Since time immemorial society has witnessed inequities but a critical look at historical trajectories indicates that there are often intervening events that unsettle imbalances towards the attainment of some semblance of equity. The protagonists behind these interventions are often hard to pinpoint and can be a combination of political leaders, mass societal protests, pressure from the international community and even scholarly writings, to name a few. As a young adult, I came of age in an era during which many marginalized communities around the world were actively fighting for freedom and news reports were replete with accounts of injustices, violence but also triumph and agency. These media stories permeated our TV screen, weaving themselves on a daily basis into our family dinner conversations. Disagreements on certain matters were not atypical but a commonality in these unstructured and spirited conversations was a pronounced dose of social empathy for the legions of people around the world who were unenduring injustices. These conversations left an imprint on me that I attempted to camouflage over the years, albeit unsuccessfully.
My first opportunity to creatively put pen to paper, was enjoyable, memorable and inexplicably driven by a desire to bring fiction to life, which was perhaps an unconscious effort to escape the often-deleterious dimensions associated with living in a world plagued with injustices. My second major encounter with creative writing occurred in college (Thompson Rivers University) where I was mandated to produce a piece aligned with the theme of development in the global south. Inspired by Polly Patullo’s book, Last Resort, I focused on cruise tourism in the Caribbean and immersed myself in countless readings about the role of politics of development in the cruise industry. I recall deeply sympathizing with the communities that were forced to abide by the unjust regulations imposed by cruise companies but also remember rejoicing as I read about islands that were developing procedures for more equitable compensation from the cruise industry. I was astounded to find out that as I shared my new found knowledge with college peers few would reciprocate in conversation because many were unaware of the injustices in question. Unaltered by the lack of resonance amongst my esteemed peers I endeavored to commit my subsequent years of graduate research, and since then my academic career, to work on issues of inequity in the hopes of at least reaching one reader who would hopefully inspire another.
My contributions to tourism research have been within two key areas: community development and representational politics. As a critical tourism researcher, my scholarship draws on decolonial frameworks owing to the fact that they advocate for more equitable forms of existence. My research on the nexus between tourism and community development focuses on ways in which marginalized communities utilize tourism to enhance community wellbeing. I have specifically focused on communities of Black, Indigenous and other People of Color (BIPOC). This work commenced with a research collaboration on the ways in which members of a Puerto Rican neighborhood in Chicago react to exogenous tourism driven agendas by creating local tours that highlight agency and resistance (see Santos & Buzinde, 2007). Over the years, I built on this line of research, through my work with Masaai communities in Tanzania, which examines the relationship between community wellbeing, international development agendas and tourism development (see Buzinde, Kalavar & Melubo, 2014; Kalavar, Buzinde, Melubo & Simon, 2014). This research juxtaposes endogenous conceptions of community wellbeing with exogenous agendas and it advances theoretical discussions on community involvement in decision making related to tourism development. Since then, I have extended my research on tourism development to issues concerning the impact of exogenous development agendas on local children’s perception of their surroundings and wellbeing. Tourism impacts have predominantly been approached from an adult-centered perspective; resultantly, youth-centric theorizations in tourism studies that draw on empirical tourism studies on children/youth have to date remained scarce. Focusing on Indigenous (Mayan) children residing within tourism service towns located in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, my co-authors and I have interrogated the spatial life-worlds and the spatial cognition of children to show the negative impact of gated coastal tourism enclaves on the well-being of local children (see Buzinde & Manuel-Navarrete, 2013). Working alongside colleagues, I have also contributed to tourism knowledge by engaging the theory of decolonization to interrogate the epistemological and ontological stances used in tourism scholarship (see Chambers & Buinde, 2015) as well as in tourism development (see Buzinde, Manuel-Navarrete & Swanson, 2020). This work advances the theoretical applicability of tourism studies to global debates on decolonialization of the academy and practice, and it also offers empirical examples of how we can meaningfully partner with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and other People of Color) communities in research and development. Currently, I am extending this line of research through a funded research project with Navajo Nation (an Indigenous group in Arizona, USA) which focuses on Indigenous conceptualizations of sustainability and how these inform the co-creation of a stewardship development plan for the former Bennett Freeze Area (see Buzinde, Vandever & Nyaupane, 2017). In my research on community development, I take seriously the responsibility of fostering equitable partnerships between academia and groups that have been traditionally relegated to the margins. I view my key contribution as giving voice to (in my collaborations with them) the numerous instances of agency demonstrated by members of marginalized tourism reliant communities (see Buzinde, Manuel-Navarrete & Swanson, 2021).
My research on tourism representations is central to understanding the ways in which tourism is entangled with issues of power, oppression, agency, and resistance. This area of my research has principally examined the politics of tourism representations through critical examination of tourism texts as cultural repositories through which issues of inclusion/exclusion, North/South and core/periphery can be gleaned. This line of research commenced with my work on exclusionary practices, which are described as the predominant use of ethnic/racial stereotypes and essentialist portrayals and that are evidenced within tourism promotional materials produced by various destination marketing organizations (DMOs) in Canada (see Buzinde, Santos & Smith 2006). I have continued to build on the politics of tourism representations by extending this body of literature to the context of slavery heritage tourism within the US South (see Buzinde, 2010; Buzinde & Osagie, 2011a; Buzinde & Santos, 2008; Buzinde & Santos, 2009). Through the examination of metanarratives devised by state owned slavery heritage sites (former slave plantations converted into museums), my scholarship has contributed to knowledge regarding the various ways in which these sites selectively (dis)engage the slavery past as well as how tourists render these sites intelligible. My research has also contributed to the production of knowledge regarding linkages between tourism and slavery through textual explorations of travelogues written by former slaves like William Wells Brown (see Buzinde & Osagie, 2011b); this creative co-authored work is significant because it unsettles established conceptions of who constitutes a tourist whilst philosophically engaging the notions of blackness and travel. The commonalities and contributions to tourism studies evident in my work foreground the relevance of decolonial framing because it allows for the reclaiming of the colonial past to affirm identity, showcase resistance, and highlight the agentic power of BIPOC cultural custodians. I view my key contribution here as amplifying the power of tourism related texts as important cultural repositories worthy of extensive critical research that unveils latent imprints of societal perceptions (see also Pubill Ambros & Buzinde, 2021).
The above rendition may give the impression that my academic accomplishments were easily attained but that would be far from the truth. Pursuing a research trajectory that goes against the grain on mainstream research has had some benefits but also a fair share of challenges. One of the many benefits aside from soul enrichment was the opportunity to breathe new life and add new perspectives on traditionally established topics like heritage tourism and community development. The creative freedom inherent in the thought provoking pieces that I had the honor of (co)authoring was intrinsically motivating to me in a way that my mainstream-adhering outputs were not. One of the many disadvantages was (and still is to a lesser extent) the constant laborious efforts required to respond to reviewers from dominant culture from whose vantage point my work on issues of inequity is maligned with their traditional definitions of knowledge production. Earlier in my career, such assessments of my scholarship were colossally discouraging and every subsequent article seemed to require immeasurable amounts of emotional resolve to bring it to fruition. A couple of years before being granted tenure, I reached a point of saturated dissatisfaction with the review process and was seriously contemplating a change in my research emphasis, despite the fact that such a pivot was ill advised by my loyal mentors. It was thus fortuitous that shortly thereafter in the company of like-minded scholars at the second Critical Tourism Conference in Dubrovnik Croatia, I found my academic tribe and simultaneously firmly re-rooted my scholarship and re-located my inspiration in issues of equity as relates to tourism. Suffice to say that writing from the margins can certainly occur as a solo endeavor, as was the case in the earlier parts of my career, but there is no comparison for the powerful resonance of a chorus of similar ideas that melodiously breathe life into the stories of the unsung heroes, evident in every marginalized community around the world.
One of my most recent contributions involves writing an autoethnography wherein I link theories of motivation with my experience of spiritual tourism, specifically yoga tourism in India (Buzinde, 2020). The goal was to anchor the distinction between religious tourism and spiritual tourism vis-à-vis the deployment of theories of motivation. This temporary diversion to an allied area of research also drew on the underutilized (within tourism studies) genre of autoethnography, which availed me the opportunity to metaphorically unify my academic self to other existential dimensions (e.g., spiritual self). From a symbolic interactionist perspective, we all perform different identities based on the interlocutors we encounter and this particular work highlights how identity is negotiated within yoga related spiritual tourism contexts and the implications therewithin for one’s motivation to engage in this form of travel. Putting pen to paper during this autoethnographic process was one of the scariest and yet most exhilarating experiences of my career. That is because autoethnography requires one to be vulnerable but it also avails one limitless liberty to be creative, and that alone is incredibly rewarding.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that my curiousness with creative boundaries has to some extent been fostered by my home institution and key mentors. Five years ago, I was asked to deliver a TED-style-like talk to the general public in which I was to convey a key dimension derived from my research. The ASU Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions within which the School of Community Resources and Development (SCRD) is housed was going to showcase many similar public-academic-style but entertaining talks with members of our surrounding communities in attempts to bridge the gap between academia and the public but also for knowledge mobility purposes. My talk incorporated my love for contemplative practices (e.g., meditation) and weaved in thought-provoking techniques aimed at imbuing the audience to view their engagement in travel not as a right but as a privilege (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VMVMUKQwWEs). I argued that the latter allows for existential connectivity with members of marginalized tourism-reliant communities which is needed to reverse the often-superficial encounters that widen the schism between have and have-nots, hosts and guests, global north and global south. Looking at travel as a privilege allows us to harness our shared humanity and this is a necessary foundation on which to build sustainable futures for all.
It has been an enriching academic journey and I have been and continue to be inspired by many of my esteemed peers and mentors in the field. I am a lifelong learner and look forward to further learning alongside all my colleagues including you, the mindful reader.
Written by Christine N. Buzinde, Arizona State University, United States
Read Christine’s letter to future generations of tourism researchers
Buzinde, C.N. (2020). Theoretical linkages between well-being and tourism: The case of spiritual tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 83, 102920.
Buzinde, C.N. (2010). Discursive construction of the plantation past within travel guidebooks. Journal of Heritage Tourism, 5(3), 219-235.
Buzinde, C.N., Kalavar, J., & Melubo, K. (2014). Community well-being amongst the Masaai in Tanzania. Annals of Tourism Research, 44, 20-35.
Buzinde, C.N., & Manuel-Navarrete, D. (2013). The social production of space in tourism enclaves: The case of Mayan youth in the Mexican Caribbean. Annals of Tourism Research 43, 482-505.
Buzinde, C.N., Manuel-Navarrete, D., & Swanson, T. (2020). Co-producing sustainable solutions in Indigenous communities through scientific tourism. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 28 (9), 1255-1271.
Buzinde, C.N., & Osagie, I. (2011a). Slavery heritage representations, cultural citizenship and judicial politics in America. Historical Geography, 39, 41-64.
Buzinde, C.N., & Osagie, I. (2011b). William Wells Brown: Fugitive subjectivity, travel writing, and the gaze. Cultural Studies, 25(3), 405 – 425.
Buzinde, C.N., & Santos, C.A. (2009). Interpreting slavery heritage tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 36(3), 439-458.
Buzinde, C.N., & Santos, C.A. (2008). Representations of slavery. Annals of Tourism Research, 35(2), 469-488.
Buzinde, C.N., Santos, C.A., & Smith, S.L.J. (2006). Ethnic representations: Destination imagery. Annals of Tourism Research, 33, 707-728.
Buzinde, C.N., Vandever, V., & Nyaupane, G. (2017). Participatory approaches to planning tourism in Indigenous communities: The case of the Navajo community. In S. Carson and M. Pennings, Performing cultural tourism: Communities, tourists and creative practices (pp.44-60). NY: Routledge.
Chambers, D., & Buzinde, C.N. (2015). Tourism and Decolonization. Annals of Tourism Research, 51(1), 1-16.
Kalavar, J., Buzinde, C.N., Melubo, K., & Simon, J. (2014). Intergenerational differences in perceptions of heritage tourism among the Maasai of Tanzania. Journal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology, 1-15.
Manuel-Navarrete, D., Buzinde, C.N., & Swanson, T. (2021). Fostering Horizontal Knowledge Co-production with Indigenous People by Leveraging Researchers’ Transdisciplinary Intentions. Ecology and Society, 26 (2):22.
Pubill Ambros, A., & Buzinde, C.N. (2021). Indigenous self-representations in the touristic sphere. Annals of Tourism Research, 86, 103099.
Santos, C.A., & Buzinde, C.N. (2007). Politics of identity and space: Representational dynamics. Journal of Travel Research, 45, 1-11.