John Urry is a sociologist, and head of the sociology department at the University of Lancashire in the UK. His main objective was to construct a distinctive sociology of Tourism. He was also interested in the culture of consumption, and in particular, he wanted to investigate how consumption patterns were shifting from those that had been characteristic of an era known as Fordist mass production, to those of the present.
The term Fordism refers to the way of life dominated by mass production. Henry Ford, to describe the assembly line production regime in his factories, invented the term “mass production” in 1926. Today, in this Post Fordist era, consumption is no longer determined by what the producers choose to produce, but instead, production is now organised around what the consumer wants to consume.
Urry became interested in Tourism because it was one of the obvious forms of consumption in which assembly line techniques had never been applied. Therefore “tourism” was an ideal laboratory in which to try out his ideas on Post Fordist consumption.
Urry argues is that there are systematic ways of seeing what we as tourists look at, and that these ways can be described and explained. He uses five levels in which to analyse this notion: historical, economic, social, cultural and visual.
Different tourists, according to the influences placed upon them in their lifetime are drawn to different areas of Tourism, rural, urban, cultural, industrial and heritage.
John Urry did not invent the concept the “Gaze”, the basis of it actually came from Michael Foucault who created the concept in connection with the history of medicine. It came into circulation when Foucault wrote about medical doctors developing ways of regarding people as “patients” and “cases” in which the doctor’s proprietary ways of looking come to define the diagnosis. For example, the male dominated medical science once believed that women were able to suffer from hysteria and male doctors therefore learned to treat their female patients as if this were a real disease, powerful narcotic drugs and invasive operations were performed using hysteria as an excuse. If women were to object, this would be another symptom of their hysteria. Of course, it is known now that doctors were wrong about hysteria, and that much of the problem lay in the way in which a male-dominated profession of “experts” were allowed to treat their female patients. Their “Gaze” created illusions and hysteria was the mirage.
The Gaze concept, therefore, is a way of looking at things that is widely applied in cultural studies at the moment.
Urry simply applied this “Gaze” to tourism.
The Tourist Gaze is a way of talking about the ways in which tourists learn to look at places that they might visit. Before they actually travel, the tourist is highly likely to have expectations about what should be present at the destination. They will want to see these things when they arrive, and they will want to be able to acquire what’s known as visual souvenirs of what they see, (in other words photos).
There needs to be a wide “support” system in order for the Tourist Gaze to exist. Image-makers, destination marketers and people who undertake to accommodate the tourist visit. Airlines, hotel owners, resort owners, resort chambers of commerce are all trying to cash in on the Tourist Gaze. They certainly manipulate the image for tourist publications.
It is important for us to realise, however, that although Urry uses the term the Tourist Gaze, he emphasises on the fact that it is quite variable. He is eager to point out that there is not one Tourist Gaze but several, which change over time and varies from person to person and group to group.
I have chosen Paris as an example of the Tourist Gaze and the illusions that are attached to it. Whilst it is an obvious choice, Paris is generally well known to everyone. This is a generalisation so bear in mind that some of this information will not apply to everyone. We have been socialised from a young age to see Paris as the city of “Love”. A city full of romance and culture and of course home to the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysee, Notre Dame and The Louvre. These are the sights tourists will go to Paris to see. The “gaze that they have acquired is an illusion of Paris in particular, the illusion of the Eiffel Tower.
The Eiffel Tower to tourists, is in a sense Paris, “you haven’t been to Paris if you haven’t been to the Eiffel Tower”. It is seen as an amazing work of architecture, the very essence of Paris, this is what we have been socialised to think. However, the side the tourist will not acknowledge in their Gaze is the negative sides of the Eiffel Tower. There are beggars swarming the area in order to manipulate the tourist into getting some money. Whilst some of them do perhaps have no other option but to beg, others actually work in “gangs” and it is there job to harass tourists into getting money.
Many of them know how to ask for the money in several languages, if they are refused they also know how to swear in more than just their mother tongue. The Parisians strangely enough do not feel the same way as tourists, they mainly find the Eiffel Tower an eyesore and do not appreciate it at all the way that tourists do. When the tourists return home, their illusions are not always shattered, their visual souvenirs will generally not be contaminated with these pitfalls, but instead be the epitome of their Gaze.