Tourism and Postmodernism

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Tourism, in particular mass tourism, is frequently described as a phenomenon of modern society (Sharpley, 1994). It is modern society, through the development of fast, efficient and economical forms of mass transport, increasingly high levels of disposable income and the provision of socially-sanctioned free time that has provided the means and the opportunity for people to participate in tourism. Additionally, modern society is a major factor in tourist motivation. Whether to simply escape from the pressures and stress of modern life or to seek the authentic, satisfying and meaningful experiences elsewhere, people increasingly believe that the only way to survive in modern society is to regularly remove themselves from it, albeit on a temporary basis. Thus, in short, tourism is both caused and sustained by modern society.

However, tourism is not a single, well defined activity. Tourism encompasses an enormous variety of holidays, modes of transport, destinations and activities, each of which increase or decrease in popularity over time. In other words, the developments and trends that have, and continue to, occur in tourism cannot be simply explained as resulting from the modernisation of society. In order to fully understand the link between society and the development of tourism, in particular trends and changes in tourism practices rather than tourism as an overall human activity, it is necessary to consider the nature or condition of modern societies. That is, modern, industrial societies are characterised by a combination of economic, political, social and cultural processes that together create a form of social life that sociologists call modernism. These processes are constantly evolving and adapting according to the needs and demands of society so that, whereas modern in the temporal sense is a fixed state, modernity as a social condition is dynamic. Indeed, it has been suggested that as modern societies become post-industrial, with their economies becoming increasingly dependent on the private sector, modernity is being replaced by the condition of postmodernity (Harvey, 1989).

This paper will first investigate the apparent movement in grand theory from modernism to postmodernism. From here, the concept of postmodernism will be critiqued and then the relationship between tourism and contemporary culture, and in particular the way in which certain characteristics of postmodern society impact on tourism and touristic experiences, will be examined.

From Modernism to Postmodernism

It is difficult to grasp the notion that society or, more specifically, the social and cultural character of life in modern society, is undergoing an identifiable process of transformation from one condition to another. Indeed, there is much debate among sociologists themselves as to whether modern society has moved beyond modernity and is now identified by a set of characteristics that may be amalgamated and described as the condition of postmodernity (Sharpley, 1994). As Urry (1990, p.83) states, "…in some ways it is difficult to address the topic of postmodernism at all. It seems as though the topic of postmodernism is free-floating, having few connections with anything real, no minimal shared meaning of any sort".

What is certain is that many of the economic, political, social and cultural forms that characterise modernism have changed or are in the process of change. The extent to which these changes are inter-related and signify an identifiable and all-embracing development in the nature of contemporary society is arguable, but, nevertheless, postmodernism is a term that can be usefully applied to the organisational and cultural condition of modern society in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.

The emergence of modern societies in a temporal, periodic sense can be traced back to the Europe of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with successful agriculture,...
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