Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Mapping the Travel Guide

(Final Proposal)
How do westernized travel guides, and the point-of-interest maps that they contain, change the way travelers experience places and the paths created between them? Do these recommended destinations, or points-of-interest, overshadow the experience of reaching them and thus promote passive/detached travel?
In exploring these questions and a few others, I plan on tapping into a few different texts. I will draw from de Certeau in analyzing the difference between places and spaces, consequently inspecting the implications of point-of-interest maps and how they specifically shape the representation of places and valorize destinations over paths. Point-of-interest maps in travel guides tend to greatly simplify geographical areas in order to show large, obtrusive icons of POIs creating a representation much like that of a connect-the-dots book for children. Travelers are encouraged, through the graphic presentation of a list of "must-see places", to find the fastest route between the destinations and are given very few alternate possibilities for maneuvering the space. With simplified maps that present a collapse of the heterogeneity of places (through graphic representation they become all the same), POI maps "colonize space", in the words of Lisa Parks, and become capitalist satellites, reaching their tentacles into the foreign world. POIs become branded recommendations of the travel guide corporations that commodify previously undiscovered, local destinations and create "tourist traps", the ugly product of capitalist expansion. As destinations change as a result of the constant flow of tourists, the travel guide moves on in constant search of the latest and greatest (discarding those places that no longer meet rating standards to let them be devoured by the scars left behind by capitalism). Some destinations adapt to meet rating systems, becoming new westernized capitalist outposts that provide a safe haven for those tourists that wish to see new geographical areas without activating the attached cultural space. Here, I will explore Robbins in his concept of travel/cosmopolitanism as detachment. Not only do the effects of the commodification of the tourist destination show detachment, but also POI maps present a complete detachment from cultural space, consolidating cultural monuments of massive historical significance into a series of icons and branded destinations. The user may select the path to viewing these destinations, but because they are presented with the serious limitations of simplified representation, the user inevitably follows a recommended path (if only following the travel guide). Therefore, in order to experience new paths, the traveler must reject the travel guide completely, or supplement it with other maps. In this way, travel guides valorize their branded, recommended destinations over the paths that lead to them, presenting a hierarchy of places over spaces. Because space requires actualization, travel guides (when utilized exclusively) promote passive travel and detachment from culture (although they try to mask this by presenting a concise cultural summary as an introduction to the book).
I also plan on drawing from: Tsing, Anderson, and various travel guides (past and present)

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