The Social Performance of Backpacking: An ontogenesis. How are backpacking identities organised, constituted and performed?
Walsh, Neil Michael
How are Western backpacking identities organised, constituted and performed? A scenario understood as ‘backpacker-becoming’ is described as a process in which individual backpackers are activated, that is, continually negotiated through performances which are discursive, corporeal, and materially embedded. Adopting performativity, (the production of effects through re-iteration) as a theoretical underpinning to my thesis; in the first, as a deconstructive tool, but later as a reconnective fabric, I explore how backpacking identity is ontologised, that is, brought into being. Backpacker’s are constituted in ideology and discourse, in the relations between themselves and other backpackers, yet also with the ‘things’ or ‘non-humans’ in the world that surrounds them. Backpacking is supported by an assembly of objects and material ‘things’. This includes guidebooks, luggage, clothing, souvenirs, equipment, belongings and various paraphernalia that contribute to the minutiae and sentience of this social world. Importantly these things ‘coalesce’ and ‘mean’ differently in various spaces and contexts. Hence, I am critically concerned with the performative effects of each composite realm within the performance of backpacking; discourse and ‘materialised’ bodies-in-spaces. Thus, an ontogenesis of backpacking is a study of the social lives of backpackers and their associated artefacts. In the thesis I trace the genesis of backpacking identity formation. Through this process I examine the way in which Western backpackers both reassert and resist hierarchical dualisms of self/other, tourist/traveller, West/East and alternative/mass. I present a research methodology and theoretical framework that identifies socio-cultural and material ontologisations within the contemporary performance of backpacking. My basic point is that the people and things of backpacking tourism do important social and cultural work that perform the identities of backpacking travellers. My research is methodologically underpinned with a hybrid (auto)ethnography that acknowledges my prior backpacking experience and utilises the empirical material gathered during a five month ethnography across various locations on Thailand. This stylised, personal and performative ethnography is used to critically engage and assess ontological praxis in the social performance of backpacking. My thesis falls under the branch of tourism research concerned with tourist ontology and the wider question what constitutes particular travellers? Furthermore, I ask just how is ontology manifest in backpacking- praxis, bodies, and place? In short, I seek to address the following concerns, how is backpacking identity performed and what are the (material and semiotic) parameters within which practices of backpacking identity performance occur? This process permits deconstruction, as a point of departure, yet to compliment a auto-ethnographic methodology, itself a mode of critical social constructionism, I (re)constitute backpacking with a politics of connectivity. In sum, I consider backpacking identity formation as a deeply performative arena. Throughout my thesis, therefore, I investigate the potential for resistance and agency, yet importantly, I reconfigure ‘agency’ as performative ability to avoid essentializing the debate. This leads to a consideration of backpacking, of one which is not just an identity, but an articulating principle for the backpacker whilst still allowing for a plurality of specific affiliations.
Advisor: Tucker, Hazel Mary; Carr, Neil
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Tourism
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Performativity; Identity; Backpacking; Actor-network Theory
Research Type: Thesis