Constructing Cultural Tourism: John Ruskin and the Tourist Gaze

Constructing Cultural Tourism: John Ruskin and the Tourist Gaze

by Keith Hanley, John K. Walton

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This book is an interdisciplinary collaboration between a literary critic and cultural historian, which examines and recovers a radical and still urgent challenge to the industrialisation of cultural tourism from the work of John Ruskin. Ruskin exerted a formative influence on the definition and development of cultural tourism which was probably as significant as that, for example, of his contemporary Thomas Cook. The book assesses Ruskin’s overall influence on the development of national and international tourism in the context of pre-existing expectations about tourism flows and cultural capital and alongside parallel and intersecting trends of the time; examines Ruskin’s contribution to the tourist agenda at all social levels; and discusses Ruskin’s significance for current debates in tourism studies, especially questions of the place of the ‘canon’ of traditional European cultural tourism in a post-modern tourist setting, and the various incarnations of ‘heritage tourism’.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781845412067
Publisher: Channel View Publications
Publication date: 11/15/2010
Series: Tourism and Cultural Change , #25
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
File size: 10 MB

About the Author

Keith Hanley is Professor of English Literature at Lancaster University where he directed the former Ruskin Centre for eight years. He has written monographs on Wordsworth and Ruskin, has edited many essay collections on nineteenth-century indisciplinarity, including, with Greg Kucich, Nineteenth-Century Worlds: Global Formations Past and Present (Routledge, 2008), and co-edits, with David Thomas, the quarterly journal Nineteenth-Century Contexts.

John K. Walton is an IKERBASQUE Research Professor in the Department of Contemporary History in the University of the Basque Country, based in Bilbao. He previously held chairs at Lancaster University, the University of Central Lancashire and Leeds Metropolitan University. He has published extensively on histories of regions, identities, resorts and tourism, especially in Britain, Spain, Belgium, France and the United States, and he contributes to debates on the role of history and ‘heritage’ in the regeneration of coastal resorts.

John K. Walton is an IKERBASQUE Research Professor in the Department of Contemporary History, University of the Basque Country UPV/ EHU, Bilbao. He has published extensively and internationally on tourism and identity, especially with regard to coastal towns, and edits the Journal of Tourism History.

Read an Excerpt

Constructing Cultural Tourism

John Ruskin and the Tourist Gaze

By Keith Hanley, John K. Walton

Multilingual Matters

Copyright © 2011 Keith Hanley and John K. Walton
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84541-206-7


Introduction: The Joy of Travel

Ruskin and Tourism Studies

This book examines the role of John Ruskin in the development of tourism in Britain and Western Europe during and after the second half of the 19th century. Ruskin was a major figure in setting the agenda and directing the gaze, not only for the upper- and middle-class British tourists who played such an important part in the consolidation of international tourism in the age of the railway, but also for the emergent working-class explorers of hills and countryside within Britain in the late 19th and early 20th century. His own journeys did not cover new ground: indeed, he followed the orthodox routes of the Grand Tour in Europe and the conventional pathways of the picturesque traveller in upland Britain. But what he provided were new ways of seeing and imagining, new contexts and meanings and a new moral vision which transformed the rhetoric of experience, and, at least for some people, its actual nature. Ruskin was one influence among many, and the task of teasing out the nature and significance of his contribution is complex and nuanced; but it has never been undertaken, and its importance is indubitable. It is all the more problematic, because Ruskin's own attitude to tourism was ambivalent and demanding, eager to encourage the enquiring mind, but suspicious of anything superficial or with any connotations of 'Cook's tours' or what came to be known as 'mass tourism'. For this reason, among others, the relationships between Ruskin's writings, practices and influences, and the existing agenda of writing about tourism, need to be explored at the outset. We begin by arguing that incorporating a Ruskin perspective into tourism studies has the potential to change the face and agenda of the discipline.

Tourism studies have been mainly preoccupied with the rise and contemporary practices of the tourist industry, which is seen to have started in the early 19th century and to have been developed along with 'increases in free time, more disposable income and advances in technology' (Sharpely, 1999: 22). The different disciplinary approaches within the field seem to have been mostly dominated by that closed focus, and 'the value' of tourism is most often described in firmly economic terms. Any contrary agendas and value systems, such as religious or educational motives, are usually treated as market specialisms. Otherwise they have been left to be covered by their own disciplines as, for example, part of cultural, educational and religious history. Academically, tourism studies have been comprehensively appropriated by neo-classical economics and functionalist sociology, with an admixture of anthropology, concerned with defining the general social forces and norms which determine the individual's behaviour. A great deal of published work has been practical and instrumental in orientation. History, as a critical discipline grounded in evidence, has only recently begun to enter the frame (Walton, 2009a, 2009b). In this way, tourism studies have been primarily concerned with describing and accounting for the workings of an industry, which, especially in the context of theories of globalisation, has been fundamentally unproblematised and may even be argued to have produced in some cases the industrialisation of tourism studies themselves. It is surprising, for example, that George Ritzer's critical concepts of McDonaldisation and glocalisation have not been pursued more energetically in tourism studies, while the long survival of the tourism area life cycle as a key organising principle suggests an inertia which is only now being overcome (Ritzer & Butler, 2006). From some humanities perspectives, the dominant approaches in tourism studies relegate the consideration of individual agency and development through tourism to consumer choice (Wright, 2002).

The following work offers a fresh humanities-based intervention founded on the case history of an influential voice during the time of the rise of the tourist industry, John Ruskin. Ruskin's cultural constructions were set against the practices of capitalist production which Rudy Koshar has argued were replicated in leisure activities:

Tourism ... [i]s not self-directed but externally directed. You go not where you want to go but where the industry has decreed you shall go. ... Tourism requires that you see conventional things, and that you see them in a conventional way. (Koshar, 2002: 39; see also Fussell, 1980)

His approach to cultural tourism and its afterlives in leisure and travel practices offers important versions of the well-established distinction between the 'tourist' and the 'traveller' and of what James Buzard terms 'anti-tourism', an 'exemplary way of regarding one's own cultural experiences as authentic and unique, setting them against a backdrop of always assumed tourist vulgarity, repetition, and ignorance' (Buzard, 1993: 5). Most approaches to cultural tourism acknowledge, either directly or indirectly, the predominance of the market as the defining motor of tourism per se, and view the conflicted aspirations behind the more actively self-determined and self-determining 'travel' as the content of a superior product rather than being freed from market forces. Related research has most commonly been shaped by the phenomenal expansion of 20th-century tourism which made it 'arguably the largest of multinational activities', leading to 'the increased blurring of the distinctions which once marked out tourism and culture as separate spheres of activity' (Robinson & Boniface, 1999: 1, 2), as cultural experience has become overwhelmingly commodified. It is in the context of what Mike Robinson writes of as the globalisation of the 'new world order ... dominated by progressive, Western neo-modern ideologies in which economic relationships are central' (Robinson, 1999: 23) that Priscilla Boniface reduces the achievement of a possible 'consensus' between 'Tourism and Cultures' to an outcome in which 'cultures play a crucial role because in their differences they offer variety and the possibility of product differentiation' (Boniface, 1999: 287). The only role of 'culture' is thus seen to lie in the management of demand through branding and marketing. As part of this process, tourism studies as a discipline has focused overwhelmingly on the so-called 'mass tourism' and on the international package holiday industry as organised and marketed by tour operators in various guises. Such perspectives rarely make contact with the historical rise of tourism when that trajectory was less inevitable, when culture and tourism were not entirely conflated, and when adversarial cultural projects that were non-complicit with the market, and in Ruskin's case opposed to it, were still imagined to be both available and desirable. We distinguish Ruskin's approach to 'travel' from that of the service industry of tourism, regarding it as individually validated experience, characterised by activism in perception, entering into different or alternative cultural formation, and with sufficient complexity and depth to lead to an enriching educational or learning outcome.

Writing in the tradition of Romantic anti-capitalism, Ruskin stands for the opposition to much that the industry embodied, expressed and was bringing about, and he took his stance in the name of drawing out individual potential, advocating a quality of cultural experience and moral education which the industry was not simply neglecting but in his view actively undermining, and doing so precisely in the area of aesthetic perception which was most crucial to their beneficial impact. While acknowledging the obvious historical, social and institutional investments in Ruskin's constructions of cultural experience, we are keen to avoid the classist tag of elitism as ascribed by many sociologists including Boorstin (1961: 85–88), and in particular we would argue that the religious and educational motives which were attached in Ruskin's day to the residues and transformations of pre-modern travel, represented by pilgrimage and the Grand Tour, represent complex and contradictory class investments in the self-fulfilment of people in all social positions. In particular, we begin to explore in this book both practical and theoretic continuities from Ruskin's interventions. Europe, for example, to which his travelling was confined, is still the region which attracts most international tourism, and the debates opened up by Romantic anti-capitalists such as Wordsworth and Ruskin concerning the uses and abuses of rail travel and the first rise of something that might be labelled 'mass tourism' are still current in the age of the airborne package tour, when 'The consumers (mass tourists) are, arguably, deceived by the lure of a holiday that promises escape from the capitalist system yet which is, in effect, an extension of it' (Sharpley: 12; see Hanley, 1993: 228–229; Hanley, 2007: 65–68).

The seriousness of Ruskin's critique and his alternative agenda may be seen in terms of Dean MacCannell's and others' treatment of tourism as a quest for authenticity in modern alienated societies. Eric Cohen, for example, writes that the frustrated lack of authenticity 'may well be a structural consequence of the pluralization of modern life-worlds' (Cohen, 1988: 376). Historically, Ruskin was battling just that dawning situation and the significance of his travelling chimes with the behaviour MacCannell describes as a model for 'modern-man-in-general' (1989: 1): 'sightseeing is a kind of collective striving for a transcendence of the modern totality, a way of attempting to overcome the discontinuity of modernity, of incorporating its fragments into unified experience' (13). But Ruskin's destinations promise more than just flights from materialism, mass production and consumption. As transformations of pilgrimage, less secularised than MacCannell argues, his travels to the pre-modern countryside and the architecture of the Middle Ages offer the restoration of insights into integrated communities of belief.

Ruskin was a famous polymath whose cultural interventions covered a wide range of interests and disciplines. Though a gifted draughtsman, scientific commentator and celebrated writer of Romantic prose, it was as a critic of art, architecture and society that he achieved his chief cultural function and influence. His defining project was to found a comprehensive critique of contemporaneous culture and society on aesthetics, and to offer a deeply satisfying aesthetic integration of his period's leading discourses, of science and religion, which had become painfully and confusingly fragmented for his fellow Victorians. But in order to locate the superior social model by which his present was to be judged, and arrive at the positions advocated in his teachings, he went in search of places which still represented values and potential experiences opposed to those of the developing industrial capitalism of 19th-century Britain. He identified its touchstones and then conducted the gaze of his contemporaries to representations of an alternative, more fulfilling society which he recuperated from the historical geography of a European past of western Christianity. As a radical anti-capitalist critic, he had to travel against his age. It will be clear that we do not subscribe to the 'Wiener thesis' that, even at its industrial apogee, Britain never fully embraced the cultural logic of industrialism, and that hierarchical assumptions of rural superiority remained enshrined in dominant values. Ruskin's work and influence might indeed be enlisted in support of such an argument, and Wiener does indeed do so; but he was always working against the grain of an increasingly industrial and commercial zeitgeist, rather than taking comfort from a supportive traditionalist dominant ideology (Wiener, 1981: 37–40).

It is true that Ruskin directed his readers to a very circumscribed, western eurocentric area of travel. He worked to have them participate in a shared heritage which was specifically pre-Renaissance and Christian, and to that end endeavoured to reduce the sense of differentiation in time and place to a condition that was unified by a shared moral tradition. But that cultural enlargement was conceived as a reform of 19th-century British values, to be achieved by the restitution of what was an other Europe, represented for example by Swiss pastoralism, northern French Gothic and early Renaissance Italian painting. This could, he urged, turn out to be the radical origin of his own re-imagined national tradition, though one which had become an alien culture for his contemporary British traveller. Whereas the leading guidebooks of his day, issued by Murray and Baedeker and the leading tour operator, Thomas Cook, were concerned in facilitating the educational and recreational appropriation of 'abroad' by their British consumers, making the alien cultural experience of historic Europe a commodity, Ruskin insisted on a respectful submission to, and only then the assimilation of, its values. He describes and attempts to promote a profound and challenging cultural negotiation which demands a distinct set of practices, including sufficient periods of time and adequately studious attitudes to allow for the informed selection and active interpretation of representative sites and monuments. Such were the programme and methods of what may be called his 'critical tourism'.

Opting out of the tourist market can too easily be unhelpfully confused with what John Urry describes as the privatised and anti-social assumptions and practices of the 'romantic gaze' (Urry, 2002b: 44). Of course, the tendency to self-centred absorption is not absent from Ruskin's cultural responses. Of an Italian tour of 1846, Ruskin remorsefully recounts an anecdote which speaks for the rift which opened up between himself and his father, a hard-headed businessman, who was to be irritated and embarrassed by his son's denunciation of the capitalist system in later economic works. On a 'sunny afternoon at Pisa',

just as we were driving past my pet La Spina chapel, my father, waking out of a reverie, asked me suddenly, 'John, what shall I give the coachman?' Whereupon, I, instead of telling him what he asked me ... took upon me with impatience to reprove, and lament over, my father's hardness of heart, in thinking that moment of sublunary affairs. (35.419)

Ruskin was aware of the self-indulgences of his privileged situation which he never completely overcame, yet the kind of aesthetic epiphany he was experiencing took him into a cultural imagination far beyond navel gazing. He was most interested in objectifying and communicating his own experience to others, as Buzard argues of the 'romantic gaze':

There is a dialectical relationship between the elaboration of 'crowd' and 'tourist', on the one hand, and the anti-tourist's privileging of 'solitude', which is less a valuing of private experience than it is a rhetorical act of role-distancing in need of its audience, real or imaginary. ... Even celebrated moments of solitude (e.g. in travel books) must be seen as in some measure existing to be celebrated. (Buzard, 1993: 153)

These were representative experiences of individual interiority which he felt everyone was entitled to and should be helped to enjoy.

The varieties of Urry's 'tourist gaze', which he has explored in several works and which he writes 'marks the beginning of the modern era in terms of landscape' in 1840 when it becomes 'endlessly devouring', are all reinforced by product differentiation for 'The "consuming" of Place' (Urry, 2005: 21). But such an account lacks the recalcitrances of cultural history, and the chemistry of historical experience. The gazes, of course, are not always separate and distinct in reality, and the polarisation he posits between the self-centred 'romantic gaze' and the social solidarity of his 'collective gaze' (Urry, 2002b: 43–44) is importantly unreal, for example, in the case of what may be termed Wordsworth's communal gaze, representing both shared and varied experiences. While Urry's antithesis edges on pitting solipsism against mass culture, represented by the random 'presence of large numbers of other people' (Urry, 2002b: 43), Wordsworth (and Ruskin after him) rejected the kind of anonymous social experience of the crowd he described in his vision of the modern metropolis, London, as epitomised in Bartholomew Fair: '... melted and reduced/To one identity, by differences/That have no law, no meaning, and no end /.../ By nature an unmanageable sight' (Wordsworth, 1984: 486, ll.703–705, 709) for the interconnected local community of Grasmere Fair, bound together by affection over generations for the 'Fellow-beings' (Wordsworth, 488, l.70) who gathered there. Ruskin, in his turn, was more concerned with the cultural exclusion of the labouring classes and their economic exploitation than with the stimulations of collective consumerism that he encountered at Furness Abbey in 1871 (see Hanley, 2007: 67–68). He knew that the railway there, as elsewhere in the Lake Counties, was intended primarily for mineral exploitation, and then for exploitation of the workforce:

... all that your railroad company can do for them is only to open taverns and skittle grounds round Grasmere, which will soon, then, be nothing but a pool of drainage, with a beach of broken ginger beer bottles; and their minds will be no more improved by contemplating the scenery of such a lake than of Blackpool. (34.141)


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Table of Contents

Chapter One: Introduction: The Joy of Travel

Chapter Two: The Ruskin Moment

Chapter Three: Sightseeing with Ruskin

Chapter Four: The Interpretation of Places

Chapter Five: Ruskin and Tourist Destinations

Chapter Six: Ruskin and Popular Tourism

Chapter Seven: Ruskin and the English Lakes: Brantwood as a Tourist Site

Chapter Eight: Concluding Reflections: Ruskin Against the Market

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