The Semiotics of Heritage Tourism

In January this year we published Emma Waterton and Steve Watson’s book The Semiotics of Heritage Tourism. Here, the authors tell us a bit about how the book came about.

The Semiotics of Heritage TourismWe had both been teaching, researching and writing about heritage tourism for a long time and we had always focussed our energies on getting closer to how it should be understood as a social and cultural phenomenon. This was challenging sometimes because so much had been written about how it should be operationalized and managed, so there was plenty of research on marketing, visitor management and interpretation. But we were trying to take it to another level. We had already been inspired by the work of people like Dean MacCannell who had introduced so much fresh thinking and insight into the field, but now there seemed to be other ideas stirring that appeared to switch  the focus of research into areas that had not received so much attention in heritage tourism, looking at how it was experienced by whole, thinking, feeling people and not just in abstraction as ‘visitors’ or ‘tourists’.

So this was our challenge, to find new ways of thinking about the experience of heritage. Emerging theory in cultural geography got us talking about things like emotion and affect, and the embodied, sensual and emergent nature of encounters and engagement with places and objects that carried something of the past in them. Contemporary geographers such as David Crouch gave us the confidence to push out the boundaries and explore aspects of heritage tourism both in its representations and in moments of engagement that we had never really addressed before.

This is a book that attempts to reconcile, in our own field, the most important aspects of both representational and non-representational theory and to draw these together in the intimacy of those moments where we feel as much as we see, and absorb as much as we express, about the landscape of meaning – the semiotic landscape – that surrounds heritage sites and makes them places of significance for so many people and so many cultures.

We finished the book in Los Angeles, a place that seemed to evoke so much of what the book was about in terms of seeing and feeling, a place that had such rich meanings and cultural significance attached to it. So it was appropriate that we completed the first draft there, in sight of the Hollywood Sign, an icon if  ever there was one, and a place where dreams and hard reality seem to swirl around the streets in exactly the kind of landscape that the book sets out to reveal, in the Semiotics of Heritage Tourism.

For more information about the book please see our website.

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