Saturday, 22 December 2012

Book of the moment: Counter-tourism, the handbook


Counter-tourism, the Handbook, Crab Man, Triarchy Press, 2012
ISBN 978-1-908009-86-9



Here is a treat for anyone who has wandered round a historic site, bored by the expected and provided routes and interpretations. Counter-tourism 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 

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 these books champion 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.

Counter-Tourism, the Handbook, Crab Man, Triarchy Press, 2012, 
ISBN 978-1-908009-86-9
Counter-Tourism, A Pocketbook – 50 odd things to do in a heritage site, Triarchy Press, 2012, ISBN978-1-908009-67-8
Tactics for Counter-Tourism – 31 short films by Crab Man and Siobhan McKeown: www.countertourism.net

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