SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Anthropology of Travel and Tourism

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2019/2020
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Full Year

This is the year-long core course for the MA Anthropology of Travel and Tourism (for an option course, see Tourism and Travel: A Global Perspective 15PANH059).  It provides a comprehensive introduction to the field and hones students' comprehension of its history, scope, and methods. The approach taken to tourism is not only as a culturally and historically shaped form of travel, but as a complex social field that spans the globe, comprised of diverse actors, institutions, activities, and modes of interaction that overlap with and cross-cross other forms of global interconnection.

Tourism is the world's largest industry and the single greatest peacetime factor moving people around the world. Both a manifestation and a medium of globalisation, it has profound significance in multiple realms of human life—economic, environmental, material, social, and cultural. This makes it an ideal lens through which to explore core themes in contemporary social anthropology, such as locality, identity and alterity, political economy, development, heritage, representation, imagination, commodification, and the global circulation of people, objects, ideas, images, and capital.

This course introduces tourism as an arena of anthropological enquiry, from the emergence of "the anthropology of tourism" as a subfield in the 1970s to the key theoretical debates of the present. The first term focuses on tourism in relation to globalisation, particularly in terms of international development; the worldwide transformation of people, place, and experience into components of a packaged “tourism offer”; commodification and representation; the construction of heritage; tourism as a venue through which social identities of both tourist and toured can be mobilised, projected, and expressed; and the profound interpenetration of contemporary tourism with such seemingly unrelated arenas of activity as medicine, religion, politics, and much more. The second term explores symbolic and experiential aspects of tourism, such as the semiotics of tourist destinations, touristic motivation and consciousness, interaction between tourists and local populations, the complexities of being toured, and methodological issues in studying tourism anthropologically.    

Instruction includes a combination of lectures and seminars. Both are required. Engaged discussion is the heart of this course, and students must be prepared to discuss and debate issues raised by the lectures, readings, and films. 


This course is for students enrolled on the MA Anthropology of Travel and Tourism and is also offered on the MA Anthropological Research Methods.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a thorough understanding of the history, scope, and methods of the anthropology of tourism.
  • Situate the anthropological study of tourism in relation to broader emphases and trends in anthropological and social theory.
  • Identify and discuss diverse historical/cultural factors shaping patterns and practices of leisure travel.
  • Critically analyse tourism-related development projects in light of anthropological insights.
  • Critically engage with the concepts and practices of 'authenticity,' 'heritage,' 'tradition,' 'ownership,' and 'memory,' and explain how these notions are politically, culturally, and economically inflected.
  • Determine the particular social and cultural significance of tourism-related practices, imagery, media, and institutions in diverse ethnographic contexts.
  • Explain the anthropological significance of tourism in relation to globalisation and vice versa.
  • Undertake independent research in the anthropological literature on an aspect of tourism in the contemporary world and demonstrate a thorough understanding of relevant field methods.
  • Utilise appropriate analytical, communication, and research skills in anthropology.

Suggested reading

For background and representative material:

  • Leite, Naomi and Nelson Graburn. 2009. “Anthropological Interventions in Tourism Studies,” in T. Jamal and M. Robinson, eds., The Sage Handbook of Tourism Studies. London: Sage.
  • Chambers, Erve. 2010. Native Tours: The Anthropology of Tourism and Travel, 2nd ed. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.
  • Bruner, Edward. 2005. Culture on Tour: Ethnographies of Travel. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Salazar, Noel, and Nelson Graburn, eds. 2014. Tourism Imaginaries: Anthropological Approaches. Oxford: Berghahn.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules