|Durham Anthropology Journal
Volume 12(1) 2004: 22-36. Copyright © 2004, Adam Kaul
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My doctoral research looks at the way in which tourism is changing and interacting with the performance and meaning of traditional Irish music. I carried out over 14 months of fieldwork in a small, rural Irish village of under 600 people, called Doolin, in northwest County Clare. The village was one of a small handful of locales that played a central role in the revival of traditional Irish music from the 1960s to the 1980s. During this revival period, a tremendous influx of musicians, Irish music connoisseurs, hippies, and adventurous backpacking tourists made their way to Doolin for the music and the craíc2. Some returned regularly, and some even stayed. As a result, there is currently a large population of incomers in the village, labelled `blow-ins' throughout Ireland, and defined as people who have permanently settled in a locale but who were born elsewhere. Indeed, it is the blow-in population that has now almost completely appropriated the traditional Irish music scene in Doolin. Moreover, the intense development of the mass tourism industry in the last twenty years has led to a performative and socio-economic essentialisation of the music in Doolin (and elsewhere in Ireland).
However, I don't want to focus on the data or interpretations that have come out of my research in the present paper. Instead, I make the case here that more qualitative research is required on tourist populations.Also, to indulge in a bit of reflexive navel-gazing, I will describe some of the practical problems that I encountered while carrying out my fieldwork in this touristed locale, and how in retrospect, they provided interesting qualitative avenues for research into this complex topic. I want to make two basic points by discussing three things. Firstly, the interdisciplinary field of `tourism studies' at the moment isPage 22
highly quantitative. Broader methodologies are required when studying highly transitory populations like tourists, migrant workers, and asylum seekers, amongst others. Anthropologists have much to contribute to this important, burgeoning field. To that end, I very briefly outline the history of scholarship on tourism below, and continue the call for more qualitative research on the topic to create a balance of methodologies. My second point is that we need to think serendipitously and experimentally about the qualitative ways in which we gain access to these transitory populations and their interactions with what are commonly called `host' peoples. I'll provide two examples of `problems' that emerged while I was conducting my fieldwork and how, almost ad hoc, they both turned into very productive vantage-points for observation and interpretation. Specifically, my wife and I were both employed throughout the fieldwork, and we played `host' to a large number of visiting friends and relatives whilst there. I don't believe that these issues are unique to that place, or even unique to touristed destinations. I've heard numerous anecdotal stories from social anthropologists about, for example, jobs that they had while conducting their fieldwork. Therefore, I am not necessarily advocating new field `techniques'. However, these things are rarely elaborated upon in any great detail by academics in methodological discourse, in publications, or in contexts such as courses on fieldwork methods. Even up to 1996, Lareau was still able to contend that "realistic descriptions of how research data are collected are unusual" (1996:197). I simply argue here that not only should we be encouraging a discussion about the very practical, day-to-day experience of doing fieldwork, we must also be adept enough to recognise the opportunities that may emerge from everyday realities, things that seem, initially, to get in the way of our `real' work whilst in the field.
The call for papers for a recent conference at Oxford University that centred around challenging the notion of `traditional' fieldwork stated that "the ideal of long-term fieldwork in a rural location among non-Western people still exerts a powerful influence upon the discipline as the implicit norm for ethnographic fieldworks" ( http://users.ox.ac.uk/~anthsoc/contents/future%20field_top.html ). Indeed, the notion of `the field' itself, the context for our anthropological investigations, is rapidly changing. Current examples of challenges to a classic notion of the field include multi-sited fieldwork (Marcus 1995), the travelling `field' aboard coach-tours (Oliver 2001), or analysing online musical `communities' (Sommers Smith 2001:121). In many ways, the fieldwork that I carried out in Doolin in fact fits a more standard definition. I spatially located my study in amongst a small, rural community, it was long-term fieldwork, and it was intensively `local'. However, because I was, in part, studying tourists, I knew that this typical notion of `the field' would not hold and required broader, more experimental methodology. Tourists are very difficult to study for two fundamental reasons:
Touristed locales, then, present the fieldworker with an interesting quandary if the researcher wants to take any sort of comprehensive look at this ever-changing tourist population which passes fluidly through geographical spaces.
The history of scholarship on tourists is relatively short, and anthropologists and sociologists have started looking at tourists only relatively recently. Before the mid-1970's, the only social scientists who had intensively concerned themselves with tourism were economists, but these studies lacked any serious ethnographic data on tourists, `host peoples,' or their interactions (Urry 1990:133-139). Indeed, the focus for these early studies was primarily weighing the benefits versus the costs of tourist development in third world countries (for a classic example, see de Kadt, 1979). This "led to an over-emphasis on quantification" (Black 1996:114) on the one hand, and on the other, to an assumption that the unequal macroeconomic relationship between two given countries would directly parallel an unequal power relationship between tourists and locals in the specific tourist destination (ibid.:115).
To some extent, it seems surprising that anthropologists didn't take up the subject of tourism at an early stage. Erve Chambers has argued that this previous lack of attention had to do with a number of factors. First and most obviously, the mass-tourist industry is only a relatively recent phenomenon, although its growth has been phenomenal. Secondly, anthropology itself has changed. Recent theoretical approaches like interpretivism, postmodernism, and experiments in ethnographic representation have also allowed us to think differently about the very notion of `community' (2000:2-3).
This is not to say that early studies on tourism did not deal with the tourists themselves. There are numerous works about tourist behaviours, motivations and mentalities (most notably, Smith 1977, Cohen 1979, MacCannell 1976 and 1989, and Urry 1995). But these works tend to be highly theoretical. They make attempts to theorise about tourist phenomenological mentalities or try to create theoretical `taxonomies' of tourist `types'. However, they usually fail to provide a great deal of specific ethnographic data to back up their theoretical generalisations. As a result, these studies also tend to simplify the complexities of tourist populations and their interactions with locals.
When tourists finally became the subject of ethnographic enquiry in the mid- to late-1970s, it was largely to lament its negative effects on local peoples. In particular, the first edition of Smith's edited volume Hosts and Guests (1978) tends to argue that native cultures are in fact being `invaded' by outsiders who are `eroding' local `traditions'. Emblematic of this position is MacCannell's neo-Marxist view:
Tourism is not just an aggregate of merely commercial activities; it is also an ideological framing of history, nature, and tradition; a framing that has the power to reshape culture... to its own needs" (1992:1). The ideological aggressivity of [tourism] cannot be overlooked... The drive here is not for freedom but for world-wide containment and control... one currency, one passport, one market, one government: i.e., global fascism (ibid.:5).
In MacCannell's assessment then, all authenticity has already been eroded, and we now live in an infertile cultural landscape bereft of depth and vitality. In response to this obvious oversimplification of the situation, Picard rightly argued that "ballistic vision[s]" of tourism, like MacCannell's, wrongly ignore the complexities of tourist-local interactions (1993:72).
While anthropologists were somewhat late coming into the academic discussion about tourism, we are now paying more attention to the subject, and today, a more sophisticated qualitative understanding is beginning
to emerge. But the problem still remains: there is an overemphasis on quantification. As Riley and Love have pointed out recently (2000), over 80% of the articles in the influential journal Annals of Tourism Research, for example, were of a quantitative nature. Partly, this has to do with the fact that studies of tourism are often industry driven and are therefore, most often carried out by economists and cultural geographers, not anthropologists and sociologists who tend to use more qualitative methods. But it also has to do with the complex, transitory nature of tourists. For example, in my own research, obtaining accurate answers to simple questions like "who are these tourists?", "what are their motivations?", and "what do they think of what they've experienced?" become surprisingly difficult. In this respect, quantitative methods prove quite useful. I collected statistical data concerning tourists in the region from various agencies, and in conjunction with The Doolin Tourism Co-Operative, I conducted a survey of tourists visiting Doolin. I also carried out fairly `typical' qualitative methods--participant observation in various settings, and interviews with local musicians, publicans, B&B owners, and tourists. I conducted a series of life-history interviews with selected informants. In other words, when it came to studying the tourists, I found it necessary to utilise balanced methodology. But there's an irony in all of this. While we as anthropologists are challenging the notion of doing `traditional' long-term, detailed, ethnographic research in a particular locale, this same methodology is now seen as innovative and `cutting-edge' in dealing with tourists in other disciplines (ibid.:165, Hartmann 1988). As anthropologists, we have a lot to offer the broader, interdisciplinary analyses of tourists, migrants and the like.
|Figure 2: Tourists invading the "backstages"|
During the late 1990's, a number of ethnographers attempted to correct this simplified view of tourism. One example is a volume edited by Abram, Macloed, and Waldren entitled Tourists and Tourism (1997). In part, this volume attempted to address the simplistic but pervasive notions about tourists by providing qualitative ethnographic data on the tourists themselves. Hazel Tucker's Ph.D dissertation (1999) for the anthropology department at Durham is another example of a more recent push to include rigorous ethnographic data in an examination of the tourists themselves. Tove Maria Oliver (2001) recently carried out very innovative research on tourists as well. She conducted intensive quantitative and qualitative ethnographic research on coach tourists by taking a coach tour herself. The mobile coach-tour became a `roving fieldsite'.
While I'm at it, and this may be more specific to touristed locales, I also want to make a call for more research on the interaction between broad classificatory categories like `tourists' and `locals'. This work has begun by people like Waldren (1996), Kohn (1994, 1997, 2002), and Tucker (1997, 1999) amongst others, but it needs to continue. I think there is a danger of simplifying the boundaries between preconceived categories of people, and thereby reifying them into unnatural, bounded identity-units. Furthermore, there is a tendency to assume that each supposedly distinct category will enact distinct `performances' (or variations within distinct performances as in Edensor 2000). As I pointed out before, a large portion of the population in Doolin is comprised of people who do not fit into either the `local' or the
`tourist' category. They are not `locals' because they are not from there, and they are not `tourists' because they live there. And these people, these incomers or `blow-ins', are the ones who are almost entirely carrying on the historically local musical traditions. Their performance (in this case literally defined) crosses the assumed boundary between insiders and outsiders.
This finally leads me to the title of my paper. There were two particular situations that occurred that I initially regarded as major, debilitating problems while I was conducting fieldwork in Doolin. Both situations made me feel like I was being pulled away from `the field'. However, I eventually realised that they were in fact great opportunities to explore new avenues for qualitative research. This is an example of what Pelto and Pelto have called "serendipity, disguised as catastrophe" (1970:185).
First, I was employed at one of the village's three pubs serving food and pints of lager and stout. My wife first worked in the pub as well, but she went on to work in a bed and breakfast and a gift store for the rest of the year. Primarily, we did this because we needed to fund our year of fieldwork. This is, in and of itself, not unique. Many anthropologists that I have personally talked to have been employed while in the field, but it is rarely mentioned in the literature. In fact, grant-funded unemployment in the field seems to be the most desirable position that one can attain. The commonality of this state of being is exemplified by one methodologist who warned that problems may even arise because "the fieldworker often appears to have no apparent `job' or economic role" (Goward 1984:113). The paucity of discussions about employment in the literature leads to a number of important but unanswered questions: is employment an inhibition to conducting fieldwork? Is it somehow unethical? Or can it in fact be `used' in any productive way?
I've been lamenting (ad nauseum) the fact that I've worked so much this summer. I have worked a lot more than most anthropologists would ever want to do for their first few months in the field. That's for sure. Most people might try to get some sort of grant to support them for the duration of their fieldwork. They might consider working (and getting paid for their work) somehow distasteful and even unethical. Mostly, I would imagine most fieldworkers to consider my summer half-ruined because I've spent half of the summer doing brainless work serving plates of food to complaining tourists instead of "getting out there" interviewing people, doing surveys, blah blah blah... It is brainless, and at the same time, it's completely exhausting. It totally ruins me... I'm usually too tired to bother writing anything after a shift or even in the morning before a shift. I seem only to be able to write much on my days off. And even today, it took me most of the day just to rest up from the four days that I worked this weekend. It's only now that I have the energy and the inclination to write... I should just quit
and get this over with. I could devote all my time to tracking down people, introducing myself, talking to them, getting interviews, doing the tourist-surveys. It's very tempting.
Earning wages from a local establishment initially presented me with, what I saw at the time, as two major dilemmas. First, I wondered if I was bending any ethical guidelines concerning my involvement with local peoples. To my knowledge, it is not unethical to be gainfully employed in the field, although it is not uncommon for anthropologists to pointedly state that any work they did in the field was done for free. The implied subtext in these kinds of statements is that it is in fact unethical, or at least undesirable, to receive money from your informants because being employed compromises one's supposedly `objective', scholarly position. Secondly and more pragmatically, I felt that my employment was taking me away from my `real' work in Doolin: conducting interviews and the like.
The pub I worked in is a large one and can easily host well over 300 tourists at any given time. The work was initially exhausting. The shifts were normally 10 hours a day, running through large crowds of tourists in a dark, hot pub. Since I started fieldwork at the height of the tourist-season, I found myself too busy with my job for the first few months to carry out much of what I thought was `truly' ethnographic work. In fact as my fieldnotes indicate, by the end of the first summer, I was so frustrated that I was prepared to quit my employment. For various reasons, I did not quit the job, and I remained employed at the same pub throughout my fieldwork.
|Figure 3: The ethnographer as employee|
As it happens, the work-shifts were long and exhausting primarily because it was the `tourist season'. By the autumn, the crowds abated, there was less pressure from my employers to take every shift available, and I found myself with all the time I needed to carry out interviews, participant observation (in other contexts), and other forms of `data collection'. More importantly however, I realised that by being employed in the service industry, I had been closely mirroring local behaviour, and thereby conducting a kind of intensive `participant observation'. The tourist industry in Ireland, like in many touristed locales, is seasonal. The primary income for most Doolinites derives from the tourist industry, and therefore, the initial busy-ness which seemed never-ending, in fact had to do with the seasonal nature of work in the village.
Moreover, our employment in the field placed us in clearly understood emic roles. Many `working-tourists', particularly those who gain employment as unskilled service-industry workers, pass through places like Doolin to work for a month or two during the busy season. They are what Uriely has cumbersomely called `non-institutionalised working tourists' (2000:3). These workers are more akin to tourists-who-work than workers-who-travel, and use temporary employment as a means to continue their tourist explorations of a country or a region. On the day that my wife and I arrived in Doolin, the first people we met were our new housemates, and barring one exception, every one of them fit into the category of `travelling workers'. Their national origins belie the international nature of this categorisation: America, Australia, Sweden, the Czech Republic and France/the Belgian Congo. Leisure and work are oftentimes considered diametrically opposed to one another in the literature on tourism. As Graburn famously wrote, "our conception of tourism is that it is not work" (1989:22). For that reason, I was quite unprepared for this introduction to social life in a small village in western Ireland. Although admittedly, I was surprised by this at first, I quickly came to realise that this was not uncommon in Doolin or indeed many towns and villages in Ireland. An Irish Independent reporter recently wrote that all across Ireland "Irish hospitality is now being doled out in bars, hotels, and B&Bs by non-nationals" (Collins 2002:4). Being a `working tourist' brings the newcomer into a circle that is interactively closer to the `local' than the `standard' tourist, but as I was to learn later, in the emic terminology, they are still both types of `tourist'. At first, my wife and I fit neatly into this category even though we were very open about our intentions to stay for a full year to `study the traditional music and the tourists'.
|Figure 4: Tourists Visually Consume the Session|
In September of 2002, after two and a half months in the field, we signed a nine-month contract to rent a house for the winter, and by the end of September, the tourist season finally began to abate. At the same time, many working tourists began to leave as the season got quieter. And it was at that point that we both noticed a palpable change in people's behaviours towards us. We soon realised that our continued presence, bolstered by the fact that we'd rented a house for the winter, meant that we were committing ourselves to staying, to `making a go' at becoming blow-ins. The winters are quiet with few tourists around. They are cold and rainy, and there is very little employment to be had. Staying through the winter implies that one is on some level making a greater commitment to the community than a `working tourist'. One is not simply there to benefit from the financial gain that can be enjoyed during the busy summer months. In other words, it is implied that one's motivation for being there has more to do with the community itself, and only secondarily with the work. It brings the incomer into a closer level of inclusion, and one starts to be labelled as a `blow-in'.
After we didn't leave, we felt like people started opening up to us and taking us a bit more seriously. Of course, this also had to do with the fact that the tourist season was over and that people had more time in general. But there was a subtle change in our social status. The local population has become so used to the
transient nature of the tourists, and the semi-transient nature of working-tourists, that they no longer invest much emotional energy in people unless they stay for long periods, especially through into the winter. This was reiterated in the second summer `tourist season' when we recognised the qualitative difference between our status as (albeit new) blow-ins and the `working tourists' that began to arrive along with the more stereotypic, short-stay, `mass' tourists. Observations like these are not merely reflections of the ethnographer's level of involvement in a community. As Paerregaard has pointed out, occupying and passing into various emic categorisations in a society through our local interactions allows the ethnographer to "examine not only how the people studied by the anthropologist classify non-natives but also how they conceptualise themselves" (2002:321).
We also found that there was an intense work-ethic in Doolin. The emphasis on the concept of work in Ireland has been pointed out by others (Salazar 1996). We found that one gained respect by being honest in one's relationships, and by working hard. For some `working-tourists' who were only planning to stay in the village for a short period, it was unnecessary to create a good impression through work behaviours. In a few instances, these `working tourists' took exploitative advantage of their positions by doing as little work as possible, or in one example, by blatantly stealing from the employer. Conversely, the employers occasionally took advantage of their temporary labourers. The explicitly temporary nature of the relations between these `working tourists' and their employers, in other words, allowed for exploitation by both parties. But of course we had a vested interest in creating good relationships in Doolin, so we did work very hard through that first summer. This gained us respect amongst our fellow employees, our employers, and importantly, it gained us a positive reputation in the village. One day about two months into my fieldwork, as I was taking a cigarette break behind the pub, it suddenly struck me that, through my work-related activities, I'd "gained rapport", that Holy Grail of ethnographic fieldwork.
Most importantly of course, in a village with three pubs, a `community centre', a church, and no other social outlets, employment provided quick and intense access to the local social world. Firstly, being a member of a staff of employees provided instant acquaintances. In many ways, I felt that I didn't have one `gate-keeper'. I had a whole pub full of `gatekeepers'. Secondly, since the pubs were the spaces in which most of the village's social life occurred, not merely drinking establishments, working behind the bar instead of drinking in front of it became an incredibly productive vantage point for getting to know the locals, their relationships with each other and with the tourists. Thirdly, knowledge of local kinship and friendship networks then becomes part of the work-knowledge that one acquires when serving locals who enact a complex `rounds system' when drinking (Cassidy 1995). Since the pubs are natural meeting places, bar staff act as messengers for the villagers. "Have you seen... ?" was a daily question posed to bar staff. Those who are deemed `good' barmen not only know their job well, they know the community well. The intricacies of local kin and friendship networks were explicitly pointed out to me by fellow staff members. After `closing time', the staff always sat down and waited for the `punters' to finish their drinks and leave. Rituals like these were often conversationally peppered with local gossip, which were necessarily preceded by lengthy explanations of local social relations. While on one level, this was simply gossip, it was also a realm of knowledge that was required in order to better serve the local clientele. Being employed at the pub then, made learning these things an implicitly required part of the job. I would no doubt have learned the intricacies of the village kin and friendship networks had I not been employed, but certainly not as quickly,
and I imagine, not as thoroughly. Finally, employment gave me special access to the physical `backstages' of the pub, access that is carefully guarded, as it is in any business. To use a small example, discourses about tourists are different in the kitchen (backstage) than in the bar area (front stage). Similarly, my wife's role as a B&B worker and a sales clerk at a gift shop provided me with a rich secondary access to other aspects of the tourist/resident interaction and other `backstage' areas.
I scratched down a lot of abbreviated fieldnotes while working. Indeed, a brief scan of my fieldnotes reveals the constant observational opportunities that employment offered. Again, I might have made similar observations if I hadn't been employed, but my role as a server and barman placed me in a position where I was `forced' to constantly observe and think about the interaction between the locale and the transient tourists passing through it. The following vignettes, from January 22nd, seven months into the fieldwork, are a common examples of my work-related observations. The first vignette says something about the seasonality of the locale's tourism, and shows how work itself becomes a measurement of time for my fellow pub employees:Figure 5: Relatives "gazing" at the landscape--in this case, Connor's Pass, County Kerry.Work also gave me the opportunity, a grand excuse one might say, to talk with countless tourists about their holidays and their impressions. Metaphorically, it placed me directly in the path of the tourists. Upon hearing my American accent, they were often as curious about me as I was about them, and discussions about my research interests were routinely elicited from the tourists themselves. I found that tourists were more than willing to talk about their impressions gleaned from their holiday experiences. My vantage point allowed me to (indeed, forced me to) constantly observe the interaction between tourists and residents--and since the pub is where most of the traditional music sessions are played--between tourists and the sessions of traditional Irish music.
I worked Saturday and Sunday, during the day. Saturday, we had an enormous crowd in the pub. A big group of French tourists had planned to come through, 91 in all. They were travelling in a huge motorcade of minibuses, if that can be believed. They were a fine crowd to be honest, but during the same rush of customers, we also got three other buses: Lally's had 35, O'Neachtain's had 28, and a smaller bus of 15 came in4. It was July all over again. That was the joke of the day: it went from January to July and back to January again within 3 hours. Time is marked by crowds... Time is also marked by the food people order--the nature of it and the sheer quantity. ("We did 200 people today within four hours". "We only did 56 meals tonight".)
Sunday was steady, but not a killer day of work. I had a thought on Sunday, one that--I suppose--has always been latent in my observations, but never fully expressed. It occurred to me while another bus tour rolled in (we got two that day). It was a mid-sized group of around
30 people, and characteristically, there were various types of people on the bus. You had a few groups of younger people sitting a large table, chatting away, fairly oblivious to how obnoxious they sounded. There were also a number of smaller groups--couples or threesomes. Finally, there are always a few people who sit alone. Sometimes, these loners eat quickly and move out onto Fisherstreet to snap some pictures. Sometimes, they sit at the bar and talk with the locals. But more often than not, they sit alone, watching. They watch us staff. They watch the locals drinking their coffee or their pints, and they watch the other members of their tour group. They are outsiders. I don't know if it's a difference in character or a difference in context that makes them stand out. They may be a more "adventurous" type of tourist, one who longs to experience [what Edensor calls] "heterogenous spaces" and "improvised performances" [2000:331, 335] rather than the homogenous, controlled environment that a bus-tour provides, but somehow found themselves taking the packaged tour. Or maybe the context is one in which a person--adventurous or not--should not be alone. On these package tours, it seems that one should travel with a gaggle of friends or family. And this was my thought--I'll transcribe it word for word from my notebook:
Group tours: one experiences everything with a group. The Loner, The Explorer, the Adventurous One is the outsider, the hair in the ointment. Groups experience the group, not locality, because the group provides a protective shell--a barrier--between the individual and the locale. So, one sees the locale, but only as a group.
In other words, the other members of the group you travel with--especially in the context of these packaged tours--prevent (or protect) an individual from experiencing the locale--its people and its places--on their own. So, what one ends up experiencing is the group itself and how the group interacts with the locale. The individual within the group sees the locale, but they experience the group.
In retrospect, this is a slightly simplistic conclusion, an unformed, raw interpretation from direct observation. But my point here is that these particular observations were not only produced while working, my experience with this type of tourist would not have been as extensive had I not been employed.
It might rightly be argued that employment causes an ethical dilemma for the fieldworker. Taking money from a potential informant colours ones relationship with undertones of power and privilege. At first, I wasn't entirely comfortable with taking money for the work I did, and wondered whether or not it was entirely ethical or not. But the very brief and general ethical guidelines provided by the American Anthropological Association (drafted in 1998) and the Association of Social Anthropologists available on their respective websites say nothing specific about employment in the field. Another possible critique might be that employment reduces our chances at some sort of objectivity. In other words, it might lead us to get unevenly involved in the community. Nevertheless, it has been long recognised that "[t]he dilemma of the fieldworker... is not whether to interfere in the local cultural scene, but how much to interfere" (Pelto and Pelto 1970:186). Finally, it is true that in some circumstances, our employment prevented us from
participating in other ways. The shifts might have been fewer in the wintertime, but that never changed. There were many instances when I was forced to work while I wanted to attend something else, and I had to allow my employee role take precedence over my anthropological role while at work. There were interesting conversations that had to end so that I could serve another customer. But this was the corollary consequence of making a choice about how to `interfere.'
It is something of a cliché to point out that our positions are `compromised' in dozens of ways throughout the fieldwork as we build relationships of various sorts. Some of our roles are chosen for us. Ascribed markers like gender, race, ethnicity, religious upbringing, and political views, all come in to play as `our subjects' objectify us and place us into their own categories. Previously achieved skills and abilities come into play as well. Other roles we create ourselves through our own choices and actions whilst in the field. We must live somewhere, with a family, or by paying rent to a landlord. Friendships are developed and maintained (or sometimes even abandoned), and as a corollary, conflicts, issues of loyalty and reconciliation, and histories of personal differences become inevitable (Glassie 1995:142). We must engage in work of various sorts in order to carry out our participant observation. Building stone fences and chasing cows from one field to another helped me, in a small way, understand the activities of local farmers. Pulling in nets and `shooting' lobster pots helped me understand what fishermen get up to. Employment then, is simply one type, albeit a powerful type, of interaction in the field which may help us gain access to local knowledge.
Each `field' differs in countless ways. Depending on the circumstances, employment might damage one's reputation, contradict the social role given to the fieldworker by `locals', or seriously hinder fieldwork. In other cases, employment might be impossible due to a lack of specific training in a highly qualified kind of job or a lack of basic cultural overlap with the nature of the work. However, in some field situations like mine where there was enough cultural overlap and the skills of the job were learnable such that employment was possible, it might be an incredibly productive experience. Again, I am not suggesting that the knowledge I gained through my employment could not have been acquired via other means, or in the case of the `backstage' areas, through second hand descriptions. I am also not pretending that employment during fieldwork is somehow a new phenomenon. I would simply like to posit here that we need to be more open to discussing the possibility of opportunities like employment as a way to gain quick, deep and sometimes privileged access to our field.
We had many friends and family tell us they were planning to visit us while we were in Ireland before we'd even arrived. It made me so anxious that I discussed the issue at length with my supervisor. She suggested that I put a `moratorium' on visits until at least six months into the fieldwork. That way, we would have sufficient time to get to know the locals and for them to get know us. After this, she suggested, it might not be any harm to have a few visitors come. In fact, she suggested, I could possibly
`use' their uninitiated perspectives to ask naïve questions of the locals myself. To the consternation of some of our family and friends, I made it clear that we simply couldn't play host to any visitors until the spring of 2003, well into our fieldwork.The second problem, which is also rarely discussed in the literature, is how to deal with hosting visitors in the field. This might not occur in many field situations if they are too remote, but especially in a touristed destination, there are two obvious factors that seem to compel friends and family to suddenly announce that they'll be visiting. First, tourist destinations are attractive for whatever reason--the landscape is beautiful, there are many historical sites, or there's a rich local `traditional' culture to experience. In my case, all three of these elements combined to make it hard to resist for our family and friends. The second factor is that, unlike many more remote examples of ethnographic field-sites, touristed destinations are, by nature, easy to access.
|Figure 5: Relatives gazing at the landscape- in this case Connors Pass, County Kerry.||Figure 6: A friend discovering an ancestral grave site.|
After nine months in the field we received our first visitors, a group of three American friends. We showed them around County Clare, and then they wanted us to take them up to County Galway into the beautiful region called The Connemara. We received three more groups of visitors over the course of the following two months: one more group of friends and two groups of relatives, all Americans. With other visitors, we travelled south into County Kerry and explored the Aran Islands just off the coast. We took them to heritage sites, to search for their ancestors' graves, through beautiful landscapes, and to quiet pubs that we knew. We took them golfing and shopping, and we introduced them to our friends in Doolin. We attended many traditional Irish sessions at night, and we took long walks during the day. In other words, we enacted the full gamut of tourist activities.
At the time, I was very concerned about taking precious time away from my primary fieldsite by playing tour-guide. My fieldnotes again reflect my concerns. But, in retrospect, I realised that this second `problem' was, once more, a highly productive way to do a kind of intensive participant observation of tourists. Three advantages were gained. First, here was a great opportunity to look at a few groups of tourists `close-up' as it were. I obviously know them intimately. Moreover, we participated in their tourist adventure from the beginning to the end. Before they arrived, they discussed what they wanted to do when they got to Ireland, but my wife and I felt that it was important for our guests to plan their own holidays. While they visited, they asked us a multitude of questions about the area and the culture. This was interesting in and of
itself. If we didn't have an answer, it provided me with the opportunity to ask questions of the locals that I might have felt were too obvious for me to ask after living there for nine months. Likewise, when we did know the answers to their questions, it often highlighted the fact that much of our acquired local knowledge had become subconscious, and brought that knowledge back to the fore. My fieldnotes were in fact enriched as a result of our visitors' uninitiated perspectives. Finally, on the drive to the airport, I informally interviewed each of our guests about what they had expected from their stay and how their perspectives had changed by their holiday.
Second, as a collective result of these visits and these mini-tours, I realised that we had travelled the major routes that tourists who pass through Doolin commonly take. I had become a tourist myself and travelled in and out of Doolin on the same well-worn tourist paths. As I pointed out at the beginning of this article, tourist populations are constantly moving. The tourist fieldsite is a path, a process and a journey, not a fixed geographic space. By acting as a tour-guide for my visiting friends and family, I had become a participant observer within this mobile `site'.
|Figure 7: Relatives visiting local heritage sites- in this case a local holy well.||Figure 8: Relatives taking in the local pub scene.|
Finally, my experiences with these visitors further highlighted the fact that attempts to delineate various `types' of tourists are essentialist, simplistic, and at best, only provide a broad outline for understanding tourist mentalities. Typical classifications that distinguish between `romantic', `cultural', `heritage', or `postmodern' tourists (Urry 1995) become indistinguishable from one another in practice. These four groups of people from the same region of the same country, all ethnically similar (and therefore, I suppose, acting as a kind of `control group') had radically different pre-conceived notions about Ireland, all of them had complex reasons for visiting, and all of them enacted very different kinds of `performances'. In other words, each group of visitors `vacationed' in an entirely different manner from each other group. I realised that labelling someone a `cultural tourist' or a `romantic tourist' or a `post-modern tourist' can only be a superficial (and very academic) starting point in understanding tourist mentalities. In reality, one can easily be any of these `types' simultaneously, or shift from one `type' to another within seconds.
In this article I have made two simple points. First, because of the transient nature of tourist populations, we need to think very broadly about our methodology. Anthropologists and sociologists are relatively new to the field of tourism, but I would argue we have some powerful qualitative tools at our disposal that can contribute to a much richer understanding of tourists and tourist destinations. This is true not just for tourist populations, but for other mobile or shifting groups like asylum seekers or economic migrants.
Secondly, we need to be open to new qualitative opportunities to access these populations and their interaction with local peoples. If we take this a step further, what might be seen initially as a `problem' in the field might in fact turn out to be a productive `opportunity' for further research. The problem-cum-opportunities that I ran into in my fieldwork might be specific to the situation that I was in. While they can't
be considered proper `field methods', I would simply stress that we need to be open to any new avenue for research when it comes to studying complicated populations or fieldsites. Perhaps more importantly, we need to start discussing the everyday realities of doing fieldwork, the potential problems and opportunities, in much more detail in the literature, and how they might be used as units of analysis in and of themselves.
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1. This paper was first presented at the "Future Fields" conference at Oxford University in December, 2003. I would like to thank the participants there for their helpful comments and suggestions. I would also like to thank Vasco Fernandes, Tamara Kohn, Rebecca Rice, Steve Lyon, and Trudi Buck for their careful reading of an earlier draft of this paper.