Our individual and collective pursuit of knowledge comes from many pathways. Epistemology and scientific methodologies are two elements of a scientific pathway that influences knowledge. The scientific review process and our collective ownership of knowledge are additional pathways that shape knowledge. These are the pathways that I am most familiar with as a tourism researcher. My own career research program and teaching to students and professionals have been instrumental in my intake of knowledge, creation of knowledge, and sharing of knowledge with others. In my teaching, I have been careful to illustrate that knowledge is a collective asset; formed by and used by people, therefore subject to change.
We are currently in a pandemic and experiencing shifting politic power around the globe. Knowledge is being demanded by society, particularly decision-makers; but knowledge is also being reframed or reformulated to fit social agendas. The actual definition of and application of concepts such as facts, truth, and knowledge are being challenged. In my own teaching of research as a process that produces knowledge, I often avoid the concept of fact or truths as a way of emphasizing facts are created and agreed upon by a collective. The shelf life of a fact ranges from short-lived to enduring as facts are tested, contested, and forgotten over time and context.
Fact: information as evidence to support a claim. Words, pictures or numbers that are known or proven to be true.
Truth: propositions that are found or believed to be true (and not false).
Knowledge: an individual holds information and skills acquired through experience or education. Scientific knowledge is generated through theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.
Illustration of facts
As I was thinking about writing this essay on knowledge, I happened to see a play titled “The Lifespan of a Fact” by Jeremy Karaken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell that is based on the book by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal of the same title published in 2012. The subject of the play is a draft document that has been written by an experienced journalist for publication. Before the document can be published, the editor asks an intern to fact-check the writing so that the media company is protected from any false claims made by the journalist. The written document is a reflective piece, an essay, rather than an article – something emphasized in the play. The author of the piece is writing creatively with facts about an event that actually happened. He starts with evidence about an event (a suicide at a tourism attraction in Las Vegas, Nevada) but then writes more loosely to add perspective and interpretation; even self-reflection about suicide. The intern has been assigned to fact-check and sees the writing as an article with every statement being citable – or tied to a fact. The dialogue of the three actors around the testing of facts (not necessarily editing) demonstrates the crux of what is knowledge and how facts are conveyed in writing.
Here in lies the crux of what is knowledge – is it evidence that can be checked and is accepted by many (an emphasis on experts) or is it an embellishment of evidence that tells a relatable story. The original essay of the play, titled “What Happens There”, was initially rejected by a popular literary magazine because the content did not align with standards that protect facts in publishing. Like academic journals, inappropriate or incorrect representation of data in our creation of knowledge is not welcome and is to be noticed by editors and reviewers. Intentional misrepresentation of data is not acceptable; unintentional embellishment of evidence is where we show our vulnerabilities.
Scholars of tourism knowledge
As tourism scholars we commit to uncovering new knowledge about travel and transportation, destinations comprised of residents and hospitality providers, and travelers’ and tourists’ experiences of a place different than home, to name a few subject areas. Our research and writings are a collective body of knowledge that uses citations and references as a way of addressing scientific facts that we ourselves manage in research studies and share in our fields and disciplines. When we conduct a literature review and draw upon the scientific knowledge of others, we are deciding the disciplines, journals, and time period to draw from, but ultimately a fact-checker (initially an editor and the reviewers, after publication the field of scholars) judges the quality of the evidence, as considered to be facts, truth, or knowledge.
Early tourism scholars saw the connectivity of tourist behaviors, destination planning and development, and community engagement to established disciplines such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, and geography (Jafari and Ritchie, 1981). New knowledge about tourism emerges using established theories and heuristics from established disciplines often at the cost of tourism lacking its own disciplinary identity (Tribe, 1997). Facts or statistics that support tourism knowledge may not have a long lifespan in terms of their usefulness (Butler, 2015), but instead they provide knowledge transfer and alignment to the tourism industry. Our writing is purposeful for academic sakes too. We create knowledge for our students by way of the textbooks we write, the content we teach, and the less-formulated ideas that draw graduate students into our programs to ponder and ultimately write their thesis or dissertation. The theories and heuristics that scholars continue to create or build upon are one of the most important legacies to the body of knowledge. Another legacy is our will to work and share collectively as illustrated in Kajsa Åberg’s drawing on knowledge in this publication and the overall team of women scholars who provided sage wisdom and direction to others.
Written by Christine Vogt, Emeritus Professor, Arizona State University, United States
Butler, R. (2015). The evolution of tourism and tourism research. Tourism Recreation Research, 40, 16-27.
D’Agata, J. & Fingal, J. (2012). The Lifespan of a Fact. New York City, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.
Jafari, J. & Ritchie, J.R.B (1981). Toward a framework for tourism education: Problems and prospects. Annals of Tourism Research, 8(1), 13-34.
Tribe, J. (1997). The indiscipline of tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 24(3), 638-657.