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

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Films
  • Ethnicity, Identity, and Nationalism
  • Material Culture, Heritage, and Historical Patrimony
  • Gender
  • The Environment
  • Applied Anthropology
  • State of the Anthropology of Tourism Worldwide
  • New and Emerging Approaches
  • Professional Organizations

Anthropology Tourism
Carla Guerrón Montero
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 August 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0025


Anthropology has expanded and changed radically by including within its purview the study of tourism. In spite of the ubiquitous nature of traveling in anthropology, tourism and travel became subjects worthy of discussion in anthropology relatively recently, in Europe in the 1930s and in the United States in the 1960s (see Introductory Works). Two main reasons explain this paucity of attention. First, anthropologists argued that their experience and motivations for being in a distant location could not be compared to that of tourists, and they believed that, in many instances, they were being unfairly associated with the tourists they encountered in these faraway places. Second, anthropologists considered tourism a subject not serious enough to discuss intellectually and ethnographically. Although in practically every ethnographic field site anthropologists encountered at least occasional tourists, they were perceived to be an undesired nuisance and given scant or no attention. In spite of this inauspicious beginning, the anthropological scholarship on tourism has contributed greatly to tourism studies. Anthropologists have made important contributions to the understanding of tourism’s impact on host communities; the impact of travel on an individual; the power relationships in tourism developments; heritage and culture commodification; types of tourism and tourists; and the relationships between tourism and ethnicity, identity, material culture, nationalism, and the environment, among others.

Introductory Works

In general terms, the field of tourism studies has tended to be fragmented and rarely interdisciplinary, as scholars approach it from within their own disciplinary boundaries (Echtner and Jamal 1997). In anthropology, the study of tourism began in Europe in the 1930s. In the United States, it is agreed that the study of tourism was launched with publication of Nuñez 1963, an article about “weekendismo” in Guadalajara, Mexico. At this time, researchers in other disciplines (such as sociology, ecology, leisure and recreation studies, and political science) became interested in analyzing tourism as well. In 1977, Valene Smith published the influential edited volume Hosts and Guests: The Anthropology of Tourism, which was reedited in 1989 (see Smith 1989). This volume marked the beginning of a more serious interest in tourism and travel in anthropology. Geography, history, and sociology are other disciplines in the social sciences in which practitioners have studied the tourism industry. For instance, geography concerned itself with tourism long before anthropology (in the 1930s), and geographers have produced essential contributions, particularly concerning nuanced understandings of place and space. Sociologists have produced a typology of tourism, the concepts of “staged authenticity” and “site sacralization” (see MacCannell 1999) and the figure of “the stranger” in modern society (Bauman 1991) among other important concepts, while historians have studied travel and tourism since the 1930s. In addition, the fields of business, management, and economics have long addressed the topic of tourism from an epistemological approach that differs from that of the social sciences.

  • Bauman, Zygmunt. 1991. Modernity and ambivalence. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

    Bauman’s work has been of theoretical relevance for the anthropological study of tourism. Bauman theorizes the figure of “the stranger” as the person who is present yet familiar in modern societies. In touristic experiences, the stranger is both enticing and the subject of fear.

  • Echtner, Charlotte, and Tazim Jamal. 1997. The disciplinary dilemma of tourism studies. Annals of Tourism Research 24.4: 868–883.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0160-7383(97)00060-1

    The authors investigate the possibilities for the field of tourism studies to develop comprehensive and integrated theories that could eventually produce a distinct discipline.

  • MacCannell, Dean. 1999. The tourist: A new theory of the leisure class. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

    The Tourist is a classic book in the study of tourism in the social sciences. MacCannell aims to develop a theory of the modern Western tourist, his or her motivations for traveling, and the role of the tourism industry in creating touristic experiences. The author suggests the presence of different “stages of authenticity,” depending on the degree of authenticity of every touristic encounter.

  • Nuñez, Theron. 1963. Tourism, tradition, and acculturation: Weekendismo in a Mexican village. Ethnology 2.3: 347–352.

    DOI: 10.2307/3772866

    This article is considered a classic and the first anthropological work that focuses specifically on tourism. The author studies wealthy domestic tourists in Guadalajara, Mexico, who spend weekends at nearby Lake Chapala.

  • Smith, Valene, ed. 1989. Hosts and guests: The anthropology of tourism. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

    This is one of the foundational works for the anthropological study of international tourism. This groundbreaking book includes a collection of sixteen essays that address tourism both theoretically and ethnographically. The original edited book (published in 1977) emerged based on the work of the first panel on the anthropology of tourism held at a meeting of the American Anthropological Association in Mexico City in 1974.

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