Critical approaches in the tourism academy

Despite the emergence of critical approaches in the tourism academy, the epistemological, ontological and methodological underpinnings of critical research remain under-theorised and under-explored (Chambers, 2007; Hollinshead, 2012). Tourism research has been considered for many years a field of enquiry that lacks “a strong theoretical and conceptual base” (Finn, 2000 p. 17) and whose many models have been taken from other disciplines. For example, the tourist area life cycle (TALC) is an adaptation of the earlier product life cycle model. Thus, Tribe’s (2010) latest analysis of tourism knowledge suggests that the field’s lack of theoretical development confirms its uncertain status and ‘indiscipline’.

This under-theorization in tourism might be because “making theoretical sense of ‘fun, pleasure and entertainment’ has proved a difficult task for social scientists on many occasions (Urry, 2002, p. 7). Certainly, it is apparent that business rationales have long dominated tourist enquiry and therefore most researchers favour positivist, quantitative measures of activity (see Xiao and Smith 2006, 2007). This is not to say, that all tourism research has been conducted from a positivist perspective and there has always been a stream of work in tourism enquiry, which has engaged with interpretivism and critical theory (Botterill 2003; Nash, 2007). However, in the last decade, those tourism voices seeking to challenge established epistemologies, ontologies and methodologies do seem to have become louder. As tourism is a field that is mostly concerned to understand people’s behaviours perhaps a more interpretive approach might be preferable.

The explosion in tourism research has led to recognition of the need to develop research enquiry in different and new ways (Morgan and Pritchard, 2007). Although the tourism academe still needs to decentralise and reconceptualise tourism enquiry to take account of a much broader spectrum of knowledge traditions and value systems, there is an increasing shift towards more critical and interpretive ways of knowing tourism (Pritchard, Morgan & Ateljevic, 2011; 2012).

Zaida Rodrigo, profesora de TSI-Turismo Sant Ignasi


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