Breaking and entering, or a feeling of heterotopia in tourism situations. A study of two borderline tourism cases

Hécate Vergopoulos


This paper is based on the following field research conducted in 2010: (i) a tourist accommodation experience in Chora, capital of the Greek island of Skyros, in a house that in all likelihood was never originally intended for tourists; and (ii) a visit of the Estonian city of Paldiski, an important military port under Soviet rule. These two cases, a priori very different, generated intense feelings of uneasiness similar to both guilt and voyeurism in the two groups of tourists involved, which included the author of this paper.
For both of these experiences, the tourists we were had the impression of “breaking and entering”, of unlawfully accessing areas that were not intended for us and which should have remained well off the standard tourist trails.
And yet, in both cases we experienced something of this fantasy of tourism authenticity: entering totally uncharted territory, without mediator or staging, with a view to understanding what life there was really like and discovering this “behind-the-scenes” that is supposed to systematically guarantee “enchantment” with tourists.
In this paper, we shall attempt to understand why the enchantment gave way to dysphoria in both of these cases, which we consider to have been “borderline”.

Keywords: dypshoria, fieldword, heterotopia, methodology, tourist intrusion


“Off the beaten path”: this syntagma is today a Homeric epithet in the tourism industry. It describes a place – albeit common – on the trip that indicates that while tourism willingly includes more and more new and original itineraries, it nevertheless develops virgin lands, places untouched by Man and uncharted territories in the dense interlacing and saturated network of its routes. “But here’s the thing,” said Jean-Didier Urbain, referring to the somewhat paradoxical situation we are thus faced with, “those who set themselves apart through innovation (the chosen destination or new ways of exploring) in an attempt to escape the world of tourist sites and resorts, ultimately contribute to the expansion of this world” (2002, p. 275). In other words, if in the end uncharted territories are explored en masse, they cease to be virgin lands for tourism – if indeed they ever actually were.

Studying “tourism off the beaten path” is thus an attempt to ease the apparent paradox that expects industrialized tourism – the channelling of massive flows of travellers in a certain limited number of sites – to nevertheless continue to identify, advertise and make available large numbers of places, one tourism specificity of which being that they remain scarce.

To implement this easing strategy, two working scenarios can be identified. The first consists in considering the syntagma “off the beaten path” as a formula, in other words, as an expression crystallizing and circulating political issues (Krieg-Planque, 2009). This therefore requires studying only the rhetoric of tourism by positing that, if a paradox does exist, it is above all a paradox of language. This scenario thus suggests considering the syntagma as a discursive operation of tourism mediation in order to analyse how the industry divides its products into at least two classes: those it considers to be established “beaten paths” (leading to the traditional standards of the tourism corpora), and those that purportedly remain “off the beaten path” (leading to the thresholds of unusual attractions, mysterious sites, alternative destinations, etc.).

The second scenario, and the one that we will discuss in this paper, does not involve considering the syntagma as a formula. Nor does it seek to distance it, but rather to take it literally. This therefore involves a search for what actually constitutes a paradox in a tourism situation, based on the premise that in industrialized tourism these “off the beaten paths” form an integral part of what tourism actually is. In other words, it is a case of discovering a potential “off-road” tourism setting, not as promoted by the discourse and designed by the tourism industry, but as it can be experienced in a travel situation.

In this respect, and with a view to explaining what we mean, the notion of heterotopia presented by Foucault in 1967 during a conference organized by the Circle of Architectural Studies in Paris seems particularly relevant. In the text of this conference entitled Des espaces autres (“Of Other Spaces”), Foucault introduced the idea that contemporary society is essentially defined by the importance it attaches to its relationship to space.[1] This notably takes the form of a line of questioning which does not concern the problem of localization: the issue is not (no longer) to know how places are (or must be) represented (secular versus sacred, public versus private, etc.). Nor does it concern this other spatial problem which is expanse: again, the issue is not to measure and define the magnitude, real or symbolic, of the places. Rather, it concerns that of spaces, or “relationships of vicinity between points or elements” (2001, p. 1572). This concern for a space that is so designed thus consists in looking at the positional dynamics and relationships of the objects populating it.

As Foucault specified: “for humans, the problem with places or spaces is posed in demographic terms; and this last problem of human spaces is not simply the question of whether there will be enough room for man in the world […], it is also the problem of knowing which relationships of vicinity, which type of storage, circulation, identification and classification of human elements must preferably be selected in such and such a situation to achieve such and such an end” (2001, p. 1572-1573). Thus, the issue of space can be summed up in the proverbial aphorism “a place for everything and everything in its place”, as if the issue it raises is that of the fair distribution of places and functions.

According to Foucault, this fair distribution is based on a streamlined ordering principle which means that “we live inside a set of relationships that define spaces which are mutually irreducible and in no way superimposable” (2001, p. 1574). In other words, our ordering system allocates specific functions to each spatial volume and, conversely, each of these functions is shaped within the volumes assigned to them, in such a way that the spaces do not become confused.

And yet, there are apparently certain spaces where this rule of non-superimposition does not apply. These are the heterotopias, those spaces which are “kinds of effectively realized utopias in which the real spaces, all the other real spaces that can be found within our culture, are simultaneously represented, contested and reversed, the kinds of places that exist outside of all other places, even though they can indeed be localized” (2001, p. 1574-1575).

Cemeteries, cinemas and brothels can thus be considered as heterotopias. The latter especially are heterotopias in the sense that their specificity is to represent the order of the social world in which they exist (they are thus “on the margins” of this world because they play host to practices considered by this world to be marginal) in order, however, to better challenge the foundation and reverse the values of said world. Or as Foucault put it, to better “create a space of illusion that denounces any real space as even more illusory, all spaces within which human life is partitioned” (2001, p. 1580).

The challenge of this paper lies in demonstrating that such places exist in tourism. While summoning up and representing our socio-cultural relationship with space in general, these places also reveal the limits and deny the foundation of said relationship. This paper will especially attempt to show that when authenticity is considered to be too authentic, it can sometimes be defined as a heterotopia, or as an effectively realized utopia. This can then present certain similarities with its opposite, a type of “tourism breaking and entering” in other cultures and lives, which consequently creates a new perspective of certain sociocultural spaces (places of intimacy and politics, places of entertainment, recreation and consumption).

More precisely, this paper will attempt to show that tourism authenticity can sometimes generate a feeling of heterotopia. This point is important, because when Foucault put forward his definition of heterotopia, he was in direct opposition to Bachelard and his approach to space (1957). He stated that he would not study “the spaces within”, phenomenological, but rather the instituted spaces “without”. In my case, if I refer to a “feeling of heterotopia”, it is because I wish to reconnect with the spaces “within” to address, not the places of tourism themselves, but rather the perceptions they generate within the context of certain experiences.

The aim of this paper is thus to study this feeling of heterotopia experienced by certain tourists in certain situations, and which proceeds from the superimposition not of spaces (instituted), but of relationships to the world (subjective) which in theory cannot be superimposed. The paper will therefore examine “tourism off the beaten path” as it may exist in its most paradoxical form, when in a single experience what is felt is both the tourism paradigm and another which we shall not name for now, even though the former essentially represents the negation of the latter. Regarding this feeling of heterotopia in tourism situations, we will try to define it, to understand exactly how and why it causes tension or what it superimposes, in order to ultimately study what it generally reveals about both normal and more unusual frameworks of the tourism perception of the world.

Methodological Issues

While there are essentially two ways of easing the paradox that stems from the study of “tourism off the beaten path” (by studying firstly “the formula” and secondly “the experience”), and while, moreover, my research generally focuses on the question of tourism discourse and mediation (whether they are located, therefore, on the side of the “formula”, more specifically dealt with from a semiological perspective), for this paper I have decided to undertake something of an ethnological analysis and thus to concentrate on this second scenario.

This choice is largely due to two experiences that, in my opinion, share something of this “off-road tourism”, or what I have named the “feeling of heterotopia in tourism situations” with a view to studying it further later in this paper. These two experiences happened well before the semiotician of tourist texts that I am today understood their extraordinary character and consequently attempted to don some sort of scientific garb which would have allowed me to move from the status of tourist to that of observer while these experiences were actually taking place. This point is important and needs to be addressed head on since it raises, in essence, a relatively trivial methodological issue in the field of tourism studies. This is namely the changing socio-symbolic positions of those who are directly concerned by the subject they are continuously studying, without always knowing how to assign the correct status to the memories of their involvement (between personal and sometimes intimate anecdotes, and narratives of possibly objectivized experiences).

Indeed, the question of the relationship between the observer and his or her field of research is ethnographic in nature. Through the wealth of literature on this subject, we know today that while the observer is working on his or her field of research (Abélès, 1983; Jamin 1986), said field is also working on or shaping the observer (Favret-Saada, 1977; Devreux 1980).

From the observer to the field of research, the challenge thus lies in finding the right labile balance between scientific objectification and individual subjectivity. More precisely, it consists for the observer in investigating his or her own subjectivity by considering it as such – by identifying, therefore, both the impact of the field of research on him or her and how he or she is impacting said field – in order to produce knowledge that goes beyond the strict framework of personal impressions and emotions. Bourdieu summed up this idea thus: “scientific objectification is only complete when it includes the point of view of the subject working on it” (2003). In other words, subjectivity – in the sense of subjective perception deployed by a singular subject of action, thought and emotion – forms an integral part of the processes of observation and resulting knowledge production.

While this is true, it is only provided that this subjectivity discussed here is implicitly that of a subject who wants to study and learn, that of a subject who has already carved out a fragment of the world destined to undergo this strange methodological operation that consists in reclassifying it as the “field of research”. In sum, this heuristic subjectivity to which we are referring here, and which must be systematically analysed, proceeds from the reclassification of the social individual turned scientific observer.

Consequently, how should this subjectivity be dealt with when the subject has not as yet (i) transformed the space into a field of research, and (ii) taken on the role of observer rather than mere participant? What place should the subject be given when, in interacting with a field, he or she assumes a role other than the scientific role of ethnographer? What should be done with the point of view expressed by the subject when the latter views the world only as a layman? Indeed, in the case of the two experiences that concern us here, I was to all intents and purposes no more than a tourist in a new situation of my ordinary, everyday life. Or better yet, I was a holiday-maker. I therefore deliberately left vacant this place occupied by my professional activities because I situated myself in the social time of rest and relaxation, the opposite of this other social time of work represented by my job and profession.

The problem therefore consists in evaluating the scientific legitimacy of this layman’s encounter with a fragment of the world that was reclassified only after the fact as a scientific field, and to wonder at the same time whether or not there exist valid arguments that would allow for justifying such an approach.

Semiotician Roland Barthes asked himself this same question in his study of photography (1980). Seeking to understand how and why his family photos triggered so much emotion (in other words, how these photos comprised him as an emotional subject), he hoped to find answers in various scientific literature – in essence, in works claiming scientific objectification. The problem, he explained, was that: “I noted with irritation that none of them mentioned those photos that interested me, those that caused me happiness or triggered emotion. Why should I have been interested in the rules of composition of landscape photography, or, at the other end of the scale, in Photography as a family ritual? […] Because I saw only the referent, the desired object, the beloved body. But an unwelcome voice (the voice of science) then told me sternly: ‘Come back to Photography. What you see there, what causes you pain falls within the category of “Amateur photographs”, which have been studied by a team of sociologists: they are nothing more than evidence of a protocol of social integration, designed to strengthen family ties, etc.’. I nevertheless persisted. Another voice, the stronger one, encouraged me to deny the sociological commentary; when viewing certain photos, I was meant to be primitive, uncultivated. And thus I continued, not daring to reduce the innumerable photos of the world, nor to extend some of my own to Photography in general: in short, I had reached an impasse and found myself, so to speak, ‘scientifically’ alone and helpless. I think then that this disorder and dilemma, revealed by the desire to write about Photography, reflected well a kind of discomfort that I had always known, namely that of being a subject torn between two languages, the one expressive, the other critical” (1980, p. 19-20).

For Barthes, then, the question of the right balance between scientific objectification and individual subjectivity takes on a more specific dimension, contained in the question of languages: on the one hand the “critical language” or analytical language intended to deliver knowledge and, on the other, the “expressive language” or secular language of social individuals. In other words, the question I ask, and which consists in knowing whether the researcher “has the right” to transform after the fact a subjective experience into a field of research, is what Barthes attributed to language and suggested rephrasing as follows: can a researcher employ a scientific and scientifically valid discourse that would cover his or her own expressive discourse?

The shift from the paradigm of practice (scientific versus secular) to that of discourse (scholarly versus expressive) allows for highlighting this “order of discourse” of which Foucault spoke (1971), and which implies that the production of statements concerning the world is governed by frameworks and procedures that are both differentiating and distinct. If, in theory and with respect to the scientific statement, the expressive statement seems devoid of the most coercive and structural frameworks and therefore destined by this absence to a potential proliferation, the scientific statement is the result of a very strict procedure of scarcity – which therefore allows it to discredit the scientific value of the expressive statement. In other words, Barthes asked the following question: is there a scientific procedure that can ensure a status of corpus for my expressive statement?

He then formulated the solution to his problem: “in this altogether conventional debate between subjectivity and science,” he said, “I came up with this strange idea: why should there not be, in some way, a new science by subject? A Mathesis singularis (and therefore no longer universalis)? And so I accepted to consider myself a mediator of all Photography: based on some personal movements, I would try to formulate the fundamental and universal trait without which Photography would not exist.” He concluded: “And thus I am myself a measurement of photographic ‘knowledge’” (1980, p. 21-22).

When Ruth Amossy (1991) commented on this remark, she mobilized the notion of level of discourse to better explain what was at work here. According to her, there existed three “levels of discourse” in Barthes. The first was expressive discourse, defined as the degree of adherence, of struggle, of emotion. This is the discourse of the layman. The second was that of scientific discourse, that of distancing with respect to the object and the analysis.[2] Amossy then explained that the problem raised by Barthes consisted in saying that he did not want to choose between first- and second-level discourse, and that it would be the solution he formulated which would define a third level of discourse, that of informed knowledge or acknowledgement, of emotional inaction and the acceptance of expressiveness as a field of study. This would specifically allow for stating that something has moved us while constituting this statement as an object of analysis. Thus, the three levels are in a way consecutive: “aware that [a proposal] was at first touching, then foolish, you finally have the freedom to perhaps find it exact” (Barthes, 1975, p. 125, in Amossy, 1991, p. 79). Third-level discourse would thus solve the indecision experienced by researchers in choosing between first- and second-level discourse, in that it would allow them to consider themselves as spectators of their own emotional agentivity.

The proposal is tempting, especially for those who recall these few lines that Jean Jamin wrote to comment on the unfortunate ethnographic experience at the start of the book Le lieu du politique by Marc Abélès: “that which initially appears to stem from both rational advantage and the principle of method – in other words, distance and standing back from a situation – proves ineffective for the experiment: the ethnographer has to break the ice, to become accepted, and hence unlearn that which serves as his scientific mind. One of the empirical conditions of ethnographic observation and the validity of its results is therefore not distancing – which is experimentally impractical if not unbearable – but rather its opposite, adherence, which, of course, can only be approached and, frankly, enacted: behaving as if one was…” (1986, p. 337).

For Barthes, there was nothing “enacted” about this adherence at the origin of the ethnographic gesture. It was not a case of “behaving as if one was moved by the photographs of one’s own family”, but rather a “desire to be subjective”, or again claiming to “be able to experience the world” as a social subject. This is the same position that I wish to defend in the rest of this paper in order to study situations not of rapture and delight in tourism, but rather of dysphoria; situations that lose their sense when the authenticity of the otherness is perhaps a little too authentic; when the desire to encounter another culture looks more like an attempted breaking and entering; when the illusion of tourist enchantment is broken because, suddenly, one gets the feeling of having no business being there.

In sum, in what follows I propose to consider myself as a social and subjective symptom in favour of knowledge, based on the premise that what my own subjectivity allows me to formulate are “very impersonal confessions” in the words of Bourdieu supported by Eveline Pinto (2006, p. 437). Or better yet, what my own subjectivity allows me to do is to seek within myself the origin of a subjective confession that the work of scientific objectification (that of the retrospective interview and narrative) will serve to make impersonal.

The Quest for Authenticity

July 2010. Four young people, two men and two women around thirty years of age, were travelling by car through Greece and decided to visit the island of Skyros in the Sporades. Of the four friends, one was Greek, two were Franco-Greek, and the fourth was French. They were therefore familiar with the country, had already visited many islands during past trips and, especially, knew that there is never any point in booking a room prior to arrival. Indeed, it is always more “efficient” to explore the streets of the villages on foot, whatever the arrival time and regardless of the “high” or “low” nature of the season, in search of accommodation that is generally soon found. Moreover, it was by scrupulously following this method that the four young people in question had found somewhere to stay during the previous stages of their trip: in Pelion a few days earlier, and on the island of Euboea just the day before.

Upon landing on Skyros, they decided to seek accommodation in the capital, Chora. By the time they arrived, it was already 10 p.m. and night had fallen. They therefore wasted no time, going door to door trying to find a place to stay, but always hearing the same old refrain: “At this time of year, if you haven’t booked anything…” Finally, the young people decided to talk to a real estate agent, who explained that his job did not really involve tourist rentals. The young people admitted that they were well aware of this, but it was almost midnight and so far they had found nowhere to stay. The real estate agent seemed to sympathize with their plight. He called a friend who, for some reason, would be better placed to know if there were still any unoccupied rooms for rent. The verdict was not long in coming: everywhere was fully booked.

The young people were on the point of leaving when the real estate agent suddenly had what he called “an idea”. He did, “in fact”, have the keys to a house that the four friends could rent for a period of one week at a very reasonable rate. Needless to say, they jumped at the chance. The real estate agent made a phone call, and then told the young people to wait. A few minutes later, a boy of around twelve years of age came to meet them and told them to follow him. They headed deeper into the village, turned right, then left, then right again, down a flight of stairs, under a porch, took another left, and finally stopped in front of a house. The whole time, the boy had said very little. Unlocking the front door, he reminded the young people to look after the house, something the real estate agent had already told them.

The door open, the boy turned on the light and then disappeared into the night. Opposite, there was a lounge / dining room: a round table in the middle of the room covered with a white embroidered tablecloth, carved wooden chairs, and old family photos on the wall. Next to the main room, there was a tiny bedroom with French doors which opened onto a terrace overlooking the village and the sea below. There was also a staircase, at the bottom of which was another room with a kitchen area to the right and a kind of large cupboard to the left which had been converted into a mezzanine with a double bed.

During the interview, conducted two months after the friends returned home, V. described the property as follows: “It was a house on the top of the cliff. On one side there was the village, and on the other there was nothing but the sea. So it was beautiful.” The first surprising thing about this brief description is the use of the conjunction “so”, mobilized to express an idea concluding the previous statements. The latter were, however, merely descriptive. In other words, what this “so” referred to was, on the one hand, the relatively neutral description of a space and, on the other, how this space generated value, culture and emotion (“so it was beautiful”, as if being beautiful was an inherent characteristic of this space). This “so” allows for highlighting what Philippe Descola called “mental and perceptive apparatus” in his course on landscapes at the College de France (2012), in other words, the sense of déjà vu and “already liked” that allows us to realize that something is to be experienced here and also shows us how to experience it.

In order to communicate with this fragment of the world they had just discovered, the four young people proceeded in the same way: they all tapped into an already available mental apparatus to interpret their relationship to the place. M. thus said in describing the property: “It was a house that hinted at a Greek way of life: a white house, […] on two levels, with a street on one side, cobblestoned, a tiny cobblestoned street which led right into the house. I wonder actually if there wasn’t a church right beside it, I think there was a church right beside the house. The balcony overlooked the sea and a few of the neighbouring houses also with balconies. So it was a really typical village house.

M.’s mental apparatus is not only that of Descola’s landscape. Indeed, this other “so” comprises something more than the mere question of the beauty of the scenery for the subject. What is at stake here is also the issue of tourism typicality. In other words, this second “so” indicates that there are other mental devices that allow us to get in touch with a space in a tourism situation and that at least one of them has something to do with what Roland Barthes named the “picturesque”, namely a construction – discursive in semiotics – which causes the object to exist and be shaped in a space identified as “typical” (1957).

Once this typicality apparatus is mobilized, tourists then manage to position themselves in relation to their picturesque subject. Thus E. said: “It was not really the ideal place for a tourist seeking all mod-cons (…). It was a big and very traditional house. It was actually like a trip within our trip. I felt I was living in the house of a local person, an inhabitant of the village.” V. said: “This was no ‘Walt Disney’ type apartment, designed specifically for tourists. It was a real village house in which someone no doubt had lived on a regular basis… It was not the local Hilton, if you know what I mean. We were in a real home.” For both E. and V., the axiological framework of tourism (tourist versus traveller) highlighted by Jean-Didier Urbain (2002) was yet another mental apparatus that allowed for positioning themselves. Here, the group was clearly on the “good” side of tourism, on the side of places that represent “a trip within a trip”, about which nothing is “adulterated” (Winkin, 2001), but which instead remain “authentic”, in their original state.

Thus, the young people all mobilized a specifically tourist cultural interpretation framework opposing “tourism” and “travel” to try to describe their experience of the place. This framework allowed them to position themselves within this axiological opposition by placing them on the side of the “good” tourists, those who refuse the common sites and spaces of tourism, preferring an “off the beaten path” experience. In other words, the young people were experiencing “for real” the dream of tourism authenticity as defined by MacCannell (1999), given that they were able to enter this singular location on their trip defined by “a typical native home.”[3] And that is something that, under normal circumstances, should have delighted them.

Tourism Breaking and Entering

After the boy who led them to the house departed, the young people spent some time exploring and discovering their accommodation, its decoration and layout. Then, before collecting their luggage, they smoked a cigarette together out on the balcony. At first they enjoyed and raved about the view, but the discussion, interspersed with many silences, quickly came round to a very specific point: “What do you think, is this some kind of scam?” While the house seemed to everyone to be indeed part of the behind-the-scenes of the regular tourist itineraries, representative of authentic local life, something prevented the members of the group from being “enchanted” (Winkin, 2001).

In deciding to finally take on the role of the subject of enunciation, V. thus said: “Well, I didn’t like it. At first I did not like the house at all. I felt like I was in someone’s apartment. It wasn’t a hotel room, where you have two sheets and a bar of soap. There were all the photos of the grandfather and grandmother. And what was that smell? Was it mothballs? I don’t know if it was mothballs, but it was definitely the kind of house you would imagine would smell of mothballs.” Nothing to do with what one would have expected after hearing V. contrasting the house with “Walt Disney” apartments. And while we know that the latter can lead the traveller to the threshold of disenchantment (Brunel, 2006), it is less common to think that “tourism authenticity” can also generate its share of dysphoria.

  1. went even further: “Well,” she told me, “even though the guy said ‘OK, it’s all good, you’ve paid, the house is yours’, I felt that it was not for me, that it was for family members only. It was not a house for me. It wasn’t for me,” she repeated emphatically. “Even though I had paid, even though I had no problem with the guy who found us the place, for me, my conscience, my judgement was telling me that I didn’t belong there, that I should get out. It wasn’t a house for tourists.” Here again, we can see the dream of tourism authenticity crumbling. The question that then arises is the following: why was the enchantment contract that our tourism culture considers inherent in visiting “authentic” places so undermined during this experience? What, in other words, eroded the integrity of this enchantment?

We can identify several factors that undermined the contract. First, the way in which the house was found. V. explained as follows: “It was so last minute that part of me felt it had to be a rip-off. It was like the guy had picked up the keys and basically said to himself, ‘Why not rent it out and make myself some cash on the side?’” This feeling of having found a house in some kind of dishonest way, and which here spoiled the impression of tourism authenticity, was also shared by other members of the group. E. too stated: “I had the impression it was something… you know… illegal… or that it wasn’t exactly above board in any case. It was the way he said that, since we wouldn’t be staying long and he could see that we were honest people, he’d make an exception.

In sum, the conditions of the commercial contract were unclear, to the point that even its legality was challenged. What was especially problematic was this idea that the owner (a woman?) was not necessarily aware that her house was being rented out to tourists. More precisely again, it was the question of consent that seemed to have been at the origin of this uneasiness: “I would have preferred to have met the owner,” said E., “to at least get the impression that she agreed. As it was, I felt I was doing something on the sly… What’s more, I don’t even know if the money went to the owner or if it went to the estate agent.” She then concluded: “It wasn’t right that we didn’t meet the owner.

The fundamental absence of the host was a problem here because the rental conditions seemed suspicious at first. A new ethical axiology was thus established which this time caused the young people to switch over from the side of the “good” tourists, to that of “odious”, guilty tourists and “cruel” persecutors. They became squatters and thieves, even violating someone else’s privacy: “There was also the feeling,” said V., “of entering the life of someone who had not said ‘OK, come into my life’. […]. It was embarrassing. It was as if you could kick off your slippers, sit your backside down on someone else’s sofa, have a good scratch, take a bath in someone else’s bathtub, and this someone else in question is someone you’ve never seen and you don’t know whether they’re OK with this or not.” E. further explained: “It’s as if someone comes into your house. He has no intention of destroying it. He just steals your watch.” “It’s like,” she went on, “you’re violating the personal side, the person’s private life. Their need to be private. Without their permission.

And so the idea of tourism breaking and entering begins to take shape. This is the feeling of having no business being there combined with that of, by one’s mere presence, carrying out some kind of acute symbolic violence that highly compromises the integrity of this Other. This feeling can be experienced within the framework of various tourism situations. Thus, E. considered that this was what she had felt when, several years beforehand, she had visited the house of Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy in Alexandria: “I felt very, very uncomfortable there. There were, I don’t know, maybe a hundred people on a floor that was already too damaged. We touched everything, looked at everything, took photos… photos of his poems, his memoirs, his life. It was almost like a… violation. We were violating his environment. So I don’t know. I think if he were still alive, he wouldn’t have been happy about it.

Eminently dysphoric, this breaking and entering is generally done in the moment, regardless of the characteristics of the place visited. This is thus a feeling that disturbs the social economy of spaces in that it proceeds from a redistribution of tourist roles and a reconfiguration of everyday situations from the perspective of the tourists themselves: the tourist becomes malevolent; the Other, vulnerable; and the trip a violation – at least symbolically – of spaces identified as intimate.

The Feeling of Heterotopia

Regarding E.’s experiences in both the house on Skyros and Cavafy’s house in Alexandria, she regularly mentioned what I have referred to above as the issue of consent. This issue seems central to the study of this feeling of breaking and entering, and to examine it further I want to discuss the theory of enchantment developed by anthropologist Yves Winkin.

Following on from Bourdieu’s work on the “economies of bad faith” (1977, p. 5),[4] Winkin suggested considering that there are a certain number of market exchange situations – tourism being one of them – which can be defined as situations in which the buyer tends to euphemize the economic dimension of the exchange to the benefit of a more symbolic dimension. The buyer therefore deliberately operates a “willing suspension of disbelief” at the origin of the “enchantment”. According to Winkin, tourists at Disneyland “know full well that they are shaking hands with a fixed-term employee who is underpaid, sweating and steaming under his huge cardboard head – but still, they walk up to him with a smile and say: ‘Hello Mickey, how are you?’” (2002, p. 172-173).

What Winkin was studying here when speaking of enchantment, and more specifically tourism enchantment, were situations in which the Other actively contributes to self-representation on the one hand and to the commercial exchange on the other. The Other thus takes on the dual role of both host and vendor. More precisely, the Other only becomes a host because he has agreed to be a vendor. But in the experience we are discussing, these two functions were not supported by the same person. Better yet, there was doubt, shared by the young people, regarding the desire of the Other (the owner of the house) to be transmuted into a host, since there was doubt concerning whether or not he or she had agreed to the exchange; whether he or she had actually consented to become a vendor and therefore a representative of otherness.

In other words, the uneasiness was linked here to the breach of this double contract, economic and symbolic, that enchantment presupposes. This breach of this double contract was also behind the dysphoric feelings studied by Jean-Didier Urbain in Le Voyage était presque parfait (2008). It was this again that was at work when Corinne Cauvin-Verner studied the commercial and tourist transactions in the bazaars of Zagora in Morocco (2007). Cauvin-Verner first noted that the merchants always start by offering hospitality in the form of tea: rather than economic entities (buyers), tourists are apparently considered as “guests” welcomed by the representative of another culture. The commercial relationship thus moves, but without being completely assimilated however, from the regime of economic exchange to that, non economic, of hospitality. Thus, in such situations, tourists do not merely purchase a good, they also build a connection, more or less intense, more or less intimate, with an otherness that gives of itself and is experienced through its disinterestedness.

When the relationship ends, said Cauvin-Verner, and the tourists go home, many withdraw from this symbolic space of denial of the economic reality: alone, in front of their carpet, they suddenly get the feeling that they were “had”, paying a rather hefty sum for something that, in the end, they really did not need. It is then in the light of the underlying commercial framework of the relationship that they reinterpret the presence of this purchase in their lives, the price paid not worth the benefit in terms of use. From there, some do not hesitate to complain to their tour operators, whom they hold responsible for putting them in a position where they could be scammed (2007, p. 134). In other words, where there is tourism dysphoria, it consists here in the disintegration, at a given point, of the symbolic dimension of the trade: only the economic framework remains to access this “souvenir” of another country.

If for Jean-Didier Urbain and Corinne Cauvin-Verner what constitutes dysphoria and breach is the loss of the symbolic dimension, where our experience is concerned the opposite was true, the removal of the economic aspect, since we did not know where the money went or whether or not the relationship with the Other, invisible and absent, was governed by a commercial framework. In other words, in the case of tourism breaking and entering, dysphoria proceeds from a changeover, not to the economic and commercial regime alone, but precisely to the symbolic regime. However, the symbolic regime (devoid of economic burden) and the generic tourism regime would seem to be incompatible.

This was attested when E. said: “In fact, back on Skyros, I felt like I had walked into a small museum […]. Inevitably, it was a place full of hidden history and feelings. It was where people had slept, eaten, made love, cried. And there I was, uninvited and… for fun, because I went to Skyros for fun, to see nature, to sightsee and have fun… and I entered this house which was like a small museum […]. It’s not… it wasn’t compatible.

On the one hand we therefore have the tourism regime or paradigm, frivolous and mundane, configuring relaxation, entertainment and recreation. On the other we have another regime, another paradigm, serious and solemn, based on respect, kindness and discretion. Between the two, no compatibility is possible, at least according to E.

If these two paradigms are not necessarily incompatible by nature, here, the opposition that E. attributed to them generated what we can call “a crisis of interpretation”. More precisely, this crisis of interpretation can be defined as the inability on the part of the subject to reconcile these two paradigms. Considering that they necessarily contradict each other when, in reality, by their very presence in the places concerned, the subjects gave substance to one of those “actually realized utopias” that are Foucault’s heterotopias, they created an aberration. This aberration was intolerable for them given the resulting places created, in which culturally and socially defined tourism spaces were represented (tourists experiencing the dream of authenticity), disputed (the dream, however, left a bitter taste in the mouth), and reversed (the perceived authenticity was ultimately perhaps nothing more than an illusion).

The uneasiness thus generated echoed that which was felt during the second experience which will be discussed below. The difference – which is huge – is that in the case of Skyros, the breaking and entering violated the integrity of a private home, whereas in the second case, it was the integrity of a whole society that seemed to be shaken from the perspective of the visitors.

Estonia, May 2010. After attending a scientific conference in the capital, Tallinn, two young people decided to take a short holiday to discover other aspects of this country they imagined they would have very little opportunity to visit again in the future. They rented a car and, armed with their Petit Futé guidebook, discussed where they wanted to go. Flicking through the book, they made some complicated calculations that factored in time, distance and the tourist attractiveness of the various sites to visit. They finally decided on Paldiski, described in the book as follows: “Until independence, it was not easy to reach this Soviet naval base located 50 km west of Tallinn. Today, however, and this is quite an unusual fact in Estonia, the rail service runs eight Tallinn-Paldiski connections daily […]. The Estonians are in any case more than happy to witness the interest this former Soviet port generates, but want more” (Auzias, Labourdette, 2010, p. 115). Fair enough!

Only here again, the young people would quickly experience a feeling of intense dysphoria. Arriving as tourists, they were faced with a reality that was not consumable, in their opinion, within a tourism context: “Paldiski,” explained M., “was a really out-of-the-way and isolated place […]. We arrived by a road that seemed to lead nowhere else and, if I remember correctly, there were soldiers by the side of the road who seemed to be guarding something. I suppose there was a military camp nearby. And when we arrived in the town, it triggered everything you could possibly imagine or expect to see in a place like this. The town was basically one main street, quite long with lots of blocks of flats, nothing attractive or interesting about it, looking like it dated from the 1950s or 60s, after the war in any case, a town that hadn’t changed at all in almost fifty years. So suddenly you find yourself there, you were told ‘this town is a living testimony to the Soviet era’, and you do indeed see everything you ever imagined or expected from a place like this […] So suddenly you realize, in fact, and this is what happened to us, it was like visiting one of those wildlife parks where you drive along the tracks in your car and you see lions and rhinoceroses. There, you drove past blocks of flats in your car and you saw people going about their everyday life, buying bread from the bakery or sitting on a bench…

  1. concluded: “We got the impression of entering a world where almost everyone was playing a role depicting another time in history. Except that it wasn’t true.” The problem here, in short, was that the economic and social stagnation and the everyday life portrayed in Paldiski were not “represented” but were actually “real”. More specifically, the problem is the fact that as tourists we enter spaces with this simple idea that they have been staged, that everyone has a role to play and that everyone agrees to do so – consents to do so – “except that [there] it wasn’t true”. Except that there, no-one seemed to have consented to play the game of economic depression. Rather, it seemed to actually exist.

The emotional and interpretative crisis thus proceeded from what M. identified as the total absence of a tourist fool’s game, which made him think that he may have employed the wrong mental apparatus when he entered into communication with this fragment of space and life in the hope of being enchanted. Breaking and entering, or what we can now call “the feeling of heterotopia in tourism situations”, is what proceeds from the realization that two mutually incompatible relationships to the world converge in a single space configured, from inner space, by the entertainment-avid tourist. It is, more simply, what proceeds from the realization that we cannot systematically communicate with the objects of the world within the strict framework of an economic relationship. Or to put it another way, that everything cannot be consumed because the particularity of consumption (in tourism as elsewhere) is to transmute any paradigm whatever into a single paradigm: that of “happiness”, mundane and inconsequential, where the world is sometimes populated by spaces and fragments that resist.


In conclusion, the first thing I would like to highlight is the semiological activity that we as tourists conduct. This is an intense activity on which we actually build but very little. And yet, being a tourist means being a “primitive” semiotician. It is about knowing how to give oneself holds that allow for communicating with the world. Thus, M. was the one person in the Skyros group who was the least affected by the “scam” theory because, he said, he noticed that there was no flour or sugar in the kitchen cupboards. For him, this absence of evidence meant that the house had been emptied, precisely to accommodate visitors to the island. In turn, V. and E. transformed into signs other objects that became clues or evidence of a daily use of the house (the family photos, “kitsch” tablemats, smell of mothballs, etc.). We thus permanently look for clues that allow us to identify the fact that the situation we are living is a real tourism situation and consequently to measure the degree of “touristness” on the tourism-travel axis. In the absence of clues to this “touristness”, when they disintegrate or are problematic, a feeling of uneasiness can begin to make itself felt.

This uneasiness, which we have studied here, stems from a lack of tourism mediation. In other words, when the experience is im-mediate, the person who enters into communication with a fragment of the world by positioning themselves as a tourist may be faced with a crisis of interpretation. Their status as a tourist allows them to summon up a paradigm of the specific experience (the paradigm of recreation, entertainment, pleasure) wherever the most complete absence of mediation leads them, rather than another type of paradigm which, in contrast to the first, I willingly describe as political. The crisis of interpretation or the feeling of heterotopia then proceeds from the fact that we realize that we have been projected into a highly political space which we nevertheless consume in holiday mode, mundane and inconsequential.

Finally, what the study of the feeling of heterotopia allows for highlighting is the question of scale – which justifies the choice of the term “political”. Generally, when we arrive in a place or a culture as tourists, we take on the role of representatives of a strangeness come to encounter individuals who, in turn and as part of that encounter, take on the role of representatives of otherness (Rauch, 2002). In short, if there are tourist “interactions”, they generate relationships between cultures and communities. Now, in the situations of dysphoria discussed above, it was no longer a matter of cultures exactly, but rather of individuals. It was no longer a question of enchanted commercial relationships, but of propriety and ethics. Thus, when E. in essence said, “even though I had paid for this house, I did not feel right being there”, what she was actually saying is that despite the commercial transaction that she had already half carried out, she was faced with a moral dilemma. In other words, the commercial transaction, establishing her as a consumer, did not exempt her from her political status as an individual. Conversely, while the situations studied here are cases of breach, they help highlight the fact that when everything “runs smoothly”, when the tourist encounter takes place in a seamless way, it is because we as tourists have already swept the political paradigm under the mat of the tourism paradigm. And if tourism is a case of enchantment engineering, then it must be understood as the result of the hard work involved in neutralizing the political paradigm.


Abélès, Marc. Le Lieu du politique. Paris : Société d’ethnographie, 1983.

Amossy, Ruth. Les idées reçues. Sémiologie du stéréotype. Paris : Nathan, 1991.

Auzias, Dominique et Labourdette, Jean-Paul. Estonie. Paris : Nouvelles éditions de l’Université, 2010.

Bachelard, Gaston. La Poétique de l’espace. Paris : PUF, 2004.

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. Paris : Le Seuil, 1957.

Barthes, Roland. La Chambre claire. Paris : Editions de l’Etoile, Gallimard, Le Seuil, 1980.

Barthes, Roland. Roland Barthes par Roland Barthes. Paris : Le Seuil, 1975.

Bourdieu, Pierre. « L’objectivation participante. », Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 150 (2003) : 43-58,

Bourdieu, Pierre. Esquisse pour une auto-analyse. Paris : Raisons d’agir, 2004.

Brunel, Sylvie. La Planète disneylandisée. Paris : Editions Sciences humaines, 2006.

Cauvin-Verner, Corinne. Au désert. Une anthropologie du tourisme dans le Sud marocain. Paris : L’Harmattan, 2007.

Descola, Philippe. Les Formes du paysage. Cours au Collège de France 2011-2012, 2012,

Devreux, Georges. De l’angoisse à la méthode dans les sciences du comportement. Paris : Flammarion, 1980.

Favret-Saada, Jeanne. Les Mots, la mort, les sorts. Paris : Gallimard, 1977.

Foucault, Michel. L’Ordre du discours. Paris : Gallimard, 1971.

Foucault, Michel. « Des espaces autres », In Dits et écrits II. Paris : Gallimard, 2001.

Jamin, Jean Jamin. « Du ratage comme heuristique ou l’autorité de l’ethnologue », Etudes rurales, 101-102 (1986) : 337-341.

Krieg-Planque, Alice. La notion de “formule” en analyse du discours. Besançon : Presses universitaires de Franche-Comté, 2009.

MacCannell, Dean. The Tourist. A New Theory of the Leisure Class. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

Pinto, Eveline. « Autobiographie, confessions impersonnelles, auto-analyse », Questions de communication, 9 (2006) : 435-453.

Urbain, Jean-Didier. L’Idiot du voyage. Paris : Payot & Rivages, 2002.

Urbain, Jean-Didier. Le Voyage était presque parfait. Paris : Payot, 2008.

Rauch, André (dir.), « Touriste, Autochtone : Qui est l’étranger ? », Ethnologie française, 3-32 (2002).

Winkin, Yves, « Propositions pour une anthropologie de l’enchantement », In Unité-diversité : les identités culturelles dans le jeu de la mondialisation, édited by Paul Rasse, Nancy Midol, Fathi Triki. Paris : L’Harmattan, 2002.

Winkin, Yves. Anthropologie de la communication. De la théorie au terrain. Paris : Le Seuil, 2001.


[1] While during the nineteenth century it was the question of time that was foremost in people’s minds, in today’s era of technical innovations and technologies that allow us to take the measure of “simultaneity” (and more recently, of “immediacy” or “instantaneousness”), it is the question of space that predominates: “we live in a time when the world is experienced less like a great and long life that has developed over the ages, and more like a network connecting points, intersecting and intertwining” (2001, p. 1571).
[2]The second level”, she wrote, “implies distance, awareness and analysis. I allow myself to watch Tarzan or James Bond to the extent that I replace naive contemplation by an intellectual attitude that belies the workings of a more or less clever mechanism. The pleasure I then get is never immediate or thoughtless: it is the enjoyment of the intellect that savours its discoveries and its own excellence. The first level provides simple pleasures only at the cost of perpetual mystification. The second level ensures for the person who is devoted to it the subtle pleasures of deconstruction and denunciation” (1991, p. 77-78).
[3] Let us briefly recall that Dean MacCannell, basing his work on that undertaken by Ervin Goffman, showed that tourists are beings on a perpetual quest for authenticity. They aspire to be able to experience the “behind-the-scenes” of a given society (1999). They want to experience the “real” flavour, the “true” nature, the “right” tone or the “correct” configuration, rather than be content with what they identify as false or a sham (the “proscenium”).
[4] According to Bourdieu, there are economies today that resemble pre-capitalist economies in that profit takes second place. This is true of the art market in which the commercial dimension is downplayed to celebrate the symbolic dimension of the exchange. The characteristic of these economies is thus that they “can only do what they do by pretending they don’t do it” given that they enter a process of denial of “the economic”. (1977, p. 4).


Hécate Vergopoulos, University lecturer and GRIPIC Researcher

Translation French > English
Bureau de traduction, Université de Bretagne Occidentale