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The Commodification Of Ethnic Identities Cultural Studies Essay

This article discusses the consumption of identity through tourism with reference to the Vietnam War. Although my intention is to focus on the consumption of culture and identity in reference to highland ethnic minorities, this article is relevant because war narratives appear in every context tourists encounter in Vietnam.

This article includes some interesting discussions about the role the war has played in promoting tourism in Vietnam, as well as the concept of “touristic phantasms.” Alneng also talks about specific tourists sites directly related to the war, such as the War Remnants Museum. Although I’m not yet sure how much I’ll use this article, or the concept of war tourism, in my paper, because the war is such a big part of the tourist experience, I believe it will be relevant.

Bai, ZhiHong. “Ethnic Identities Under the Tourist Gaze.” Asian Ethnicity 8.3 (2007), 245-259. (Accessed through Ebsco Host 28 October 2010.)

Although not focused on Vietnam, this paper deals with the relationship between ethnic identity and the gaze of international tourists. Unlike the other articles I’ve found, this one is written by a member of the ethnic minority under discussion. A member of the Bai minority group in Yunnan, China, Bai Zhihong asserts that the commodification of ethnic Bai identity has not diluted the personal sense of ethnic identity experienced by the people themselves, but has rather served to emphasize ethnic difference in daily life. This is quite interesting, because part of my goal in writing on this topic was to determine how selling one’s ethnic identity as a day job affects one’s relationship with that identity while not at work.

Butler, Richard, and Tom Hinch, ed. Tourism and Indigenous Peoples: Issues and Implications. Burlington: Elsevier, 2007. (Accessed through Science Direct 2 November 2010.)

This is another fantastic book that addresses several interesting aspects of what the authors call indigenous tourism. Each part of this book contains chapters focused on specific regions; as a whole the book provides a relatively comprehensive cross-cultural examination of various issues in indigenous tourism. For example, Part 1 discusses the role of indigenous knowledge in cultural tourism. The authors of this section discuss problems and strategies used to incorporate indigenous knowledge, such as traditional ecological knowledge, into the tourism industry. This is something I saw at work in Sa Pa, so it caught my attention.

Other parts of the book examine indigenous tourism and poverty reduction, politics, and culture. The chapter addressing indigenous tourism and poverty reduction also discusses issues of control over indigenous tourism. This is relevant as it revealed an assumption I seem to have made – that indigenous populations have access to the financial benefits reaped from the commodification of their culture.

Dicks, Bella. Culture on Display: The Production of Contemporary Visibility. Berkshire: McGraw Hill, 2004. (Accessed through eBrary on October 27, 2010.)

This book has proven to be one the most valuable resources I’ve located. In the introduction, it talks about how culture becomes “a place to go,” and the expectations of accessibility visitors have when going to a cultural destination. The author terms this “visitability.”

Several other chapters provide information relevant to my topic. For example, Chapter Two is dedicated entirely to investigating the relationships between culture and tourism. It examines the contradictions embodied in tourism, and investigates the relationship between the consumable “capsules” of culture tourists encounter and the daily lives of the people living in the destination. Chapter Three focuses on cities, but also includes a section about “the marketing of place.” Chapter Five discusses the concept of “heritage,” as well as its social and politico-economic relevance. Other chapters discuss issues such as “theming culture,” and the relationships between art, culture, and identity.

Hendry, Joy. Reclaiming Culture: Indigenous People and Self-Representation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005. (Accessed through eBrary on 27 October 2010.)

This book begins with a thoughtful discussion of terminology – should the terms aboriginal, indigenous, etc., be used? If so, should they be capitalized? While each author, and even each group of people referenced, are certain to have their own opinions on this, it is useful for my purposes to read about the thought processes behind the selection and omission of terms, as it’s something I’ll have to address in my own paper.

This discussion of terms, however, is far from being the only useful insight I’ve found in this book. It also discusses what the author refers to as “Aboriginal Tourism,” and the elusiveness of authenticity. There are quite a few interesting anecdotes illustrating shifts in the relationship between people and culture.

Not only is this book relevant to my research, it is also written very clearly and is enjoyable to read.

Taylor, Nora A., and Hjorleifur Jonsson. “Other Attractions in Vietnam.” Asian Ethnicity 3.2 (2002), 233-248. (Accessed through Ebsco Host on 28 October 2010.)

This paper discusses the significance of visual markers denoting ethnic difference in the context of both political propaganda and tourism. For example, the Vietnamese government uses posters, stamps, and other artwork to portray the Vietnamese people as members of a harmoniously unified nation. These portrayals often include people dressed in the “traditional” clothing of highland ethnic minorities. The authors of this paper trace the evolution of post-colonial ethnic identities through colonization by the French and the Vietnam War. Special attention is given to propaganda posters.

The final portion of the article discusses the relatively recent popularity of ethnic minority clothing, and the perceived contrast between the “traditional” and the “modern” that it carries. It’s an interesting discussion about the collaboration between the state, ethnic minority groups, and international tourists in creating minority ethnic identity.

This article appears to be well researched and should be useful in informing my own discussion about the identity of ethnic minorities engaged in touristic trade.

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