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Title: Church tourism : representation and cultural practice
Author: Watson, Stephen
ISNI:       0000 0001 2442 5511
Awarding Body: University of York
Current Institution: University of York
Date of Award: 2007
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The purpose of this study is to examine the representation of English parish churches as tourist attractions and the processes by which heritage tourism is constructed as a cultural practice. The subject has yielded an intensely critical canon of literature since the 1980s, which has drawn attention issues such as commodification, dissonance and authenticity. An important early question, therefore, is the extent to which heritage can be framed as a useful concept in social science or whether it is simply an object of study and deconstruction. Latterly more attention has been focused on the role and construction of the heritage as process, the study of which reveals a discourse in which national identities and power relations playa significant part. These in tum are expressed within a performative framework characterised by the representational practices ofagencies involved in tourism. Parish churches are seen as material examples of the heritage, are common features of the landscape, and often the oldest building in the locality. As such they form an essential component of the imagery and place mythology of the English Countryside. Tourism agencies and the higher authorities of the Church are active in representing these buildings as, and within, touristic space so as to add cultural capital to the attraction value of destinations and to bolster the Church's role in regional government. In doing so they employ representational practices that draw on the rural-historic, an established cultural construction related to the authorised heritage discourse, that supports national identity and social cohesion. This study employs a mainly qualitative approach to identify the key representational practices associated with church tourism and the variations in such practices that exist within the organisation ofthe Church itself, and between the church and other powerful agencies. It also examines the perceptions, attitudes and behaviours of church tourists and attempts to gain insights on their ~esponse to these practices. The research reveals, through its bricolage, a duality in the response of churches to tourism between passivity and additionality in r / relation to both representational and spatial practices. Additionality expresses an engagement with the processes of creating and managing heritage attracti~ns whereas passivity describes ambivalence about the value of tourism and a reluctance to take on this additional role. The research suggests, therefore, that the role of churches as tourist attractions is contested, often within the Church itself Visitors may feel awkward acting as tourists within a church and there is often little there to support their presence as such. Churches do not appear, therefore, to be fully achieved as tourist attractions and the reasons for this are explored in relation to the cultural work that churches already do, as well as their residual social authority and the perceptions of tourists. It is proposed that without the interventions of Church and State, and the conventional representations of heritage, people and communities might find in churches a more direct and transparent engagement between past and present and between themselves and the places they both occupy and visit.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available