chapter  13
20 Pages

Goffman and the Tourist Gaze: A Performative Perspective on Tourism Mobilities


Despite that Erving Goffman did ethnographic research for his famous book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959/1969) in a hotel in the Shetland Islands, in this particular book or subsequent publications, tourism and long-distance travel were never really a ‘social occasion’ in any of his richly detailed studies of face-to-face interactions in everyday life. One exception is one of his early books, Behavior in Public Places (1963), in which he notes how “airplane and long-distance bus travel have here underlined some interesting issues. Seatmates, while likely to be strangers, are not only physically too close to each other to make non-engagement comfortable, but are also fi xed for a long period of time, so that conversation, once begun, may be diffi cult thereafter either to close or sustain” (Goffman 1963:139). One reason that tourism and travel is not discussed systematically may in part be that such leisurely mobile life was less prevalent and widespread when Goffman wrote compared with today: tourism and travel has become the largest economy in the world (Urry 2002), the tourist is a fundamental metaphor of modern life (Bauman 1995), mobility has become a main source of social stratifi cation (Larsen and Jacobsen 2009) and, as John Urry states, “it sometimes seems that all the world is on the move” (Urry 2007:3). Due to global tourists and business travellers in 2004 there was a record 760 million legal international passenger arrivals compared with 25 million in 1950 and 700 million in 2002, now making travel and tourism the largest industry in the world (Larsen, Urry and Axhausen 2006). There is very little travel in Goffman’s writing and we may say that his sociology is largely a-mobile being concerned primarily with relatively localised interactions. Another-but related-reason may be that travel and tourism in sociology and beyond is treated as an exotic set of specialised consumer products occurring at specifi c times and places which are designed, regulated or preserved more or less specifi cally for tourism. Tourism is what everydayness is not. It is an escape from the ordinary and a quest for more desirable and fulfi lling places to consume (Urry 1995). Differences between tourists are explained in terms of the

places they are attracted to and how they consume them, visually or bodily, romantically or collectively, as high-cultural texts or liminal playgrounds or places where the active body comes to life (Larsen 2008).