Critical Pioneers: The Short Interviews Season – 5. Dominic Lapointe

During June and July 2021, the Northern Notes Blog, a blog published by the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Leeds is recruiting international scholars who have published an outstanding book or a collection of academic papers in the field of tourism mobilities and critical tourism analysis. By both endorsing critical theoretical scholarship and inviting innovation and critiques of critique, this summer the Northern Notes Blog invites cross and trans-disciplinary dialogue in tourism analysis.

Interviewed scholar: Dominic Lapointe (work webpage), Professeur Titulaire,Département d’études urbaines et touristiques, UQAM (lapointe.dominic@uqam.ca).

Theme of interview: ‘Capitalism, tourism mobilities and place/space theory’

Lapointe, D., Sarrasin, B., & Benjamin, C. (2018). Tourism in the Sustained Hegemonic Neoliberal Order. Revista Latino-Americana de Turismologia, 4(1), 16-33.

Lapointe, D., & Coulter, M. (2020). Place, Labor, and (Im) mobilities: Tourism and BiopoliticsTourism Culture & Communication, 20(2-3), 95-105

Bélanger, H., Lapointe, D., Guillemard, A., & Cameron, S. (2020). Central neighborhoods revitalization and tourist bubble: from gentrification to the daily life touristification in Montreal. In Bean, J. et al. Critical Practices in Architecture: The Unexamined, Cambridge Publishing.p.69

Lapointe, D. (2020) Tourism territory/territoire(s) touristique(s): when mobility challenges the concept in M. Stock (Ed.) Progress in Progress in French Tourism Geographies : Inhabiting Touristic Worlds. SpringerP. 104

Lapointe, D., Lebon, C., & Guillemard, A. (2020). Space in transformation: Public versus private climate change adaptation in peripheral coastal tourism areas—Case studies from Quebec, Canada. International Journal of Tourism Research, 22(2), 238-251.

What is the central argument in your work?

This collection of articles discusses the embeddedness of tourism within contemporary capitalism and the role of contemporary capitalism in tourism mobility, especially in relation to space/place theory. Covering five years of writing, the articles situate tourism as a process of capitalist commodification of daily life through the experience economy. This is done with hegemonic discourses on growth, development, sustainability, and self-realization. Not limited to tourism, this permeates all spheres of life, impinging on space and place production. In this process, tourism adds a layer of desire and symbolism to places, which are evaluated and exchanged in markets. This phenomenon is especially insidious in coastal tourism areas, where despite climate change, protecting the land values and tourism development are prioritised.

The production of tourism space focuses on the notion of destination. The management paradigm in tourism destinations sees such space as an object to manage, but mostly as a fixed, given place, even if what is called ‘destination’ is geographically highly heterogeneous in terms of scales and tourism activities. While not that original, the work exposes destination management’s contradictory understandings of tourism space as fixed place, despite the fact that tourism is about mobility, and mobile subjects: subjects stripped from their political subjectivity to partake in tourism consumption. This may extend to touristifications of life in such places, with famous visitors living like locals. Think of AirBnb, which endorses touristification that creates a double movement, whereby mobile neoliberal subjects consume place as an abstract experience; simultaneously, the market transforms places as lived spaces into abstracted space with tourism-like qualities. One of the manifestations of this phenomenon is discussed in the paper on the touristification of daily life. There, we talk about the ways discourses of high-end condo sales and hotel sales become interchangeable with local contents and values.

The embeddedness of tourism in contemporary capitalism has acquired a biopolitical nature: it reorders place and people according to their relationship to mobility and immobility, thus commodifying their subjectivities through the experience economy. This biopolitical process inserts the living space of human experience into the market, which endorses competition – the most competitive players are valued most because they generate tourism. Tourism becomes the highest value. The biopolitics of tourism produces a multi-layered form of alterity, which feeds tourism growth and capital accumulation.

What is, in your opinion, your work’s most important contribution to tourism studies?

My research contributes to the field of tourism studies in two ways. First it exposes how tourism is constitutive of contemporary capitalism by adding a neo-Marxist layer to worldmaking analyses in tourism studies. My work highlights that tourism is not just recoding people, place, and history, it ‘salvages’ them through mercenary exchange. This exchange displaces the meaning of tourist experience, because it downgrades it to moments of petty exchange, when the tourist buys food, lodging, and tickets ‘tourist products’. To expose this displacement, I examine the role of tourism in value creation and accumulation in coastal areas where climate change adaptation and touristification have become urgent issues.

My work also contributes to tourism studies by revisiting discussions on the biopolitical dimension of the experience economy. As people, place and culture are set in competition with each other in markets to attract mobile consumers, markets reorder the world on ideas of the winners and losers of this competition. This reordering is a form of biopolitical control, as subjectivities are depoliticized, and mobile hedonistic tourists are not politically linked to the place they visit. Destination management discourses and practices package people, place and culture as experiential products in an attractive way for those tourists. In terms of hospitality encounters, this removes from interactions political subjectivities to address market sensitivities.

What vision of criticality do you uphold?

My vision of criticality develops at the intersection of critical materialist theory (inspired by neo-Marxist critical geography) and a post-structuralist point of view that acknowledges the messiness of the world and the coexistence of multiple and intersectional realities. This is highlighted in my work by a focus on the production of space – specifically, I examine climate change adaptation in coastal tourism and the restructuring of place in markets, which redefine space, place, people, culture and subjectivities as mere products for sale. The latter is more present in my examination of tourism as a multi-layered biopolitical phenomenon, which preserves power relationships and embeds them in tourism mobilities. I attempt to bring to light these layers of biopolitical control over the bodies, cultures, and place, while documenting how they get absorbed and justified through capitalist structures.

Is there an area in tourism scholarship that remains underdeveloped? Do you believe that you may have a role in its development?

I personally think that the formation of subjectivity formation at play in tourism is a neglected area of tourism studies. The COVID-19 pandemic is illustrative of the importance of that area as it slowed down tourism massively, while keeping tourist-like discourses active but at different scales and scopes. For me, this shows how tourism is an important factor in subject formation in some social classes, a full technology of the self in Foucault’s terms. This invites a scrutinization of how those subjectivities are acted out in the (re)production of space and society, how they interact with capitalism and the political realm but also how they can be harnessed, or not, to produce another world, through an affirmative biopolitics. It is definitely quite a task to shed light on such multi-scalar analysis borrowing from geography, sociology and politics. I endeavour to stress how tourism has a life beyond economic development as it creates subjectivities that can be filtered through a much larger system than that of tourism management.

I am particularly interested in understanding these subjectivity formations at play in tourism and the many threads of realities it entangles within a larger than tourism perspective. The collection of papers that I present in this interview is already within this line of analysis. The understanding of these subjectivities becomes central to what it means inhabit a touristic world, as Mathis Stock argues in his work on Progress in French Tourism Geographies. It also helps us to reclaim encounters with the other as a political project involving demarketing and decommodifying tourism.

Dominic Lapointe, Ph.D. is Professor in the Department of Urban and Tourism Studies at the Université du Québec à Montréal. He holds the Chaire de recherche sur les dynamiques touristiques et les relations socioterritoriales and leads the Groupe de recherche et d’intervention tourisme territoire et société (GRITTS) at UQAM. His work explores the production of tourism space and its role in the system of capitalist expansion as well as its biopolitical dimensions. His latest research looks at climate change, social innovations, indigeneity and critical perspectives in tourism studies.