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“The Tourist” by Dean MacCannell and the Concept of Authenticity Essay

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,,The Tourist”

Tourism is rarely viewed through the social theory lens and the concept itself can hardly attract the attention of people who are not engaged in scholarly work. Dean MacCannell, however, managed not only to disclose the concept of tourism, but to involve other scholars into the discussion of culture, authenticity, cultural experiences, the construction of social reality, moral integration, social solidarity, and the like issues which he connects with tourism and touristic experiences. His book “The Tourist” was written in 1976 and is often referred to as “a classic analysis of the tourist industry” (Guash and Zulaika, p. 179) for it discusses important aspects of tourist experience which almost do not change with time. These aspects may be regarded as universal because what is written in MacCannell’s book is easily applicable to any tourist; the information presented in the book helps to define the true purposes of tourists and the expectations any tourist has about his/her journey. The classic status of “The Tourist” by Dean MacCannell can be justified today, because this study can explain the intentions of even modern tourists; it pays due attention to cultural issues, which is always topical, and is filled with examples of touristic experiences which help to illustrate the author’s ideas and add proper emotional coloring to the book.

“The Tourist” wrangles over the issue of authenticity helping to define which purposes the tourists pursue when beginning their journey. This is one of the things which make the book a classic study on tourism, because the modern society is represented by the mass leisure with tourists’ searching for authenticity which, according to them, is absent from everyday life. MacCannell presents modern society as “complicated, competitive, rat racy, dog-eat-dog, racist, exploitative, slick, superficial and corrupt,”(MacCannell 145) which emphasizes the modern tourists’ desire to seek for authenticity even more. There is no wonder that in such a society the issue of authenticity is being paid so much attention to. Nevertheless, MacCannell believes that the tourists’ quest for authenticity is a mere disguise because “not all travelers are concerned about seeing behind the scenes in the places they visit. On occasion, and for some visitors, back regions are obtrusive” (MacCannell, p. 96). Therefore, the study suggests that tourists are unwilling to discover unpleasant truths about the countries they visit, which totally contradicts their initial desire to search for authenticity. Such a contradiction is typical for the modern tourists as well, which makes this study applicable in the modern society.

Despite this, MacCannell does not seem to criticize the tourists, presenting them as people who try to reach “beyond the frontiers of existing society” (MacCannell, p. 183) and explore cultural otherness. Cultural issues are widely discussed in the book, which makes it interesting even for the modern readers. The book abounds with discussions of culture in connection with nature, language, and society. MacCannell expresses an idea that “it is only culture – not empirical social relations – that can provide a basis for the modern community” (MacCannell, p. 32). Throughout the book, he argues with Marx’s views on culture and its role in the modern society, as well as his conviction that “culture is the original system of signification and the original reflection” (MacCannell, p. 22). The author also discusses culture with respect to tourism; he states that culture of underdeveloped countries has long stopped attracting the tourists’ attention because these countries “export” their culture” (MacCannell, p. 29) to the rest of the world. This and a number of other issues discussed in the book can be interesting to the modern reader (and a tourist as well), which makes this study classic.

Finally, the book contains specific examples of touristic experiences allowing the modern reader to evaluate these experiences and compare them to his/her own ones. MacCannell inserts into the study little stories told by people who visited different countries and their tourist experience there. This helps to get information about these countries and gives the readers a possibility to agree or disagree with the conclusions made by the author on the basis of these experiences. These little stories allow MacCannell to support his ideas and demonstrate the truthfulness of his findings. They also prevent the book from being boring or overwhelmed with unknown concepts. Using narratives in a book, and in a study especially, makes it more authentic and saturates it with emotions, which facilitates the reader’s perception of the book. Thus, touristic experiences presented in the study make it interesting for any kind of the reader including the modern one, which means that the study can be regarded as classic.

Taking this into consideration, MacCannell’s “The Tourist” can indeed be regarded as classic in the literature on tourism. Firstly, this study presents a universal image of a tourist, irrespective of the age. Secondly, this study is a collection of ideas on culture and its connection with society, language, and nature, which is often discussed even in the modern world. Finally, MacCannell supports his ideas with the tourist experiences presented in the form of stories, which makes the study interesting for a modern reader. The fact that this book is interesting for a person of any epoch makes it a classic study of its kind.


  1. Summaries

Clark Power: “Moral Education” (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008).

The author of this study states that the nature of authenticity is idiosyncratic. Power does not state directly that there is no such thing as authenticity, but he keeps to an idea that people themselves define what authenticity means for them. He believes that defining what is authentic is a personal matter of everybody,

Because we all have our own set of values, attributes, and life goals, we have our own criteria for living […] authentic lives. Others judge our authenticity by determining the congruence of our words with our actions, and we measure our own authenticity by how we feel about the choices we make (Power, p. 16).

The author also states that the idiosyncratic nature of authenticity explains the fact that “there are often conflicts between the values we internalize from others and the choices that we make” (Power, p.16).

Power claims that the concept of authenticity is self-contradictory. He mentions that in order to live an authentic life, a person should follow his/her own values. However, any values that a person has are, as a rule, instilled by other people, which means that the life the person lives is not authentic at all. Lastly, Power states that the person’s authenticity depends on his/her independence; thus, a person cannot lead an authentic life as long as his/her personal freedoms are bound by laws which are present in the modern societies. These laws are observed and perceived as higher power since they are meant to protect the common good. From this it derives that there is no place for authenticity in the world ruled by laws and that authenticity has a chance for existence only when the laws are eliminated.

Bernard Lewis: “From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East” (Oxford University Press US, 2004).

Though this study does not deal with authenticity directly, its author still devotes a great part of it to the discussion of this concept. The study itself is dedicated to the ancient literature and its translation to the world languages. While discussing the role of dragomans in this translation, the author slightly moves to the issue of truth and authenticity which he interrelates. Lewis belongs to those authors who deny the existence of authenticity because, as he states, evidence as such is meaningless and thus, there is no evidence that authenticity exists: “All evidence is … born free and equal. And since there is no such thing as truth, there is no such thing as authenticity; these are irrelevant and meaningless, even misleading concepts” (Lewis, p. 387).

This taken into account, Lewis asserts that distinguishing between good and bad evidence is senseless for all the evidence is meaningless and all the evidence can be falsified. Such an approach, according to him, has a dual purpose for “it makes it possible both to discredit good evidence and to validate bad evidence, and this helps enormously in the process of falsification” (Lewis 387). Since any evidence can be falsified, Lewis sees no sense in proving the authenticity of the evidence. Thus, if there is no evidence which proves the existence of authenticity, the latter simply cannot exist.

Lewis’s ideas regarding the existence of authenticity seems to be reasonable, but he says nothing about the power to define what is authentic. Nevertheless, his study is valuable because it allows considering one more view on the concept of authenticity.

Joseph Forgas, Kipling Williams, Simon Laham: “Social Motivation: Conscious and Unconscious Processes” (Cambridge University Press, 2005).

The authors of this study disagree with the idea that authenticity does not exist. They believe that “despite its elusiveness, authenticity deserves its place alongside other critical aspects of the human condition that define who we are and what we are able to become” (Forgas, Williams, and Laham 225). This study in general is dedicated to social motivation and social motives which people are driven with while making decisions. However, one of the chapters of the second part of this study deals with authenticity.

These authors do not deny the existence of authenticity. On the contrary, this part of their work is dedicated to defining this notion more precisely by means of reviewing the findings of other scholars regarding this issue. Thus, they believe that “authenticity is rooted in subjective internal experiences that have implications for one’s self-knowledge, understanding, and their relationship to behavior” (Forgas et al. 210). The authors of this study view authenticity from the perspective of psychology presenting its multicomponent conceptualization, rather than questioning its existence as such. They link authenticity with such concepts as self-understanding, self-knowledge, self-regulation, integrity, as well as sensitivity, behavioral choices, and one’s true self.

Thus, the scholars believe that “authenticity does not reflect a compulsion to be one’s true self, but rather the free and natural expression of core feelings, motives, and inclinations” (Forgas et al. 217). Finally, the scholars mention that authenticity helps to construct individual difference and delineate features of optimal self-esteem. Therefore, these authors strive to understand and explain authenticity instead of proving whether it does or does not exist.

Jacob Golomb: “In Search of Authenticity: from Kierkegaard to Camus” (Routledge, 1995).

In this study Golomb tries to understand the notion of authenticity through reviewing the works of other writers and philosophers, such as Sartre, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Camus, and others. The author notices that all these writers “agree in principle that any positive definition of authenticity would be self-nullifying” (Golomb 7). The author emphasizes that the notion of authenticity is hard to explain and research because it is currently used in many different contexts. However, it is namely the philosophical nature of the concept’s meaning that the author finds the most disturbing. Golomb believes that “even to speak of ‘the nature of its meaning’ is misleading, since it implies a kind of essentialism, a perspective of objectivity which is foreign to authenticity” (Golomb 7). Golomb states that authenticity has nothing to do with the objective language, while those are such notions as honesty and sincerity that deal with objective language directly; he also agrees with Sartre that authenticity can be a negative notion for it is something that people try to escape as soon as they become aware of it. Proving this idea, Golomb refers to Sartre’s Being and Nothingness and his description of human reality as “being which is what it is not and which is not what it is” (Cited by Golomb, p. 7). The author asserts that the denial of the existence of authenticity may prove that it exists; he concludes that “its presence is in its absence, in the passionate search for it, in authenticity and in various acts of ‘bad faith’” (Golomb, p. 7).

Havi Carel: “Life and Death in Freud and Heidegger” (Rodopi, 2006).

The author of this study explores the works of Freud and Heidegger in order to give an explanation to such concepts as life and death. A part of his study is devoted to the discussion of connection between death and authenticity (this idea belongs to Heidegger and Carel argues with it). Carel himself expresses an idea that “pure authenticity does not exist [and] that Dasein is inherently a being-with” (Carel 186). The author offers an alternative understanding of authenticity according to which authenticity is dependent on inauthenticity and these two concepts are intertwining with each other. By reviewing the works of Freud and Heidegger, Carel tries to contrast their opinions and to work out a unified view on the issue of authenticity.

When exploring connection between death and authenticity, Carel tries to refute Heidegger’s idea that death is “positive force because it is the condition of authenticity” (Carel, p. 186). When discussing this problem, Carel mentions such concepts as conscience and superego which are included into Heidegger’s understanding of Dasein. Using these concepts, Carel demonstrates rationality, unification, and self-transparency of Dasein explaining “how Dasein can be both the authentic caller and the inauthentic addressee of the call of conscience” (Carel, p. 187). Finally, Carel tries to argue with Heidegger’s claim that a person can reach authenticity only if he/she encounters his/her own death for, as Heidegger stated, “encounter with our own death enables the transformation to authenticity” (Carel, p. 187). After contrasting this idea with Freud’s claim that “the unconscious cannot grasp its own death” (Carel, p. 187), the author draws a conclusion that “death is indeed present in the unconscious, as the discarded portion of inauthenticity’ (Carel 187).

Ross Lawford: The Quest for Authentic Power: Getting Past Manipulation, Control, and Self-Limiting Beliefs (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2002).

The author of this study does not recognize the existence of authenticity as such. He explores the issue of authentic power which, according to him, an individual may possess if he/she is true to his/her authentic Self. He defines authenticity as a power to control one’s ego which, as a rule, subdues an individual and following which a person loses the touch with his/her own true Self. According to Lawford,

Authentic power is evidenced only as we reconnect with our true Selves and allow that part of us to direct our lives. In other words, authentic power comes from being authentic. The authentic Self is the only authority we need to be truly powerful; it is the Source of true power (p. 43).

Lawford also believes that the power of authenticity is a part of every person this is why it is available to everyone. However, as stated by the author, the one who would like to obtain this power should be ready to take responsibility for it because “respons-ability”, as Lawford calls it, comes together with authority.

In addition, the author suggests an idea that the power of authenticity is “quietly efficient and confidently effective” (Lawford, p. 43). Lawford mentions that people who possess the power of authenticity should not necessarily be of high social rank, nor are such people eager to climb career ladders or satisfy their ambitions. He presents them as “people living their purpose, people providing leadership but not caring who gets the credit, and people who understand that “who they are makes difference” (Lawford, p. 43).

  1. The Areas of Consensus and Disagreement

The review of the studies discussed above has shown that the majority of the authors (three out of six) agree with the idea that authenticity does not exist, but only one of them, namely Lawford, expressed an opinion that authenticity consists in possessing authentic power. The studies can be roughly divided into three main groups, such as those who support the idea that authenticity exists, those who deny this idea, and those who have a neutral position regarding this issue. There was only one study, that by Forgas et al., which tried to prove the existence of authenticity. Lewis, Carel, and Lawford are the opponents of Forgas et al. because the aim of their studies is to prove that authenticity does not exist. Lastly, there are two authors, Power and Golomb, whose ideas regarding this issue are neutral. At this it should be mentioned, that the authors belonging to one and the same group may have different opinions regarding separate areas which the problem in question can spread to, as well as those from different groups may agree in certain areas.

Apart from Lawford, another two authors, Lewis and Carol, deny the existence of authenticity. Lewis refuses to accept an idea that authenticity may exist because he recognizes no evidence that prove its existence (to be more exact, Lewis does not recognize evidence as such; moreover, he believes that any evidence can be falsified this is why there is no sense in it). Carel, in his turn, has a hesitant position regarding the inexistence of authenticity. He assumes that authenticity can exist, but only as intertwining with inauthenticity and being dependent on it. His view is similar to that of Golomb who, though he does not state clearly his position on this issue, believes that the existence of authenticity may be only proved by its absence. However, while Carel directly denies the existence of authenticity, Golomb still finds its existence conceivable, though rather meaningless.

The study by Forgas et al. is the only one which contradicts to the idea that authenticity does not exist. The authors of this study believe that namely authenticity constructs individual differences for it guides people’s behavioral choices. However, there is a point where these authors disagree with Lawford. Forgas at el. claims that being one’s true self is not necessary to possess authenticity, while Lawford is rather persuasive about the idea that only reconnection with a true Self may bring a person authentic powers. However, these two studies have an issue they both agree with. Lawford claims that the power of authenticity is available to everyone; Forgas et al. is supportive of this idea for this study tries to prove the connection of authenticity with self-understanding and self-knowledge which are also available for every individual. Lastly, Lawford, Forgas, and Power may be found as agreeing with the idea that each person has his/her own criteria for defining authenticity. These criteria depend on the person’s attitude towards life, his/her self-understanding and responsibility.

  1. My Understanding of the Theme

I should admit that my understanding of the theme was strongly influenced by the works of the scholars whose ideas I was analyzing. I used to completely agree with the statement that “There is no such thing as authenticity, just the power to define what is authentic”. Moreover, I thought that there would be a great amount of literature with scholars’ discussing the power to define what is authentic and the concept of authenticity as such. I was surprised to see that the power to define what is authentic is almost never discussed by the scholars. Neither is the problem of whether authenticity exists raised too often. The scholars mostly discuss the meaning of authenticity (or the absence of such) and provide general information of what authenticity is all about.

What I was influenced by was the scholars’ almost absolute unity of opinion that authenticity does not exist. I, for one, do not deny its existence. I simply agree with the idea that authenticity is the power to define what is authentic. The works of such scholars as Lewis, Carel, Lawford, and partially Golomb try to prove that authenticity does not exist at all or that its existence is senseless. I was not intend to pursue this idea at first, but I cannot state that I strongly disagree with it. Though I still keep to the point that authenticity does exist, but only as a power to define what is authentic, I would also like to consider the idea of its existence as such in future.

Works Cited

  1. Carel, Havi. Life and Death in Freud and Heidegger. London: Rodopi, 2006.
  2. Forgas, Joseph P., Williams, Kipling D., and Laham, Simon M. Social Motivation: Conscious and Unconscious Processes. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  3. Golomb, Jacob. In Search of Authenticity: from Kierkegaard to Camus. New York: Routledge, 1995.
  4. Guash, Ana M. and Zulaika, Joseba. Learning from the Bilbao Guggenheim. Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2005.
  5. Lawford, Ross G. The Quest for Authentic Power: Getting Past Manipulation, Control, and Self-Limiting Beliefs. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2002.
  6. Lewis, Bernard. From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East. New York: Oxford University Press US, 2004.
  7. MacCannell, Dean. The Tourist: a New Theory of the Leisure Class. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999.
  8. Power, Clark F. Moral Education. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008.
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