Pleasures of Place: Aesthetics, Sociology, and Tourism

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 14:15
Location: Seminar 33 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Peter GRAHAME, Pennsylvania State University - Schuylkill, USA
Sociological studies of place tend to be concentrated in urban sociology and environmental sociology. Much of the attention to place there has to do with instrumental rationality (planning, administration, problem-solving, etc.) or moral-practical reason (justice, inequality, life chances, etc.). Recently some sociologists have suggested a third dimension: aesthetics. Zukin’s cultural focus on “aesthetic power” and the “look and feel of cities” helps to point the way (Zukin, 1995). At a more general level, several European sociologists (G. Born, D. Inglis, J. Lane, and J. Wolff, among others) have called for freeing sociology from older conceptions of aesthetics focused on beauty, art, and high culture. P. Willis has urged studying the “lived aesthetics” of everyday sensuous experiences (Willis, 2005). In examining pleasures of place, I argue for a conception of aesthetics geared to understanding the social organization of sensuous experience in ways that are not restricted to art worlds or cultural elites. This opens up possibilities for studying popular, mundane, and profane aesthetics and the pleasures, tastes, fascinations, and aversions associated with them. Drawing on comparative fieldwork in Iceland and Massachusetts, I then consider how whales, geysers, marshes, puffins, thermal pools, glaciers, sharks, and dunes, and the like are taken up and reworked in aesthetic formations geared to different visitors’ gazes (cf. J. Urry, 2011). In particular, I reexamine the idea that tourists experience Iceland through an aesthetic of extreme nature crystallized in the trope “fire and ice.” I identity key elements of that aesthetic, and consider how they establish a frame for experiencing Iceland that both foregrounds certain kinds of sensory pleasures while marginalizing others. For example, why are thermal pools included, whereas reforestation projects are excluded? I then consider implications of this form of analysis for studying other pleasures of place.