Author: Fiona Smyth
Title: Constructing place, directing practice? Using travel guidebooks
Although the internet has rapidly expanded its utility for the traveller/tourist, published guidebooks, tangible and portable, remain the major source of information for most people. Guidebooks function as ‘culture brokers’, mediating both place and the travel experience itself for the reader, and can be considered part of a system of cultural production which often re-presents dominant discourses about the Other. Only a limited amount of academic attention has been devoted to the content of guidebooks, and most of this has focused on publications relating to non-Western destinations. This paper considers two interrelated functions of guidebooks - the construction and narration of place (and people), and the direction of travel practice/experience – by examining the textual and photographic content of a set of guidebooks to Edinburgh. The process of selecting some sights and activities for inclusion in a guidebook necessarily omits others, and those included are ‘narratively marked’ as worthwhile and therefore important to, or even definitional of, an approved travel practice. The style of narration employed by guidebooks and their methods of interpellating the traveller/reader are part of how they convey their authoritative and ‘circumscribed’ versions of place and of travel practice. Reading a travel guidebook is of course a ‘performative’ act, and while most work on the topic has acknowledged the reader’s interpretational role in creating meaning from travel texts, this paper begins to address the questions of why and how some of the guidebooks’ representations are accepted and others modified or even rejected by the individual reader/traveller.