Book review: Counter-Tourism: the Handbook
Here is a treat for anyone who has wandered round a historic site, bored by the expected and provided routes and interpretations. Counter-Tourism by Crab Man (Triarchy Press 2012) is a challenge, an invitation and a license for the gentle naughtiness of doing the unexpected thing.
Walking through the rooms of some stately home at your own unpredictable speeds, seeing how much dust you can collect, wandering round the outside of a property….the principles embedded here are about independence, imagination and personal experience. A lot of these activities remind me of how young children get to know a place. They wander. They run or walk or just stop and look under beds and wonder about secrets, treasures and horrible hidden stories.
That sense of childish exploration is what makes these ideas interesting for me from a magical perspective. There are activities here that might help us step out of our own preconceptions of a site and meet it afresh. We might find new experiences that could shape words or ceremonies or suggest new places for meditations. Simply reviewing how we meet a site – whether it is one we know well or one we are encountering for a first time, there is an opportunity for improvisation, ideas to structure an intriguing walking meditation or to encourage a mindful awareness
There is an underlying cynicism about the heritage industry: “Visitor centres are machines for the contraction, disguise, obscuring and hollowing out of the places they propose themselves as portals to”. Maybe not entirely fair – we all know of effective interpretation that invites us in and welcomes us to a place without controlling too much and limiting our experience too much (or I hope we do!). And that perspective may upset some professionals, seeing themselves as skilled interpreters of a place, the people who know best. But the theme here (that I endorse fully) is that visitors deserve the freedom to take what they will from a place, echoing arguments that people learn what they want to learn and learn best when they are choosing their own learning styles – and also that every site offers far more to experience than we offer in our planned interpretive and educational experiences. (And if that ruffles a few interpretive feathers, they probably needed the ruffling!)
People explore places in their own ways and this book champions that independence. Counter-tourism offers visitors some sneaky alternatives to the often controlled and sanitised experiences we are offered at sites, inviting us to find our own ways of getting to know a place. And for all those professionals who reckon they’ve got their interpretation processes sussed, these books challenge us to explore sites in new ways, offering activities to shake conceptions a bit.
So have a read, have a think, wander, try and do, use these activities or just relax into some new ones of your own – as an interpreter, as a visitor or simply as someone out to get to know this world we walk on.
For more information on counter-tourism, visit the Counter-Tourism website.