In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Sociology of Tourism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Anthologies, Edited Collections, and Review Articles
  • Journals
  • History
  • Contemporary Sociology of Tourism in the Post-truth Era

Sociology Sociology of Tourism
Erdinç Çakmak
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 August 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0263


The sociology of tourism studies tourists’ relationships, roles, and motivations and the ongoing exchange among tourists, institutions, and host communities. Tourism cannot be treated in isolation since it embodies all tourism practices in a system they operate in. Thus, tourism is a complex sociocultural, economic, and political phenomenon and touches all levels of society. The investigation of tourism’s role in society, the tourism system’s effects on nature, tourism spaces, objects, practices, relationships, and the tourist typologies demand systematic sociological investigations. A researcher needs to consider the whole macro system through its members’ social, political, cultural, and economic interactions. In such a social context, both human and nonhuman actors continuously shape and reshape the tourism system, and the tourism system reshapes these actors’ values, attitudes, and behaviors. Researchers examining the sociology of tourism departed from several theoretical Perspectives, blended theory and method, and focused on sociological concepts to understand and explain the different aspects of tourism. This group of scholars has been working within the several cores of sociology (e.g., education, family, economy, development, religion, gender, language, migration, social inequalities, labor, art) and at the margins of emerging interdisciplinary formations, including those crossing many disciplines such as geography, anthropology, economics, political science, psychology, marketing, communication, women’s studies, history, and cultural studies. The sociology of tourism studies engendered transdisciplinary conversations both in academia and in practice, and the results of these studies have created pragmatic changes in tourism practices, habits, and governance.

General Overviews

Five scholars, judging from the Google Scholar citation counts of their critical works on the sociology of tourism, have contributed to the field in an original and pioneering way. These leading scholars’ abundant and consistent publications have provided the foundation for a sociological approach to tourism. They can be called the established leaders of the sociology of tourism, and are listed here alphabetically: Erik Cohen, Graham Dann, Marie-Françoise Lanfant, Dean MacCannell, and John Urry. Cohen 1972 opposed treating tourists as a homogenous mass and provided a heuristic tourist typology ranging from familiarity to strangeness. Later, Cohen 1984 classified tourism’s sociology into four main areas: tourist as a traveler, tourists’ relationships with hosts, the tourism system, and tourism impacts. MacCannell’s 1973 seminal article on staged authenticity spotlighted the relationship between tourism and (Western) modernity, which became an essential research agenda for the sociology of tourism in the last quarter of the twentieth century. MacCannell 1976 argued that alienated modern tourists are motivated by a quest for authenticity in their travels, but this quest is thwarted through a “staged authenticity” offered by host communities. Dann 1977 sought to answer the question “what makes tourists travel?” and employed the themes of anomie and collective representations in the sociology of tourism research. He combined anomie with status enhancement in a motivational study of tourists and provided the first empirical results of the presentation and profiles of anomic tourists. Besides this approach, Dann 1996 took a sociolinguistic approach and examined the promotional counterpart of tourist motivations in “the language of tourism” using semiotic analyses. Lanfant 1980 emphasized the international dimension of tourism. She argued that tourism is a “total social phenomenon” which challenges identity formation. Lanfant, et al. 1995 transcended the dichotomy between seeing tourism as either business or not business and suggested a novel approach reflecting the fundamental level of reality in tourism practice. Urry 1990 introduced Foucault’s concept of “gaze” into tourism discourse. Urry prioritized the visual sense of gaze and distinguished the tourist gaze as “romantic” and “collective” without concerning other Foucauldian issues of power and authority. By introducing the concept “gaze” into tourism, Urry made a crucial theoretical opening in the sociology of tourism, and other scholars followed him by focusing further on the body and other senses. Later in the decade, Urry 1999 proposed studying journeys, connections, and flows (both physical and virtual movements) as mobile theories and mobile methods and that this be placed at the top of the research agenda.

  • Cohen, E. 1972. Toward a sociology of international tourism. Social Research 39:64–82.

    This article stresses the travel dimension of tourism and devises tourist typologies along a continuum from familiarity to strangeness. It emphasizes the differences among tourists and calls for further examination of their travel types’ attitudes, motivations, and behavior.

  • Cohen, E. 1984. The sociology of tourism: Approaches, issues, and findings. Annual Review of Sociology 10.1: 373–392.

    DOI: 10.1146/

    This is a crucial academic text for understanding the classification of the sociology of tourism. Cohen classifies tourism into four main areas: tourists, their interaction with hosts, the tourism system, and tourism impacts. Following this article, scholars have given more attention to systematic empirical research in the field.

  • Dann, G. M. 1977. Anomie, ego-enhancement and tourism. Annals of Tourism Research 4.4: 184–194.

    DOI: 10.1016/0160-7383(77)90037-8

    This paper maintains that tourists’ anomie (i.e., absence of the general societal and ethical standards) needs to be investigated at the pre-travel level. This sociopsychological research is the first empirical research of tourists’ attitudes and behavior and it provides a firmer theoretical and empirical footing to the literature on tourist profiles.

  • Dann, G. M. 1996. The language of tourism: A sociolinguistic perspective. Wallingford, UK: CAB International.

    This book analyzes the verbal framing of tourists’ experiences. Paradigms on social control, the tourist as a child, and the tourism media from the printed word to television screen have been brought together with semiotic analyses at a quality level.

  • Lanfant, M. F. 1980. Introduction: Tourism in the process of internationalisation. International Social Science Journal 32.1: 14–43.

    This article captures the multipolarity of tourism as a particular form of consumption. The author provides insights into world tourism organizations and the role of international bodies and tour operators by using the methodological principles of systems analysis.

  • Lanfant, M. F., J. B. Allcock, and E. M. Bruner, eds. 1995. International tourism: Identity and change. London: SAGE.

    This book offers a novel approach in examining how tourism transcends individual societies and has become an international fact. It emphasizes the necessity of understanding the local and global developments simultaneously. The volume argues that local social practices cannot be understood independently of the global, and that the global practices are never independent of the local setting in which they operate.

  • MacCannell, D. 1973. Staged authenticity: Arrangements of social space in tourist settings. American Journal of Sociology 79.3: 589–603.

    DOI: 10.1086/225585

    This academic article and the ensuing book have dominated the discussions in the sociology of tourism in the last quarter of the twentieth century. This study describes the alienation of Western tourists and their search for authentic experiences in other times and places while hosts modify a cultural practice for tourism.

  • MacCannell, D. 1976. The tourist: A new theory of the leisure class. New York: Schocken.

    This is the most influential book in the sociology of tourism and it portrays the role of tourists in postindustrial society. Tourists seek meanings to their deepest longings and travel as pilgrims to the secular world, paying homage to various attractions that are symbols of modernity.

  • Urry, J. 1990. The tourist gaze: Leisure and travel in contemporary societies. London: SAGE.

    This book takes a postmodernist perspective and describes the foundation of tourist behavior in the form of a tourist gaze. Here tourism becomes a performance and acts as a central element in the broad cultural changes in contemporary society.

  • Urry, J. 1999. Sociology beyond societies: Mobilities for the twenty-first century. London: Routledge.

    In this book, Urry suggests the necessity of replacing the examination of society as the traditional basis of sociology from bounded clusters and objects of a region to networks and fluids in the borderless world. The book studies the physical and virtual movements of people, ideas, messages, money, and waste products across international borders.

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