Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Ethics of Sightseeing

The Ethics of Sightseeing

Dean MacCannell
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 288
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Ethics of Sightseeing
    Book Description:

    Is travel inherently beneficial to human character? Does it automatically educate and enlighten while also promoting tolerance, peace, and understanding? In this challenging book, Dean MacCannell identifies and overcomes common obstacles to ethical sightseeing. Through his unique combination of personal observation and in-depth scholarship, MacCannell ventures into specific tourist destinations and attractions: “picturesque” rural and natural landscapes, “hip” urban scenes, historic locations of tragic events, Disney theme parks, beaches, and travel poster ideals. He shows how strategies intended to attract tourists carry unintended consequences when they migrate to other domains of life and reappear as “staged authenticity.” Demonstrating each act of sightseeing as an ethical test, the book shows how tourists can realize the productive potential of their travel desires, penetrate the collective unconscious, and gain character, insight, and connection to the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94865-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Prologue: I Was a Tourist at Freud House, London
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    In the spring of 2007, Juliet Flower MacCannell and I stopped over in London for ten days between lectures. Our son Daniel and his friend Eleanor Hayes came down from Scotland to stay with us in a rented flat. On our second to last night we were guests at a dinner hosted by the London University Cassal Lecture Committee. Someone asked how we would spend our last day in London. “We are going to see Freud’s house,” I answered.

    A dinner companion interjected, “Unfortunately tomorrow is Tuesday and the Freud House Museum is closed.”

    Twenty years before, Daniel and his...


    • 1 Tourist/Other and the Unconscious
      (pp. 3-12)

      In important ways, those of us who study tourism have been let off the hook by the magnitude of our subject. Few assessments have been made more often or contested less than “tourism is the world’s largest industry.” Several recent empirical studies qualify this statement, finding most trips classed as tourism began as family visits.¹ If that is true, it would be no less accurate or more absurd to say “family is the world’s largest industry.” My central argument here is that tourism contains keys to understanding recent changes in the ways we frame our humanity, and key to understanding...

    • 2 Staged Authenticity Today
      (pp. 13-34)

      Tourism is the beta test version of emerging world culture. There is no other global sociocultural complex for which a plausible similar claim might be made. This chapter describes the viral spread of cultural forms devised for tourists out of tourism into every other part of society.

      In the 1960s while still in graduate school I noticed a quirk of places that attracted tourists. This was before society became shot through with replicant forms like “neotraditionalism,” “the new urbanism,” and other “variations on a theme park”; before one could purchase a themed home in a themed town like Disney’s Celebration,...


    • [PART TWO. Introduction]
      (pp. 35-40)

      Odysseus, Aeneas, Exodus, Azcatitlán—travel guides, travel narratives, and descriptions of exotic peoples and places are as old as literature itself. Academic study of tourism is relatively new. We need only go back thirty-five years to find the beginning of tourism as an area of scientific and scholarly study.¹

      This field recently entered its fourth decade with dissertations, monographs, and articles numbering in the thousands, specialized journals and encyclopedias, professional societies and meetings, and a curricular presence in universities around the world. Tourism research draws insights and methods from older disciplines including sociology, anthropology, economics, and geography, as well as...

    • 3 Why Sightseeing?
      (pp. 41-45)

      No typology succeeds in exhausting the range of tourist activities. Commercial entertainment and amusement, such as Broadway shows or visits to theme parks, are tourist options. Others involve relaxation or escape from the workaday world, including vacation reading, sunbathing, picnicking, swimming, horseback riding, fishing, and playing cards, boardgames, or backyard ballgames. Robust tourists engage in self-testing at different levels of strength, skill, and endurance—rock climbing, white-water rafting, scuba diving, parasailing, hiking, golf. Dangerous pursuits are studied by a growing subfield: “extreme tourism.” Visits with friends and family may be undertaken for social renewal or repayment of social obligation. Effort...

    • 4 Toward an Ethics of Sightseeing
      (pp. 46-62)

      There are good reasons to resist an ethics of sightseeing. Sightseeing, by definition, occurs during gaps and breaks from the serious and consequential constraints of the workaday world. Even if only a glance at an interesting overlooked detail, sightseeing is a moment of reflection and relief. Why add ethical burdens to our already heavy vacation baggage? Where is the fun in questioning the ultimate good of leisure pursuits? Psychic resistance may be generic to any interrogation of ethics. This is not merely theoretical. Tourists openly confess to being ethically conflicted. They want to “get away from it all,” including, presumably,...

    • 5 Trips and Their Reason
      (pp. 63-80)

      In principle, a sightseeing experience can occur by accident at any moment, a trip to the store may unexpectedly yield the sight of a vintage car in the parking lot. This stripped-down psychic event is local, accidental, and casual. Alternatively, specific sightseeing events are intentionally embedded in trips and tours. This chapter is concerned with the apparatus supporting intentional sightseeing and how it differs from other moments of noticing. First, it is framed in advance as “not to be forgotten.” In the multitudinous array of human notice, most of which descends into the unconscious as soon as it happens, intended...


    • [PART THREE. Introduction]
      (pp. 81-90)

      Erving Goffman’sPresentation of Self in Everyday Lifewas a turning point for the human sciences. Classic social theory rested on the Enlightenment insight that society changes first through laws and then through individuals. Rousseau put it, “I take men as they are and laws as they might be.”¹ Early masterworks of social science gave us detached, critical examination of the tacit and explicit laws, contracts, and agreements underlying family, bureaucracy, community, and society. The central idea was the social norm: normative change, and deviation from norms. Goffman observed that people in everyday life, fully aware of norms, nevertheless perform...

    • 6 The Tourist in the Urban Symbolic
      (pp. 91-116)

      Cities are repositories of capital, both economic and symbolic. What I take Nancy to mean is that the city can symbolize everything from its founding to its future limit, containing tokens and traces of all human accomplishment and political expression, historic and future. Cities are assembled from representations of excess and poverty, rationality and insanity, dwellings of every human type, and every kind of workplace. Cities honor and defame their own histories, cherish and destroy their natural settings, host innocent and sinful enjoyments and everything in between. For these reasons they are endlessly fascinating to tourists.

      This is not the...

    • 7 Looking Through the Landscape
      (pp. 117-138)

      No one need give a reason to visit Paris or San Francisco or Tokyo beyond desire to “see the city.” Citing the lure of “the stranger’s path,” J. B. Jackson did not bother further to justify his sightseeing in “Paducah and Vicksburg and Poplar Bluff and Quincy.”¹ Landscape is sightseeing’s other broad objective. Tourists are attracted to landscapes, from the mountainous sublime to desolate deserts. They are especially predisposed to “picturesque” scenery: places where land touches the sea, hills and crags, waterfalls, places where one finds little evidence of human occupation and what evidence there is belongs to the past....


    • 8 An Imaginary Symbolic: From Piranesi to Disney
      (pp. 141-151)

      A formula for an imaginary tourist symbolic was devised by Piranesi in hisViews of Rome. It was brought to its zenith in the twentieth century in Disney theme park design and the town of Celebration, Florida. It continues to animate the program of fantasy-nostalgic places made for tourists using Piranesi/Disney design strategies.

      Giovanni Battista Piranesi was born in Venice in 1720 and died in Rome in 1778. His career coincided with a severe economic depression that stopped large-scale construction supported by the church and its wealthy patrons.¹ Major works completed just before Piranesi became an architect included De Sancti’s...

    • 9 The Touristic Attitude: Acceding to the Imaginary
      (pp. 152-157)

      In the winter of 1993, I was asked by the Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology at Berkeley to review a proposal for an exhibition of material in their collections that might be called “tourist art”: prints and other objects purchased in Europe by Phoebe Apperson Hearst. In the beginning I was underwhelmed by Mary Stoddard’s curatorial framing. It was self-consciously trite, as reflected in the title of her proposal and eventually in the name of the show: “I Came, I Saw, I Shopped: Piranesi and the Tourist Art of Rome.” A detail of her memo did catch my eye....

    • 10 The Bilbao Effect: Ethical Symbolic Representation
      (pp. 158-166)

      Serious questions can be raised about the opposition of ethics to economics in tourism. To make money from tourism, industry analysts regard it as necessary to construct tourist bubbles, egomimetic attractions, and Piranesi-/Disney-style fantasy environments. There is evidence supporting this. There is also counter evidence. Disneyland Paris has yet to turn a profit. Also, tourism was socially and economically important before big capital tried to eat it alive. Every individual act of sightseeing contains the option, even in the presence of a Disney device, of an ethical turn.

      Strong counter evidence that there is perforceoppositionbetween profit and ethics...

    • 11 Painful Memory
      (pp. 167-181)

      The pact between history and tourism demands notice of the horrific as well as the heroic. Battlefields are made into parks. The Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Poland hosted more than a million visitors last year. I traveled across Japan to Hiroshima to stand at Ground Zero and see the museum. These are sites of barbaric cruelty, abandonment, and unbearable suffering. They are also tourist attractions.

      The pain of others endlessly fascinates some human beings—using the term “human” in its most generic sense. When the Ku Klux Klan lynched black men in the American South for no reason except...

    • 12 The Intentional Structure of Tourist Imagery
      (pp. 182-195)

      The cover of a brochure for “Classic Journeys” is a photograph of a wide gravel path framed by cypress trees leading up to a Tuscan house silhouetted by the sun.¹ It is pretty in a conventional way, and viewing it I cannot escape a sense of the uncanny. I see my future. That is its intent. I have never been to this place, but I see what I will see when I go there. The future descends upon me, not as a vague premonition. I am already transported ahead in time and across ten thousand kilometers. I can feel and...

    • 13 Tourist Agency
      (pp. 196-210)

      The tourist as metaphor for modern humanity would seem to stress the herd instinct, the conformity and determinism in our collective lives. Concepts employed by tourism researchers when the field was young stressedmasstourism, goldenhordes,and mindless conformity in pursuit of “pseudo-events.” The early dominance of structural theory in tourism studies reinforced the view of tourist behavior as determined, as a cipher of existing social arrangements. There were early cries of foul, especially from Erik Cohen.¹ Tourists are human beings. They must have free will. According to John Urry, tourist travel comes close to being the very definition...

  10. Appendix: Tourism as a Moral Field
    (pp. 211-230)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 231-254)
  12. Index
    (pp. 255-271)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 272-272)