Handicrafts-enacted tourism realities in Bangladesh
Within the panorama of ethnic tourism, cultural elements of distinctive ethnic groups are the primary attraction for tourists. Within this tourismscape, handicrafts have received significant popularity, and consequently, an entwined relationship between handicrafts and ethnic tourism has emerged. Multiple actors’ presence in this relationship leads to their different social practices and values intersecting to generate multiple meanings. Henceforth, problematic tourism realities, by way of controversies and tensions, are endemic and these demand researchers’ attention. Although scholarly works are visible in the domains of ethnic tourism and handicrafts, they have tended to address the role(s) of only human actors (e.g. ethnic communities, tourists, tourism entrepreneurs), and have primarily looked into the tourism realities from an impact perspective. Such a predominant focus raises questions regarding the role of non-human actors and tourism realities from different perspectives. Most importantly, there is little documentation of the interplay between actors involved within the entanglement of handicrafts and ethnic tourism, focusing on controversies, tensions, and cooperations. This study was thus aimed at developing a different way of understanding tourism realities through the lens of controversies, tensions and cooperations. In particular, with the handicrafts-ethnic tourism nexus, handicrafts were considered to be the central actor, hence moving beyond the predominant anthropocentric focus. Correspondingly, the relational perspective has been followed, replacing the previously dominant impact perspective. The insights of actor-network theory (ANT) as the theoretical underpinning have facilitated this novel way of gaining an understanding of the research phenomenon. Fitting into the interpretive research domain, a qualitative case study approach was adopted in this regard. Multiple methods, including semi-structured interviews, focus group discussion (FGD), and participant observation were used over five and a half months to explore the role of handicrafts as actors in an ethnic tourism destination in Bangladesh. To analyse the rich empirical material and to develop the key findings, thematic analysis was adopted. Findings show how handicrafts, regardless of their non-human status, have performed the role of central actor, followed by their relation with different human and other non-human actors. Handicrafts are found to gain that relational capacity for their manifold affordances, e.g. ethnic, economic and place viabilities which have facilitated those (handicrafts) to meet the diverse requirements of different actors through handicrafts-centred tourism activities. Within such relational encounters, my study has addressed handicrafts as the reality shaping actor. Continuously enacted in different versions, handicrafts bring together different actors while (re)constructing multiple and complex tourism realities. The five versions identified in this research are traditional, handcrafted, machine-made, touristic, and original handicrafts. Handicrafts-enacted tourism realities are identified as dynamic by closely looking into the changes in handicrafts and associated interpretations of different actors. Simultaneously, these dynamics involve cooperations between related actors also linked to their mutual understandings. Nonetheless, findings also highlighted controversies and tensions existing, whereby varying views, interests and goals were found connected to the dynamics of contested roles of several actors. Finally, the thesis concludes that not only human but also non-human actors, as in this case handicrafts, can play the role of central as well as reality shaping actor in the context of ethnic tourism. Moving beyond the anthropocentric focus while exploring the role of handicrafts as actors, my thesis thus contributes to current tourism literature extending the understanding of the role of actors within the handicrafts-ethnic tourism nexus. In so doing, this thesis contributes theoretically by providing different ways of viewing ethnic-cultural element-based tourism followed by non-anthropocentric and relational perspectives of ANT. Also, it shows the importance of adopting participant observation as an effective methodological tool in following and understanding non-human actor-enacted tourism realities. Moreover, it offers some practical implications for actors associated within the handicrafts-ethnic tourism nexus. This thesis contributes to our overall understanding of complex ethnic tourism realities.
Advisor: Tucker, Hazel; Coetzee, Willem J. L.
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Tourism
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Handicrafts; “Ethnic Tourism”; “Actor-network Theory”; “Non-human Agency”; “Relational Approach”; “Multiple Tourism Realities”; Bangladesh
Research Type: Thesis