Culture and Value: Tourism, Heritage, and Property

Culture and Value: Tourism, Heritage, and Property

by Regina F. Bendix


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When heritage becomes a commodity, when culture is instrumental in driving tourism, and when individuals assert ownership over either, social, ideological, political, and economic motivations intertwine. Bestowing value on "culture" is itself a culturally rooted act, and the essays gathered in Culture and Value focus on the motivations and value regimes people in particular times and contexts have generated to enhance the visibility and prestige of cultural practices, narratives, and artifacts.

This collection of essays by noted folklorist Regina F. Bendix, offers a personal record of the unfolding scholarly debate regarding value in the studies of tourism, heritage, and cultural property. Written over the course of several decades, Bendix's case studies and theoretical contributions chronicle the growing and transforming ways in which ethnographic scholarship has observed social actors generating value when carrying culture to market, enhancing value in inventing protective and restorative regimes for culture, and securing the potential for both in devising property rights. Bendix's work makes a case for a reflexive awareness of the changing scholarly paradigms that inform scholars' research contributions.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253035660
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 08/01/2018
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Regina F. Bendix is Professor of Cultural Anthropology/European Ethnology at the University of Göttingen, Germany. Her books include In Search of Authenticity and Backstage Domains. She is author (with Kilian Bizer and Dorothy Noyes) of Sustaining Interdisciplinary Collaboration, and editor (with Aditya Eggert and Arnika Peselmann) of Heritage Regimes and the State. Together with Ulrich Marzolph she edits the journal Narrative Culture.

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Tourism and Cultural Displays: Inventing Traditions for Whom?

In 1805, the village of Interlaken in the Swiss Alps experienced its first grandiose folklore display event. The occasion was called the Unspunnenfest. The emphasis at this event was the display of customs and costumes of the cowherds from the surrounding area. The audience, composed of dignitaries and many foreign guests, was treated to a display of dance, music, and song by costumed natives, and sports competitions unique to the area such as open-air wrestling (called Schwingen) and heaving heavy boulders as far as possible (Steinstossen). Madame de Staël, one of the invited guests, enthusiastically described this first "Swiss Cowherders' Festival" as an affair "pulsating with native life." She was particularly taken with the bonfires lit on the surrounding hilltops, commemorating the fires of liberty of the original Swiss confederation, and she expressed her hopes for more such display events (de Stael 1958, 287, 295). Her wish was fulfilled three years later: a second Unspunnen festival was held in 1808.

In the twentieth century, the Unspunnenfest has been commemorated and restaged five times (1905, 1946, 1955, 1976, 1981), but Interlaken has created three other events of similar magnitude: springtime processions held at the time when the cows would be herded up to the Alps (now discontinued), an open-air production of the William Tell play (staged since 1912 and still performed every summer), and a winter custom called Harder-Potschete, featuring supposed fertility demons and forest spirits (created in 1956 and still performed).

Interlaken has a two hundred-year history of tourist development, thus providing an ideal case for examining the long-term impact of a tourist economy on a host society. The last two hundred years have also seen the emergence of numerous display events, and it is tempting to see a direct, economically motivated connection between tourism and displays. This article will argue, however, that appeal to a touristic audience constitutes only a surface rationale for inventing traditions. Economic motivations are one part of the story and they constitute an important argument in the process of creating display events. But wished-for economic benefits do not sufficiently explain why such events continue for decades or even centuries. A close examination of the motivations and choices of originators, performers, and audiences of new, traditionalized displays also points toward an affirmation of local and national cultural identity in the face of seasonal mass foreign invasion.

A historically informed consideration of the case of Interlaken sheds light on the process of invention as well as on tourism's impact on expressive culture. Coined by historians, the "invention of tradition" (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983) has fueled the older debates over "folklorismus," "fakelore," and "authenticity" in European and American folklore studies and anthropology (Bausinger 1966; Bendix 1988; Bodemann 1983; Dundes 1985; Evans-Pritchard 1987; Handler and Linnekin 1984; Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1988; Moser 1964). While the concept of tradition received extensive treatment in light of the tradition and modernity discourse (Shils 1981), until recently "tradition has been," in Dan Ben-Amos's historiographic perception, "a term to think with, not to think about" (1984, 87). But in the process of rethinking the "folk" versus "fake" and the academic versus applied dichotomy (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1988), folklorists have also begun to deconstruct the scholarly concept of tradition. In this context, the idea of created, negotiable tradition has been profoundly liberating. It allows for a view of cultural productions where what was previously categorized as impure and anomalous can suddenly belong to the realm of expressive culture. Furthermore, the idea of invention brings with it questions about the inventors and thus shifts the analytic focus from the event to the agency of those involved in its creation and maintenance (Giddens 1979, 49–95).

Richard Handler and Jocelyn Linnekin (1984) have also argued along those lines. Despite the long Western history of thought that sees tradition as a stable passing on of traits within a cultural system, Handler and Linnekin arrive at the conclusion that the idea of tradition is rather influenced by ideology, and thus continued reinterpretation and change (288–90). Traditions are always defined in the present, and the actors doing the defining are not concerned whether scholars will perceive a given festival or piece of art as genuine or spurious, but whether the manifestation will accomplish what they intend it to accomplish. "Inventing traditions" is thus not an anomaly but rather the rule, and it can be particularly well-studied in industrial and postindustrial nation-states exposed to extensive intercultural contact. Economists have, for obvious reasons, studied tourism extensively for over a century (e.g., Cohn 1882; Gölden 1939). Within fields of social and cultural research, touristic subjects have been regarded as worthy of serious social scientific research only since the early 1970s (Nash 1981). As Davydd Greenwood noted in 1977, "a few years ago, we could lament the lack of serious research on tourism, but now, like the tourists themselves, social researchers are flocking to tourist centers" (1977, 129). Among the reasons for the delay in accepting tourism as a pervasive, intercultural phenomenon rather than scorning it as an intrusive agent destroying cultures, was the (maybe unconscious) desire to study the pristine and untouched, a desire that has its roots in the history of anthropological and folkloristic study of native peoples as well as in nineteenth-century notions of other cultures.

While tourism research has begun to flourish, the number of studies dealing with tourism and expressive culture — specifically displays of the kind discussed here — are relatively sparse. Benetta Jules-Rosette has noted that the anthropology of tourism and semiotics "overemphasize the role of image consumers [tourists] at the expense of the process of image creation that is a by-product of the tourist industry" (1984, 3). In other words, while host societies have been studied, it is not frequently in terms of their own expressive culture but more often in terms of their response to tourist pressures (see Cohen 1984). In her work with tourist art, Jules-Rosette found that the longer an artisan was in the business of producing "tourist art," the more he developed an aesthetic that satisfied his own cultural identity — a dimension acknowledged also in Nelson Graburn's (1976) seminal collection on tourist art. In the complex interplay of market, audience, and performers, the artisans eventually appropriated an externally imposed notion of authenticity, and a similar process will be illustrated with the case of Interlaken. The first staging of the Unspunnen festival in 1805 spoke directly to the romantic cravings of foreign visitors for unspoiled, "authentic" peasant and cowherder traditions; the later inventions demonstrate more and more the search on the part of natives for what they perceive to be authentic manifestations of their own culture.


The tourist, according to Dean MacCannell, is continually in search of authentic experience (1976, 14, 91–107; see also Krippendorf 1984). The tourist industry is responding to this craving in evermore ingenious ways to let the tourist gaze at life as it is really lived in the host society. Yet no matter how far into the everyday domain a tourist is allowed to peek, the authenticity remains staged by the very fact that the tourist is looking at it.

But if authenticity in the realm of culture is difficult for the tourist to find, what kind of experience is possible? In Interlaken, in the Bernese Oberland, it is the grandiose physical environment of the Alps (Studer 1947; Winkler 1944). The landscape — unlike culture — cannot be staged, and most tourists prefer not to think about the numerous human intrusions — the carefully tended fields, the rebuilt streams, the many ski lifts and cog railways — for it is only with the aid of some of these that they can get close enough to experience the grandeur. The natural beauty is too large to spoil the impression of an authentic experience, and there would probably be no tourists in Interlaken if it were not for the village's unique geographic location between lakes and peaks.

The first tourists arrived in the Interlaken area in the second half of the eighteenth century (Kroner 1968, 22), and while an interest in native culture appeared in their travel notes, it was the Alps and nature that attracted them most (Bernard 1978; Weiss 1933). Nature was no longer the threatening antithesis to civilization, but had instead become the inspiration for cultural revitalization. The Unspunnen festivals helped to spread Interlaken's name internationally, and the number of visitors increased steadily. Interlaken responded by building housing and opening up better streets and waterways to allow the tourists to see nature up close (Gallati 1977; Spreng 1956).

A secondary interest of the early tourist was health. To satisfy this desire for health-related activities, an enterprising local artist organized the local dairy farmers to offer goat whey cures as early as the 1810s (Bourquin 1963). Survey statistics indicate that scenic beauty and personal health concerns remain the major reasons for tourists visiting Interlaken even now. Most modern tourists seek health through sports, such as skiing, hiking, tennis, swimming, horseback riding, golfing, or sailing, rather than through the goat whey cures of one hundred seventy years ago. Countless rail- and cableways allow hikers and skiers to get as close to high-altitude nature as technologically possible, and indoor saunas and hot tubs in most of the luxury hotels built around the turn of the twentieth century allow for the tourist's healthy return to civilization.

Outsiders referred to the area as Interlaken, but until the Reformation in the sixteenth century, Interlaken was only a monastery surrounded by three villages and one town. It was only in the late nineteenth century that the hotels, guesthouses, and businesses around the old monastery secured for themselves the name Interlaken (Latin for "between the lakes"). Town and village rights among the five communities remain carefully separated, with each village maintaining its own political leadership and administration. Until the advent of tourism, dairy farming was the main occupation. The number of farmers has steadily declined, following the general trend in Switzerland, and today service occupations outnumber farming and industry (Schweizerischer Alpkataster 1978). Interlaken has two thousand three hundred inhabitants (as of the 1980 census), a population swamped by the two thousand six hundred commuters who arrive there every day for work. The total population of the five villages is nine thousand, and at peak tourist season, close to that many tourists can be accommodated.


Besides relishing nature and health benefits, tourists also wish to be entertained. The foreign tourists in the nineteenth century belonged to the social elite — members of various European royal families were regular guests, and in response, classical music evenings and gambling in a specially built casino were made available (Schärli 1984). Today, for a different clientele, bars and international guest star performances are common; but as in the early days, a superb classical orchestra plays during the summer months.

Throughout the last one hundred years, however, locals, and in particular those professionals not directly involved with tourism — teachers, doctors, merchants, and lawyers — have felt that tourists should be offered representations of the local culture as well. This sentiment was repeatedly voiced in local newspapers, with the memory of Unspunnen convincing them that it was authentic cowherders' and peasant culture, which enticed visitors to come. Even though an ever-increasing proportion of area residents made their living in the tourist industry, locals nonetheless felt that Interlaken and the surrounding area did represent authentic cowherders' culture and, furthermore, that it was possible to stage, perform, or parade this emblematic culture.


In 1805, the year of the first Unspunnen festival, tourism hardly existed as a concept. Travelers were inspired by the romantic notions expressed in Rousseau's and possibly Herder's writings, as well as the early literary travel reflections of Goethe and others. The turmoil of the French Revolution, and the drastic governmental changes brought about by Napoleon's occupation of most of Europe — including Switzerland — provided the backdrop. Napoleon's army stayed in Switzerland until 1802, and under his reign, the valleys surrounding Interlaken received unprecedented autonomy (Jorin 1913).

For more than six hundred years, those valleys had fought for independence from the city of Bern, and Napoleon finally granted them a separate cantonal status (Robé 1972). When Napoleon left, Interlaken and its surroundings once again fell under the government of Bern, a state which the locals did not approve of. In this situation of potential rebellion and internal war, the Bern government came up with the idea of the Cowherder's Festival in Unspunnen. Thus, the festival was anything but an innocent celebration of folk culture, but rather was instead intended as an occasion for reconciliation between the folk of the valleys and the city, nobility, and government representatives (Sammlung 1805; Spreng 1946).

As a source of international publicity (fueled by Madame de Staël and others) the Unspunnen festival was a great success. As a political move of reconciliation by the Bern government, it was a great failure. Rather than placating the various valleys, the organizers created jealousy among the folk performers from the more distant valleys who traveled to Interlaken to show their "traditions." Folk performers felt only recognition for their performance but no long-term gains from having participated, while Interlaken reaped all the long-term profits. The central government in Bern may not have been displeased by this turn of events, as it allowed them to pursue a policy of divide and rule. The second Unspunnen festival in 1808 further familiarized folk performers with the idea of displaying their traditions for foreign visitors, but then the performances ceased. The idea of restaging the festival resurfaced toward the end of the nineteenth century, the time that Hobsbawm characterized as the prime period for inventing traditions (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983), and in 1903, preparations for the Unspunnen centennial began. One hundred years had wrought considerable change: if the first Unspunnen festival had been an occasion to parade local, alpine folk culture in front of foreign dignitaries, the twentieth-century revivals increasingly turned into displays of Swiss folk culture for fellow Swiss.

The political circumstances of the first Unspunnen staging have long been forgotten. Cultural preservationist organizations such as the Swiss Society for Folk Costume, the Swiss Association for Folk Music, and associations dedicated to organizing and preserving Swiss traditional sports have now become the sponsors of the Unspunnen revivals — not the Bern government. Many of the active performers are city dwellers who have taken courses in how to sew their regional folk costumes, or sing songs of their folk past, and they travel to Interlaken to celebrate their efforts at maintaining Swiss traditional culture. While foreign tourists vacationing in Interlaken may attend the Unspunnen revivals, it is primarily Swiss who come in droves to watch or participate.

The Napoleonic era was synonymous with the rise of nationalism, and attempts to establish images of native culture through large displays for outside consumption were common throughout Europe. Nineteenth-century industrialization brought both massive cultural changes and the disappearance of those aspects of native, pastoral, or agricultural society celebrated by the Romantics. Regional and national societies for the preservation of "traditional" culture sprang up; it is thus unsurprising that such groups reinterpreted Unspunnen as an original effort in cultural preservation rather than the politically motivated display it had been.

The German historian and folklorist Hans Moser called Unspunnen "clean folklorismus" — "folklorismus," because the event was organized and did not take place spontaneously as a matter of tradition, and "clean" because the performers were, in Moser's opinion, "real cowherds who performed their sports, songs, and dances without any sense of performance routine and without reflected intent." According to Moser, the performances were "authentic" except for the fact that they were staged (1964, 27). This element of the early folklorismus debate well illustrates the morass that a discussion of folklore versus folklorismus or genuine versus spurious leads to. Having made the distinction, Moser and others then felt a need to differentiate between good and bad, or clean and spoiled folklorismus — distinctions that, as we can see from the development of Unspunnen, were not only irrelevant to the performers but that sidestepped the sociopolitical context of such displays. Furthermore, the quotation attests to how deeply scholars from the second half of the twentieth century believed in the spontaneity of true tradition, rather than recognizing the all-important role organizers or performers play in the maintenance and alteration of cultural facts.


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Table of Contents

Culture and Value: An Introduction

Section I

Introduction: Creating, Owning, and Narrating within Tourist Economies

1. Tourism and Cultural Display: Inventing Traditions for Whom?

2. On the Road to Fiction: Narrative Reification in Austrian Cultural Tourism

3. Fairy Tale Activists: Narrative Imaginaries along a German Tourist Route (with Dorothee Hemme)

4. Capitalizing on Memories Past, Present and Future: Observations on the Intertwining of Tourism and Narration

Section II

Introduction: Heritage Semantics, Heritage Regimes

5. Heredity, Hybridity and Heritage from One Fin-de-Siècle to the Next

6. Heritage between Economy and Politics: An Assessment from the Perspective of Cultural Anthropology

7. Inheritances: Possession, Ownership, and Responsibility

8. The Dynamics of Valorizing Culture: Actors and Shifting Contexts in the Course of a Century

Section III

Introduction: Culture as Resource—Culture as Property

9. Expressive Resources. Knowledge, Agency, and European Ethnology

10. Daily Bread, Global Distinction? The German Bakers' Craft and Cultural Value-Enhancement Regimes

11. TK, TCE, and Co: The Path from Culture as a Commons to a Resource for International Negotiation

12. Patronage and Preservation: Heritage Paradigms and Their Impact on Supporting "Good Culture"


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