"No Gods, No Shangri-La": Rethinking Tourism In An Environmental Discourse

Friday, July 18, 2014: 9:35 AM
Room: 423
Oral Presentation
Jundan (Jasmine) ZHANG , Department of Tourism, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
Currently, environmentalism and the conservation movement  still largely are situated within a positivist epistemological paradigm that is built on a tradition of Western scientific knowledge production. Consequently,  the value of the current concepts of 'the green economy' and 'sustainable development' often are not challenged from non-Western political and ethical perspectives. Drawn from a study in a remote Tibetan village called Nizu, in Shangri-la County of northwest Yunnan province, China, I pose the question;  "what role does tourism play in the formulating and distributing of power and reshaping knowledge in terms of how humans relate to 'nature' ? " From a political ecology perspective, I will identify an environmental discourse within which tourism is embedded. By describing how tourism acts as a medium for mediating the material needs and cosmological beliefs in the village, I will challenge the idea that tourism is an imported product with the power to bring people and their living environment to modernity, in a more "ecological" way than would otherwise be the case. I argue that the descriptors  "premodern", "modern" and "postmodern" are performed by the villagers in one way or another, through tourism. Such performances can be contextualized in the environmental discourse that constantly is shaping and reshaping  ecological knowledge that has been taken for granted. Finally, I suggest we look further into the subjectivities that determine such performances of tourism, and the power relations involved, to better understand the complex and fluid nature of concepts such as "nature" , "culture" and  "tourism" in this setting.