Social roles and negotiation of status in host-tourist interaction: A view from British television holiday programmes

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Abstract

Although folk discourses frequently emphasise such raison d’être benefits of tourism as broadening one's horizons through knowing foreign people(s) and cultures, most critical studies of tourism stress tourists’ relative illiteracy with regard to the ‘reading’ of the local. This paper is based on extracts from two British holiday programme series, BBC's Holiday 2000/1 and ITV's Wish You Were Here?, in which the presenters engage in some form of verbal (and non-verbal) interaction with local people. A close discourse analysis of these interactions reveals that the dominant ideology of tourism, as propagated in the programmes, gives evidence of only limited contact between tourists and local people, although the former often create the illusion of closeness, familiarity and ‘friendship’. Most contact with local people occurs in their principal roles as either ‘helpers’/‘servants’, ‘experts’, or as part of ‘local scenery’. At times, however, local people are seen to resist these super-imposed roles, casting themselves as worldly and cosmopolitan. Meanwhile, it is often the presenter-tourists who construct for themselves parochial identities by adhering to stereotyped interpretations of local people and seeking ‘safe’ interpretations of the host culture. These encounters are therefore often sites of power struggle, in which presenter-tourists assert themselves as dominant and powerful, while local people may subvert these attempts, for example, by claiming high status for themselves through expert knowledge.

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