundaries. The human sciences have always overstated the unity and boundedness of our units of analysis. In the context of tourism research these assumptions are preposterous. We need to develop new ways of thinking about the dynamics of new moral formations on the meeting grounds of tourist/host, tourist/tourist, and tourist/other. I have urged this theoretical and methodological turn from my first writings on the subject—almost yelling about it at several points along the way. In my article on “Reconstructed Ethnicity: Tourism and Cultural Identity in Third World Communities” I argued that after tourism, ethnic forms must be approached as rhetorical tropes.[14] I may have gone so far as to claim that ethnic forms have always been rhetorical tropes and tourism only brings out the true character of their origins.

I do not wish to be read as suggesting that we need to throw out the entire theoretical canon in the human sciences and start from scratch. There is an abundance of serviceable theory and method that can be repurposed. This includes a serious re-engagement with semiotics as method, a revisionist reading of the Frankfort School, mining Derrida and deconstruction for research cues that have gone unnoticed in French and English departments, trying to extract something useful for tourism studies from Heidegger on alienation and authenticity, and exploring the ethics of sightseeing. I take heart that Walter Benjamin’s Moscow Diaries are gaining notice in our journals as prototypical tourism research.[15]

Failure to leave the old theoretical haunts of the human sciences is starting to produce research artifacts that are pulling tourism studies backwards. I have already mentioned Political Correctness. Here let me add the current mania for discovery of new categorical niches that tourists might be sorted into. We now have seriously intoned accounts by young researchers of heritage tourism, sex tourism, roots tourism, revolution tourism, eco tourism, dark, death or thanotourism, medical tourism, extreme tourism, and post-tourists who delight in the irony of it all. In my chapter on “Painful Memory” in The Ethics of Sightseeing I argue that a close analysis of any so-called “type” of attraction will reveal its rhizomatic subterranean connections to every other kind of attraction in the tourist unconscious. The memorials at Auschwitz and Hiroshima function to repress and displace painful memory. They are the sad relatives of Disneyland, said to be the “happiest place on earth.” Disneyland is even more radical in its disavowal or denial of the trauma of loss than the “dark” tourist sites. It covers over lost innocence by trying to hypostasize a kind of childhood that never existed.

Even without a close reading of the psychic symbolism embedded in tourist attractions, it is reductive and often demeaning to bracket tourist experience categorically. The Zuni architect, Rena Swentzel, told me that as a young girl she got her first sexual thrill squatting above the Sipapu Hole in the ruins of a Kiva, the hole where her ancestors were said to have emerged from Inner Earth. On hearing this sweetly delicate human revelation, it could not possibly occur to me that I should classify my friend as a “sex tourist.” While they may be, perhaps, less obvious, all similar efforts at classification are equally violent.

When I went with Juliet and Michael Sorkin to ground zero in Manhattan three weeks after the towers fell and the ground was still stinking and smoking, was I a “dark tourist?” Was I a “revolution tourist” in Paris in 1968? Or an “eco-tourist” visiting Castro’s forest restoration project in Cuba? Or a “heritage tourist” the day I spent at Freud’s House in London. Or an “extreme tourist” climbing the slot wash in on Picacho?


I was just a human being like every other tourist making observations and gathering impressions as I went, and trying to sculpt these into a life worth sharing. My tourism has been simple intellectual curiosity, travel with people who love each other enjoying interesting times together, and an ethical commitment to try to make something out of it. Perhaps I am also beset by a need to keep moving quickly lest someone try to build a demographic box around me or my career. I could not have done it if at least half of my department chairs, deans and vice chancellors had not been supportive of my literal lack of discipline, or more properly of a discipline. I know this because the other half did try to block me at every turn. My journey is also possible only because Juliet, Daniel and Jason have been with me every step of the way.

Figure 27. Juliet Flower MacCannel and Daniel and Jason MacCannell at the library at Cerisy-La-Salle.

Tourist behaviors are too diverse to be contained within a limited series of labels. Nor is there any place on earth that every, or nearly every, tourist will visit that we can measure to determine the general characteristics of destinations.

From agricultural science to environmental design

  When Juliet and I were in Haiti with Willy, Renata, and others, I was stopped in the street by strangers on several occasions, each incident following roughly the same trajectory. Men my age or a bit younger would come up and face me, touch me gently to stop me, then fall to their knees in my path, clasp their hands as if in prayer, look imploringly into my eyes and begin muttering “Papa, Papa, oh, Papa.” It was utterly confounding. There was no irony or ridicule in their attitude which seemed to be pure reverence. We asked our Haitian hosts for an explanation. They seemed to know something but refused to divulge it. On our return to California, Juliet did the research that turned up images of the figure of Azaka or Papa Zaka, the Vodou god of agriculture.

2016-1(9)-TEM1-Fig28Figure 28. Image of Azaka (aka “Papa Zaka”)
Vodou God of Agriculture, always shown wearing a straw hat and carrying a bundle of food. Said to be a “genial old man from the mountains.”
Source: Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou, Donald Cosentino, Ed. , University of California, 1995. p. 121

When we told the story to our son Jason, who mixes sweetness and acidity in large equal measures, he immediately responded, “But Papa, they must have known. You are the god of agriculture.”

Vodou God of agriculture, even if it is a courtesy appointment, is a higher office than Research Rural Sociologist. It might even be higher than Professor. Once there is little more that one can aspire to, it is time to change discourses.

In 1993, Juliet and I were invited to Artist Residencies at Headlands Center for the Arts on the ocean by Sausalito. We were the first writers of non-fiction to be so honored. It was while on sabbatical at Headlands that I made the calls to department chairs and Deans to begin the process of moving my appointment out of the social sciences and into Environmental Design and Landscape Architecture. This was before Linked In and I didn’t send out any announcement but immediately, almost as if by magic, the bulk of my teaching, lecture and writing invitations shifted to art, architecture, design, gallery, and museum work.

I will stop here without describing this most recent turn, except to say that some of my work in collaborations with Juliet and other artists was written about by Lucy Lippard in her book On the Beaten Track.  I have no idea of where this turn is taking me. Is it up Cañon La Media, or Cañon Diablo?

This tracing of my path given in this text is far from complete, of course. I probably should have mentioned being co-editor with Juliet of The American Journal of Semiotics for twelve years; and that I never taught a course on tourism at UC Davis. Recall that tourism was not what I was hired to do. Also, I drove from coast to coast in the U.S. 18 times. So I did see America first as my government recommends.

And I did manage to hold on to my posh Research Rural Sociologist appointment in the Experiment Station after I turned to art, architecture, design and museum work. I did continue to conduct annual surveys of the rural homeless in Yolo, Sacramento, and Placer counties. Several of these were done in collaboration with my son Jason.



Dean MacCannell
Emeritus Professor, Environmental Design & Landscape Architecture, University of California, Davis




[1] The invidious comparison of “tourists” to “travelers” was championed by Daniel Boorstin in his book The Image: A Guide to Pseudo Events in America (New York: Harper and Row, 1961. I criticized it as being a symptom and not an analytical distinction. See Dean MacCannell, “Staged Authenticity: On Arrangements of Social Space in Tourist Settings,” The American Journal of Sociology (79) 3, 589-603, 1973. It persists today as an important part of the self-image of certain tourists. See Frederick Errington and Deborah Gewertz study of self-named “travelers” in New Guinea, “Tourism and Anthropology in a Postmodern World,” pp. 195-217 in Sharon Gmelch, Tourists and Tourism (Longrove, Illinois: Waveland, 2004)
[2] For a strong analytic account see Stephanie Hom Cary’s insightful article “The Tourist Moment,” Annals of Tourism Research, 32:1 (2004) pp 61-77.
[3] This was the great contribution of Nelson Graburn’s pioneering work on Eskimo Art. He showed how the interaction of tourist consumers and Inuit carvers produced a new kind of aesthetic object unprecedented in either culture but based on new understandings and misprisions of each about the other. See, Graburn’s own contributions to his edited volume, Ethnic and Tourist Arts: Cultural Expressions from the Fourth World (Berkeley: University of California, 1976).
[4] Note that serious expeditionary mountaineering involves deep archival research, locating every published and unpublished account of the region, every sketch of routes. Those who engage in this research know that the quality of one’s scholarship can mean the difference between life and death.
[5] For some elaboration of this point see my book The Ethics of Sightseeing (Berkeley: University of California, 2011)
[6] Emile Durkheim, The Division of Labor in Society, W.D. Halls trans., New York: The Free Press, 1984 [1893])
[7] Dean MacCannell, The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class, (New York: Schocken 1976) (New York: Pantheon, 1989) (Berkeley: University of California, 1999, 2013).
[8] Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1967.
[9] Jacques Derrida, “Pour l’amour de Lacan,” pp. 397-420 in Lacan avec les philosophes (Paris: Michel Albin, 1991)
[10] L’écriture, op cit., p. 5
[11] Malabou et Derrida, Contra-Allée (Paris: La Quinzaine Littéraire Louis Vuitton, 1999) p. 17. Juliet Flower MacCannell, trans.
[12] Dean MacCannell and Juliet Flower MacCannell, The Time of the Sign: A Semiotic Interpretation of Modern Culture. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982)
[13] Published in Japanese trans. “Symbolic Capital,” in The Future of the World City, ed. Shuzo Ishimori. Osaka, pp. 18-30. 1995
[14]  Annals of Tourism Research, XI, 361‑377, 1984. Reprinted as ch. 7 in my Empty Meeting Grounds, op cit. pp, 158-71.
[15] See, e.g. Jillian Rickly-Boyd, “Authenticity and Aura. A Benjaminian Approach to Tourism”, Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 39, issue 1, January 2012, Pages 269–289