Tourism, leisure and work in an east African pastoral society (Respond to this article at


  • I am grateful to the British Institute in Eastern Africa for supporting my research. The Centre for Tourism and Cultural Change at Leeds Metropolitan University was also supportive, and I wish to thank David Turton, Simone Abram and the three AT reviewers for their comments on an earlier draft of this text.


This article investigates what happens with leisure experience between cultures when the Mursi of southwestern Ethiopia meet with international tourists. I propose that instead of regarding leisure as a fixed human condition within one society, it might fruitfully be approached as a process that evolves when different societies meet, i.e. as a constantly emerging (and disappearing) practice in cross-cultural encounters. Tourism, studied broadly from an anthropological point of view, offers an excellent field for this investigation. The Western ideology of leisure, mobilized by tourists in non-Western settings, is a good entry point to make tangible how societies understand leisure pursuits in intercultural encounters.