The adventure enigma: an analysis of mountain- based adventure tourism in Britain
Introduction The conquest and subjugation of mountains – from the Golden Age of Alpine exploration in the middle of the nineteenth century (Frison-Roche, 1996) to the tabularisation of Scottish mountains over 3000 feet as ‘Munroes’ (Lorimer and Lund, 2003) – has coincided with the modernist ambition of control and organisation. The certainties of this age generated relatively st able forms of identity, notably, in the field of adventurous exploration, that of mountaineer. As characteristics of postmodernism emerge, the clarity and precision commensurate with the modernist ideal has been compromised and, as Bauman (1991) argues, replaced with an ambivalence predicated on a destabilisation of social structures that opens up a whole host of possibilities for identity formation through the promotion of individualisation. The two social developments that impact upon the identity of mountaineer are the management of risk and the rise of consumer society (Bauman, 2001; Beck, 1992). This chapter is concerned with the patterns of participation in mountain-based adventure activities generated by these two characteristics of the late modern age. The discussion has a particular concern with the phenomenon of adventure tourism because it is through the emergence of adventure products that it becomes possible to see the conflation of risk management and consumption in ways that represent this ambivalence. The modern world has become fluid and individualised so that, as the securities and st ability of traditional forms of identity in the adventure field are undermined new possibilities are created generating a disruption to established social patterns. Thus, a tension exists between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’, and adventure tourism is the flux in the mix. In adventure tourism, commercial and business interests use modern technologies and media to promote adventure activities that (mostly) offer short and intense packages of excitement with a closer proximity to certainty of outcome – because of the way risk is controlled – than the original meaning of adventure. Technology-driven access to destination and participant images reinforces traditional views of adventure as ‘wildness’ but the discursive rhetoric is of risk management and control. The double impact of risk controls and commercial expediency turns adventure into packaged commodities. In this way, the needs
of a paying clientele are both created and met by commercial interests. However, when the social organisation of adventure activity participation is scrutinised it becomes clear that whilst there are emergent characteristics commensurate with increased mobilities in the twenty-first century (Urry, 2000), there are also many resilient characteristics that sustain patterns of social organisation from the past. In the contemporary way of thinking, adventure is promoted as a lifestyle choice, however, this can only have mass popular appeal if the risk integral to the original idea of adventure as uncertainty of outcome is controlled. The suggestion that adventure tourism products demonstrate a ‘public secret’ (Fletcher, 2010) such that participants can be both at risk and safe at the same time has been promoted as being consistent with the demotion of adventure lifestyles to the superficial, ephemeral and free-floating shallowness of postmodernism. However, the complex interaction of the ideological, the experiential and the virtual across the range of possibilities deployed under the catch-all of adventure tourism suggest the need for a more nuanced consideration of patterns of participation in adventure activities. To this end, the concept of the ‘sociations’ is developed as a conceptual framework for illuminating the modernism-postmodernism tensions that are evidenced in the rapid growth of adventure tourism. The next section sets out an example of the social patterning of mountaineering.