Toerisme in de arena : een sociologische reflectie op de betekenis van toeristische attractievorming voor de sociale en fysiek-ruimtelijke omgeving in de Euregio Maas-Rijn

R. Brouwer

    Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


    This thesis considers the significance of touristic-recreational processes for the physical/spatial and social environment. It will become clear that the construction of tourist attractions takes place in a context of opposing and competing claims. This emerges from a study of the strategies deployed by environmental organisations, municipal and regional administrators, tourist entrepreneurs and inhabitants of the Meuse-Rhine Euregio in appropriating the environment for their own or collective interests. A study of these strategies illuminates the way in which the construction of attractions manifests itself as an environment issue. The social and physical-spatial environment considered in this thesis is the countryside. The specific sectional interests that are decisive to the social, symbolic and material design of the countryside are examined. In order to gain a better understanding of the specific characteristics of attractions, the extent to which sub-regional attraction formation contributes to initiatives for cross-border regionalisation is also considered. The focus here is on the role played by boundaries in attraction formation.

    This thesis deals with attraction formation in terms of control and interpretation, whereby communicative action generates meanings and strategic actions for the establishment of social and physical-spatial structures. The research focuses primarily on the relationship between symbolic and strategic actions. This approach arises from the use of Habermas's The Theory of Communicative Action as an interpretative framework. Use of this theory means that special attention is given to the principles of rationality which direct the establishment of attractions. On the basis of the results obtained, it can be concluded that the construction of tourist attractions is not primarily or unilaterally dictated by considerations of material reproduction (profit, economic growth and success). The construction process is too complex for that. One-sidedness in the rationalisation process is prevented primarily by the existence of mutual dependencies: actors both oppose one another and need one another.

    It is indicated in this thesis that a partial overlap of interests leads to changing collaborations involving divergent actors. This puts the representation of the countryside into the hands of various actors. The deployment of communicative or instrumental resources is primarily determined by the extent of dependency. As dependency increases, the standard of action becomes communicative rather than strategic. In case of mutual dependency, purposive-rational action is not a very efficient way to get results.

    The research shows that in attraction formation, the world of ideas ("lifeworld") is interwoven with the world of material matters (the subsystems "market and state"). Processes of both symbolic and material reproduction underlie the establishment of attractions. Behind attraction formation is a complex world of interactions. Conservationists, government administrators, tourist entrepreneurs and the local population all fulfil a specific role in the establishment of tourist attractions in the countryside. They are all involved in different ways. Sometimes they have an direct involvement in the process; at other times they make an indirect contribution to regional touristic development. It also happens that some of them impose restrictions on the establishment of attractions. Divergent interests are at stake in the appropriation and design of countryside space for touristic ends, turning attraction formation into a competitive arena. Using strategies, actors try to create or (the reverse) limit the scope for touristic developments.

    Regarding attraction formation as a competitive arena, however, does not mean that opposing interests necessarily lead to conflicts or serious tensions. It becomes clear in this thesis that the actors are involved with one another in various ways, and that they generally succeed in reaching agreement. The different interests may also fit together. Rendering the environment subservient to tourism and recreation, therefore, is achieved in various ways. In the area being researched, there is no question of a colonisation of the lifeworld, where market mechanisms spread in such a way that phenomena essential to the symbolic reproduction are regulated by supply and demand, a danger in modern capitalist society pointed out by Habermas.

    The results of the survey (chapter 8) show that there is little reason for assuming that the local inhabitants interpret tourism in this manner. Curtailing communications in the lifeworld on the basis of purposive-rational actions is not always in the interests of the construction of tourist attractions, as the lifeworld plays an important role in creating a heterogeneous touristic reality. In attraction formation, the lifeworld does not function as a passive background against which tourism takes place. The lifeworld supplies resources that contribute to the unique nature of attractions. Attraction producers need the lifeworld to maintain the heterogeneity of their product, so unilateral purposive-rational actions are not worthwhile: "The requirements of attraction formation" mean one-sidedness is avoided in the rationalisation process. Attraction formation that is strongly linked to the lifeworld requires involvement, inspiration and solidarity. In that capacity, tourism takes on the character of an exchange process. It provides the local population with a framework for becoming more involved with one another and for expressing a local identity.

    Nevertheless, attraction formation should be regarded as a social process that takes place within an area where tension between divergent interests exists. This emerges primarily from a study of the actions of businesses in the tourist industry. An increasingly dynamic tourism and recreation market means that attraction producers must anticipate changing conditions more effectively. New tourism products must be produced more quickly in order to challenge the competition. In this context, standardisation in attraction formation takes on the significance of producing a superficial symbolism. This accelerated production and consumption of touristic meanings increases the countryside's function as cultural source, a source on which tourist entrepreneurs draw in order to reach different target groups. They praise the countryside as a world of peace and quiet, nostalgia, 'green' and harmony, offering ample possibilities for recreation. As well as this, the countryside as cultural source offers opportunities for generating economic profit (e.g. offering holiday homes as profitable investments).

    This process of symbolic appropriation as a response to market mechanisms brings with it the danger of meaning intensification, whereby one specific meaning of the countryside comes to dominate as a result of some unilateral development. The countryside then becomes entirely dominated by tourism. Touristic interests clearly prevail in that situation. The construction of a touristic reality encompasses a specific interpretation of rural life. As a result, certain (rural) activities no longer fit with the picture producers of attractions present to tourists. The business activities of modern farmers, for example, clash with tourists' image of the countryside as a world of nostalgia and tradition. Through the symbolic appropriation of the environment, producers of attractions indicate the interpretative margins of reality.

    It happens on occasion that tourists treat special activities of strong symbolic value to the local population - such as processions and other ceremonies - as amusement. This interpretation sometimes causes annoyance amongst the local population, and in the worst cases even resistance. In such situations, it is important that producers of attractions reach agreement with the local population on the meanings of rural life. However, the research shows that opportunities to hold such discussions often fail to materialise, primarily due to the administrators. This can be attributed to a lack of daring combined with neglect.

    However, communicative action in a situation of opposed or conflicting interests is not automatically successful. In some situations, for example, where the conflicting interests are considerable, strategic actions offer a solution. In order to deploy communicative action effectively in achieving objectives, negotiations with other actors should at the very least be well organised. For example, the dialogue between different actors in touristic platforms proved to be of little effect, because no clear consultative framework had been indicated in advance, and the resources necessary for effective negotiations (including a political basis) were lacking. A perception of mutual advantage is also a prerequisite for successful co-operation between actors. This was absent from the cross-border co-operation within the Meuse-Rhine Euregio. Furthermore, the pursuit of an identical concept for joint spatial planning turned out to be incompatible with the importance of a differentiated environment to attraction formation. Boundaries play an important role in regional tourist attractions: they contribute to the unique nature of the region.

    The importance of symbolic appropriation of the countryside in an adequate response to competition and changing consumer preferences does not necessarily mean that attraction formation consists only of an accumulation of commercial activities. Attraction formation also offers a framework for history, education about the countryside, and tradition. Tourism is more than the consumption of sensation and spectacle or a sum of invented realities. Attraction formation involves both the construction and the reflection of a reality, enabling attractions to grow into a meaningful framework.

    The commodification of the countryside, whereby cultural expression is given a price tag, also offers the local population a certain basis for experiencing continuity between old and new situations. For example, the symbolic reconstruction of the history of a village or region for touristic reasons brings the past back to life. Local traditions are then not only strategically deployed for the establishment of attractions; they also contribute to the symbolic reproduction of the lifeworld. Solidarity within a local community is thus not undermined by instrumental or strategic actions, but rather supported. This experience of mutual advantage indicates an interconnection between lifeworld and system. The local population evaluates developments in tourism on the basis of economic, aesthetic or normative considerations. They determine what is and what is not acceptable in the countryside. The research shows that it is primarily the economic advantages of tourism which are included in this evaluation. In brief: shared definitions of the situation are in part determined by economic interests.

    A colonisation of the lifeworld is also (indirectly) counteracted by the interpretative margins which tourists impose on entrepreneurs. Tourists do not accept everything, and their idea of what is beautiful or pleasant may be different from that of the producers. Producers of attractions must therefore ensure that the touristic interpretation of reality does not deviate too far from everyday reality (see chapter 2). As a result of this "imposed" interpretative margin, the difference between representation and reality seldom disappears entirely. If producers were to act solely on the basis of instrumental and strategic considerations, there would be a danger that the touristic product would not be in keeping with prevailing touristic preferences. This was the case with the environmental organisations. It is argued in chapter 5 that the involvement of environmental organisations in attraction formation is based too much on considerations of control (controlling touristic behaviour). Consequently, some touristic-recreational initiatives on the part of environmental organisations have failed.

    This thesis also shows that the battle for space is not wholly disadvantageous for businesses in the tourist industry. One advantage of the battle is "self protection". The battle for the environment often prevents proliferation, whereby rural resources are used and deployed for attraction formation alone, increasing the chances of the special environment being destroyed. The resistance of other actors prevents tourism dominating the countryside, and ensures that touristic plans are well thought-out in terms of their environmental consequences. In the battle for rural resources, the importance of conserving various characteristics is made clear to businesses in the tourist industry. Reactions from the social environment in which attractions exist prevent an intensification of the economic system in which there is no requirement for communication or aim for consensus. In a situation of permanent competition, the standard of action is strategic rather than communicative.

    Despite the criticisms of the theory of communicative action which have been expressed, the findings of this research show that this theory is of some value for touristic research. This value lies primarily in diagnostics. Using Habermas' concepts, the actions of the different actors involved in attraction formation can be studied from two different principles of rationality. In so doing, it becomes possible to indicate which interests in the battle for social and physical-spatial environment dominate, when they dominate, and what the consequences are for other interests.

    Original languageDutch
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Nooij, A.T.J., Promotor
    • Lengkeek, J., Co-promotor, External person
    Award date5 Mar 1999
    Place of PublicationS.l.
    Print ISBNs9789058080042
    Publication statusPublished - 1999


    • tourism
    • tourist attractions
    • recreation
    • rural communities
    • physical planning
    • physical geography
    • landscape conservation
    • social environment
    • tourism policy
    • netherlands
    • identity

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