Cultures of Interpretation

Timothy Winter

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapterpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


As tourists we frequently find ourselves acting as amateur anthropologists. If a trip to a heritage visitor centre involves encountering visitors or tour groups from other countries it is hard to resist leaping to conclusions about the behaviour – sometimes perceived as rude – of those Germans, Italians, Americans or Koreans across the room. All too often those conclusions rest on clichés. But to dismiss such observations out of hand would be to close down a fascinating and potentially fruitful line of enquiry. Clearly, it would be foolish to suggest that our spectrum of cultural differences are somehow erased or transcended as we take on the role of ‘the tourist’. But to identify national traits risks the criticism of sweeping generalisations, or worse, of even being racist. So how are we to safely read and differentiate between the behaviours of tourists originating from different parts of the world? The boundary that separates rigorous, analytically sound accounts from unfounded generalisations is not always readily apparent. Perhaps most treacherous is identifying appropriate geographical scales or ethno-cultural axes for making assertions about motivations, desires or discernible characteristics. At what point is it valid to speak of Asian, European, Western, French, Hindu Indian, or North American traits? By analysing the changing nature of tourism in Asia today and the impact this will have on the presentation or ‘interpretation’ of heritage sites, this chapter ventures down such treacherous and murky roads. Moving between a number of geographical and historical scales, the account is schematic rather than being narrowly prescriptive, and as such, it incurs the risks that accompany generalisations. Nevertheless, various avenues of enquiry are pursued here in the hope that they offer some fresh perspectives on heritage interpretation and cast light on matters that have yet to receive the attention they deserve.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHeritage and Tourism: Place, encounter, engagement
EditorsRussell Staiff, Robyn Bushell, Steve Watson
Place of PublicationLondon
ISBN (Electronic)9780203074619
ISBN (Print)9780415532648, 9780415532655
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameKey Issues in Cultural Heritage


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