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Abstract

The ethnographic action research approach illustrated in this case study was used as part of our PhD research, which took place within a tourism development context in the Finnish province of Lapland. The case study provides insights into our experiences and reflections throughout the different stages of two research and development projects based on an ethnographic action research approach. Although the projects took place independently from each other, they shared the common goal of promoting economic and social transformation in Lapland through sustainable tourism development. By discussing the design and implementation of the projects, we draw attention to the benefits and challenges of using ethnographic action research. The case study offers an opportunity to learn about the principles of ethnographic action research and about how these principles contribute to supporting research and development objectives within one single project. Furthermore, the case study shows how the methodology help both researchers and project participants build capacity and new knowledge by reflecting on the values guiding their daily practices. Indeed, the main strength of ethnographic action research lies in its potential to construct knowledge and understanding of a particular phenomenon through multi-stakeholder engagement.
García-Rosell, José-Carlos and Hakkarainen, Maria, Ethnographic Action Research: A
Strategy for Multi-Stakeholder Research and Development Projects, SAGE Research
Methods Part 2. Copyright © [2019] (SAGE Publishing).
DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781526490377
Abstract
The ethnographic action research approach illustrated in this case study was used as part of
our PhD research, which took place within a tourism development context in the Finnish
province of Lapland. The case study provides insights into our experiences and reflections
throughout the different stages of two research and development projects based on an
ethnographic action research approach. Although the projects took place independently from
each other, they shared the common goal of promoting economic and social transformation in
Lapland through sustainable tourism development. By discussing the design and
implementation of the projects, we draw attention to the benefits and challenges of using
ethnographic action research. The case study offers an opportunity to learn about the
principles of ethnographic action research and about how these principles contribute to
supporting research and development objectives within one single project. Furthermore, the
case study shows how the methodology help both researchers and project participants build
capacity and new knowledge by reflecting on the values guiding their daily practices. Indeed,
the main strength of ethnographic action research lies in its potential to construct knowledge
and understanding of a particular phenomenon through multi-stakeholder engagement.
Learning Outcomes
By the end of this case, students should be able to:
Recognize and name the special features of ethnographic action research as part of a
multi-stakeholder process.
Understand how ethnographic action research can help bridge the gap between theory
and practice in research and development projects.
Understand the principles used to validate ethnographic action research.
Discuss the kinds of research and development projects in which ethnographic action
research could be used.
Case Study
Project Context: Developing Sustainable Tourism in
Lapland
This case is based on studies carried out as part of our individual PhD dissertations, which
were driven by our mutual interest in exploring ways to promote capacity building and
knowledge creation for sustainable tourism development. We each conducted our study in
Finnish Lapland, which is not only the northernmost province of Finland but also its most
popular tourism destination. With 3.5% of Finland’s population and approximately 30% of
Finland’s total area, Lapland is the least densely populated region in Finland and highly
dependent on income from tourism and nature-based industries. Due to the steady growth of
tourism demand, small villages situated close to ski resorts are viewed as potential tourist
attractions, which could contribute to widening the tourism offering of the region. As a result,
the development of tourism in a sustainable way is viewed as a major driver of economic and
social transformation.
Maria’s study took place in a remote and relatively isolated Lappish village located on
the shores of Lokka, the largest artificial lake in Finland. Over the past few decades, people
in the village have struggled to develop tourism services and prioritize the consolidation of
tourism as one of the main industries supporting their livelihood. In her study, reflecting on
their everyday life practices and challenges was seen as a way to help local community
members identify possible ways of reconciling traditional industries with tourism.
José-Carlos’s study was related to a business network formed by eight micro tourism
businesses, which employed between one and six employees and were run by female
entrepreneurs. Although the entrepreneurs operated in different geographic locations across
Lapland, most of the research activities occurred in Äkäslompolo, a village located next to
the Ylläs ski resort. The main aim of the study was to find ways to support sustainable
tourism product development initiatives among female-run enterprises situated in rural areas.
We conducted these studies independently during the years 2006 and 2008 as part of
two distinct research and development projects with predefined social and rural development
goals. Therefore, we both had to look for a research strategy that would not only capture the
dynamic and complex nature of our research topic, but also deliver some practical solutions.
After participating in several methodology courses and studying different methodological
approaches, we each, unbeknownst to the other, chose action research as the methodological
approach for our study. Action research refers to a systematic mode of inquiry that seeks to
improve the quality of human action in a social setting by critically reflecting on the actions
and practices of research participants (Ballantyne, 2004; Ozanne & Saatcioglu, 2008). Action
research is emergent, participative, community-based and problem-solving by nature. These
key features were relevant for our studies because it is widely recognized that local
community involvement and their practices are essential for working towards sustainable
tourism (Cole, 2006; Höckert, 2015). Nevertheless, as we each started the action research
process, we both felt that methodologically it did not provide enough support for the
theorizing process (see Dick, 2007). Hence, each of us relied on ethnography to fill this gap.
In particular, the ethnographic principle of systematic data collection and analysis aimed at
generating a thick description of the research subject was essential for supporting the theory
building in our studies. For both of us, the decision to combine action research and
ethnography felt easy, because ethnography was also a methodology that we became
acquainted with during our studies. Furthermore, our supervisors—who were
ethnographers— encouraged us to experiment with both methodologies.
In 2010, we started to share our research experiences with each other for the first time
and realized that, although our investigations were two independent PhD studies, they have
many similarities in terms of both research design and implementation. Because of these
similarities, we decided to write this case study together. For the purposes of this study, we
first illustrate the design and principles that shaped our ethnographic action research projects.
Second, we draw attention to our experiences when implementing a participative research
strategy, stressing a bottom-up approach to knowledge creation. Third, we offer an overview
of what we learned while using ethnographic action research. In the conclusions, we offer
some final thoughts and reflections.
Designing Ethnographic Action Research
We use the term ethnographic action research in reference to the deliberate combination of
action research and ethnography (Hartmann et al., 2009; Tacchi et al., 2003). Although
ethnography and action research have gained popularity in organizational, management, and
tourism studies, these are usually regarded as two distinct research strategies. Indeed, there
are important differences; however, there are also similarities. In our PhD studies, we each
viewed these differences and similarities as an opportunity to create a multi-stakeholder
research approach to understand sustainable tourism development as a dynamic socio-cultural
phenomenon that happens in lived, perceived, conceived and physical spaces (see Jennings,
2012). When designing our research intervention, we both mixed action research (Ozanne &
Anderson, 2010) and ethnographic principles (Rantala, 2011). We based our studies on the
following six mixed principles:
1. A thick description of the research subject (ethnography);
2. Participant observation (action research/ethnography);
3. Guidance by locally defined priorities (action research);
4. A focus on a particular socio-cultural setting (action research/ethnography);
5. The creation of practical knowledge (action research); and
6. The inclusion of participants as co-researchers in the research process (action research).
In practice, this means that we relied on multiple sources of data and methods of
fieldwork (e.g., observation, interviews, focus groups, and visual methods) and involved
project participants as co-researchers in defining research goals, data collection, and analysis
(Ozanne & Anderson, 2010). Furthermore, our focus was on exploring the social practices
occurring in the business network and the village (socio-cultural settings) and building
interpretations of these practices by including co-researchers in the theorizing process. In
other words, project participants were involved in the analysis and interpretation of the data.
This collaboration contributed to generating the knowledge and capabilities needed by project
participants to develop sustainable tourism in their own particular contexts.
The combination of action research and ethnographic principles allowed us to create a
research strategy with its own particular characteristics. In contrast to ethnography,
ethnographic action research invites participants to help define research objectives, and
collect and analyse data. In a similar way, ethnographic action research expands reflection
through the entire research process, rather than limiting it to a particular phase of the process,
which is typical of action research. Continuous reflection supported by clear ethnographic
data collection and analysis procedures helped us in the theorizing process. All these
elements together created a research culture through which knowledge and reflection were
constantly fed back into the research process in ways that supported both our studies and the
local practices of the project participants.
Research validity is one of the issues we needed to consider as our studies progressed.
On many occasions, we heard the question: “how can you guarantee the validity of your
research?With regard to our projects, we explained that research validity and quality were
strongly related to systematic data collection and analysis, the plurality of knowledge and a
deep understanding of the value and purpose of our studies (Arnould & Wallendorf, 1994;
Reason & Bradbury, 2008). Furthermore, our position as researchers and the active
engagement of the project participants as co-researchers contributed to research validity (see
Gergen & Gergen, 2008). Drawing upon the work of Julie L. Ozanne and Laurel Anderson
(2010), we each explained that the extent to which project participants participate, learn and
improve their practices made our research valid and reliable. In other words, social practices,
interactions, and contexts become the validating elements in ethnographic action research
and, therefore, in the creation of knowledge that is relevant to the project participants (see
Ozanne & Saatcioglu, 2008; Swantz, 2008).
Ethnographic Action Research in Practice
In relation to the implementation of ethnographic action research, we want to draw attention
to two situations that we faced in our studies. The first situation was related to the
relationship between top-down and bottom-up approaches that characterized our ethnographic
action research processes. Whereas a top-down approach refers to a research process highly
dependent on the expertise and judgment of the researcher, the bottom-up approach invites
research participants in planning and decision-making throughout the entire research process
(see Holter & Schwartz-Barcott, 1993). Although our initial idea was to define the objectives
of the research process through collaborative multi-stakeholder planning, our actions were
initially guided by objectives previously defined by the projects and our PhD studies.
Indeed, the first step in both studies was to gain access to the field – specifically, to
search for places and organizations that suited our research topics, questions, and objectives.
After going through several possibilities, José-Carlos chose an organization, which was
working on a project closely related to his PhD study. He contacted the Innovation Services
Unit of the University of Lapland. At that time, the unit was coordinating a project that
needed someone to pilot a product development process with a group of female
entrepreneurs. In order to gain access, José-Carlos had to attend several meetings with the
project management team. The meetings served to negotiate his role in the project and align
the project objectives with the aims of his PhD study. Hence, the design of his ethnographic
action research intervention was the outcome of these negotiations.
Maria sought a peripheral village interested in tourism development based on its
traditional livelihoods. After considering several alternatives with her supervisor, she chose
the village of Lokka. Nevertheless, before she contacted the village, she under her
supervisor’s advice defined the project intervention and overall goals. Thus, she made sure
that the project was in accordance with the objectives of her PhD study. After phone calls
with some community members and a meeting with the community of Lokka, the village
agreed to participate in the project. As a result, ethnographic action research participants
were not involved in the initial design of our studies or in the planning of the projects in
which the studies were embedded. Indeed, the initial steps of our studies followed the
technical action research principle whereby research interventions are predefined by the
researchers (see Holter & Schwartz-Barcott, 1993).
The second step was to gain access and build trust with project participants. This was
an important step for us as early-stage PhD students who were not related to the communities
or entrepreneurs involved in the studies. The participants in Maria’s study consisted of
different members of the community (e.g., reindeer herders, tourism entrepreneurs, fishers,
and village activists) and their number varied between 5 and 14. José-Carlos’s study
comprised eight participants. These were female craft entrepreneurs representing different
service areas such as catering, hospitality, pottery, natural health care, adventure tourism, and
artistic photography. It should be noted that Maria is originally from Lapland and José-Carlos
is a non-native Finnish-speaking immigrant, who moved to the region in 2002. Despite being
two outsiders, we were welcomed by the project participants and accepted as collaborators
throughout our respective research processes. Nevertheless, gaining trust took several
meetings and visits to the fieldnot because we were outsiders, but because of negative
feelings towards previous research and development projects. The cause for these feelings
was not related to the quality of the projects but rather their failure to develop local expertise
and capacity. As the project participants explained, there were many experts involved in the
projects, but they failed to connect their expertise with the everyday life of local stakeholders.
This top-down approach not only influenced knowledge creation, but also the working
attitudes of project participants. Without noticing, project participants expected us to plan
everything and tell them what to do and how to do things. The top-down approach had clearly
impacted on the level of participation, as will be discussed later in this case study.
Despite the initial top-down approach that each of us took, our project participants
started to change their working attitudes and adopted very active roles in defining their own
development objectives within the scope of the projects and our studies. The participative,
community-based, and problem-solving nature of the study contributed to the building of
local capacity and development of new skills to promote changes in the communities of the
participants. In particular, the reflections in meetings and workshops not only helped
participants to assess their practices, but also facilitated their inquiries into the values that
determine tourism development within their own socio-cultural contexts. Indeed, as we
moved forward with the projects, the research process shifted from a top-down to a bottom-
up approach. We started following the practical action research principle, whereby the
researcher and project participants are equally engaged in an inquiry that seeks to improve
their current situation by critically reflecting on the actions and practices of project
participants and other stakeholders (Ballantyne 2004; Ozanne & Saatcioglu, 2008). As
researchers, we were not only inducing changes through our own practices, but also helping
the project participants develop new ways of thinking by facilitating the process of action and
reflection (see Moisander & Valtonen, 2006). For example, in Maria’s study, participants
learned how to develop tourism that is in harmony with their traditional industries and rural
livelihoods. It was this bottom-up approach to the research process that allowed project
participants to define their development challenges, objectives and solutions as well as the
opportunity to develop knowledge and skills that are useful in their everyday lives. The
participants in José-Carlos’s study, for instance, developed networking skills and the ability
to develop business ideas based on their values and areas of interests.
The second situation that we experienced was a shift from passive to active
participation as the research process advanced. At the beginning of the studies, the project
participants assumed a passive attitude. Although project participants seemed enthusiastic
about the idea of defining research objectives and activities, they were not always able to
synchronize their personal lives (e.g., childcare, pregnancy) and daily work (e.g., seasonal
work, traditional livelihood activities) with the research process. As a result, it was common
that some participants neglected some project activities or came in and out in the middle of
them. At the end, only small groups of participants (six in Maria’s study and seven in José-
Carlos’s case) took an active role in the research process or were highly committed to it.
Nevertheless, the small size of the groups had a positive impact on the facilitation and
reflection processes.
Passivity was not only limited to participation, but also to the knowledge creation.
This form of passivity was influenced by the top-down approach project participants were
used to. For example, participants assumed a passive learning attitude at the beginning of the
research process. By viewing us as tourism and sustainability experts, they seemed to take
their own knowledge and experiences in developing sustainable tourism practices for granted.
It took a couple of months for the participants to realize that they also possess valuable
expertise and knowledge that can be used in the research process. For example, in José-
Carlos’s study, participants assumed that sustainable tourism was a technical issue related to
environmental aspects of their operations (e.g. energy consumption, recycling) Nevertheless,
during the study they learned that sustainability may also refer to the economic, social and
cultural aspects of their practices such as maintaining local traditions, buying from local
suppliers, caring for their customers—things that they already did. The ethnographic
perspective that we each took in our study helped us to identify and understand development
practices from the perspective of different stakeholders. This was possible because of the
ongoing ethnographic observations and the project group dynamics. This better
understanding of the phenomenon helped us manage the expectations placed on ethnographic
action research. It also helped us cope with the realism of everyday life, research and
development practices.
Working in a small group which we facilitated seemed to help project participants
strengthen their self-confidence and ability to take an active role in the research process and
the creation of knowledge. While Maria’s group included between 5 and 14 persons, José-
Carlos usually worked with a group of five to eight persons. After a slow project start, the
project participants began to show a greater commitment to different research activities, such
as collecting data by keeping a field journal, interpreting the data in joint research meetings,
and planning upcoming project activities. The group dynamics in Lokka village, for example,
showed particular characteristics due to the nature of the project and the number of
participants. The group work was not as coherent as in the business network and external
experts were needed to identify areas of expertise within the village community. Compared
with the entrepreneurs of the business network, who shared a common interest in sustainable
tourism product development, the Lokka village’s participants had different interests,
objectives, and motivations regarding their participation in the project. Although Lokka
village participants approached tourism development from different perspectives, the lack of
financial resources for concrete development actions (e.g., marketing and promotion)
hindered all local needs from being equally addressed; this had a negative impact on the
motivation and enthusiasm of the project participants.
Taking an ethnographic action research approach to tourism development allowed us
to take part in development practices for the sake of research. Nevertheless, close
collaboration and engagement with the local community contributed to placing research in
the background, and placing local practices and regional development in the spotlight. The
emphasis given to development had a direct impact on the scope of our ethical
responsibilities. Although we took responsibility for the academic research outcomes, our
active role as facilitators of the development process also led us to assume ethical
responsibility for the consequences of the project on the project participants. After all, the
entrepreneurs and villagers became deeply involved in the action and reflection process due
to our continuous encouragement, and because they trusted us and the change process that we
were facilitating. Project participants not only took ownership of the project outcomes, but an
active role in planning future initiatives. For example, new project ideas and even project
applications were developed by the project participants themselves. One of the participants in
Maria’s project even wrote an academic journal article about the history of the village’s
livelihoods.
Practical Lessons Learned
As researchers, we faced several challenges when designing and implementing ethnographic
action research in practice. The methodology challenged our position as researchers, because
we had to assume different roles during the research process. Indeed, we were not only
researchers, but at the same time facilitators, experts, and developers. Furthermore, the
research process made us reflect on our own knowledge, expertise, and emotions. Despite the
challenges experienced during our research journeys, we learned three important lessons from
our ethnographic action research studies. First, the methodology is well-suited to
interventions conducted within a project-based development context. Second, it is very
suitable for multi-stakeholder processes. Third, best results can be obtained, if the
methodology is implemented at the early stages of the development process. Next, we discuss
these three lessons learned in more detailed.
We found ethnographic action research to be very useful for a research process that
includes development objectives, which are implemented in a project-based format. Indeed, it
contributed to creating a research process nurtured by collaborative relationships based on
ongoing dialogues and social interactions with the people actually affected by the research.
Engaging in practical deliberation and reflective communication with the project participants,
we were better able to understand tourism development in relation to local communities and
small enterprises situated in Lapland. From this perspective, the knowledge of the project
participants was essential not only for improving their own practices, but also for helping us
gain a better understanding of tourism development as it occurs. Although we played an
important role in facilitating the research process, the participants had the knowledge and
expertise needed to develop tourism in a sustainable fashion. Ethnographic action research
offered us the possibility of engaging in an inquiry process whereby, together with the project
participants, we tried out ideas and practised self-reflection. In doing so, we particularly
encouraged participants through the research to make sense of their social practices and
development goals by reflecting on the elements that they take for granted (see Masters,
2000).
Ethnographic action research facilitates the simultaneous examination of an
ethnographic phenomenon, actor network, and operating environment as part of a multi-
stakeholder process of action and reflection. The combination of ethnographic and action
research principles offered us a means to identify the wide diversity of stakeholders and
value-based choices, which are characteristic of tourism development work in Lapland. A
good understanding of the operating environment and multi-stakeholder relations was
essential for the planning of time schedules and tactical questions such as how to activate
participants throughout the research and development process. Indeed, with the help of
ethnographic action research, we were able to identify and understand stakeholder relations,
institutional structures and the values that guide or would be essential to guiding development
work in practice. We, as researchers, and the project participants gained a deeper
understanding of the phenomenon under study—a phenomenon, which has a direct impact on
their everyday lives.
Our ethnographic action research processes did not directly lead to an increase in the
number of tourists in Lokka village or revenues in the business network. Nevertheless, by
empowering project participants and making them aware of their own values, they not only
became active participants, but they also took responsibility and ownership of the research
process. Indeed, after our studies ended, the research participants used the acquired skills and
knowledge to continue tourism development work in the business network and the village.
Our studies could have had a more direct impact on the economies of the village and business
network if we had the time and possibility of directing funding to support the practices and
areas (e.g., product development and marketing) identified during the research process.
Unfortunately, it was not possible in the timeframe of the projects. Considering this, it would
be more effective to use ethnographic action research in the initial project planning stage in
which the project objectives, evaluation criteria, and funding sources are defined. This would
certainly lead to the more efficient use of both financial and human resources. Nonetheless,
this would require a change of mind-set from a top-down to a bottom-up project design and
implementation.
Conclusions
We used an ethnographic action research approach, because we needed a methodology that
would allow us to bridge practice development, academic research, and project-based
development work by considering the point of view of project participants, the tourism
industry, and regional authorities. With the help of ethnographic action research, we were
able to situate our studies at the interface of three partially detached areas: practice, theory,
and development work. The nature of our studies required a research strategy with this
particular capability. Although tourism development in peripheral areas is highly influenced
by global trends and practices, we believe that to develop tourism in a sustainable way we
need to involve locals in tourism planning and decision-making. As several studies have
noted, local community members are the best agents for identifying and defining the
objectives and conditions for sustainable tourism development because they are bound to the
community within a given social, cultural, and historical context (e.g., Cole, 2006; Höckert,
2015; Nyaupane & Poudel, 2012).
In particular, within a project context, we found that ethnographic action research
contributes to creating a working environment, in which development is locally driven. In our
studies, this happened through collaborative reflective activities (e.g., meetings, workshops)
embedded in the research process. Promoting a dialogue between project and local objectives,
the methodology enables development work that offers practical solutions within the
technical requirements of project-based work (Hartmann et al., 2009; Tacchi et al., 2003). In
doing so, it shifts the role of the researcher from that of a knowledgeable expert to that of a
facilitator of knowledge-sharing, becoming the link between the project’s technical context
and the local community. This role was essential because project participants were not
familiar with the practices, timeframes, and the jargon of project work, which characterize
development work. Indeed, participants expressed their appreciation for our role in
explaining and helping them understand the development objectives in relation to the
everyday life of the community.
Although this case explains ethnographic action research as an alternative
methodology for projects aiming to build local capacities, inspire locally based development,
and contribute to a better understanding of a research phenomenon through a multi-
stakeholder process, it is not without limitations. One of the limitations lies in the fact that
our studies illustrate the use of ethnographic action research within a particular research and
development context (peripheral villages in Finnish Lapland). As a result, the results and
experiences from our study cannot be generalized. Another limitation of our studies is that
they were initially driven by a top-down approach and highly dependent on the organizational
and human resources offered by their respective projects. Despite these limitations, our
studies offer a good illustration of the advantages of this research strategy.
Overall, the main strength of ethnographic action research lies in its potential to
construct knowledge and understanding of a particular phenomenon through multi-
stakeholder engagement. However, to use ethnographic action research to its full advantage,
we need to be able to implement it at the very early stages of research and/or development
projects. We hope our studies and reflections will encourage others to use and explore
ethnographic action research in their own research and development projects.
Exercises and Discussion Questions
1. In which aspects does ethnographic action research differ from ethnography and action
research? What are the benefits and limitations of combining ethnography and action
research?
2. How do researchers ensure the validity of ethnographic action research studies?
3. How does ethnographic action research help to link theory and practice?
4. Design your own ideal plan for ethnographic action research. Discuss what you would
need to do to implement your plan.
Further Readings
García-Rosell, J.-C. (2013). A Multi-stakeholder perspective on sustainable marketing:
Promoting sustainability through action and research. Acta Universitatis Lapponiensis 247.
Rovaniemi: Lapland University Press.
Hakkarainen, M. (2017). Matkailutyön ehdot syrjäisessä kylässä [Terms of Tourism Work in
Remote Village]. Acta Universitatis Lapponiensis 357. Rovaniemi: Lapland University Press.
Hartmann, T., Fischer, M. & Haymaker, J. (2009). Implementing information systems with
project teams using ethnographic -action research. Advanced Engineering Informatics, 23,
57–67.
Tacchi, J.A., Slater, D. & Hearn, G.N. (2003). Ethnographic Action Research: A User’s
Handbook. New Delhi: UNESCO.
References
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and marketing strategy formulation. Journal of Marketing Research, 31, 484–504.
Ballantyne, D. (2004). Action research reviewed: a market-oriented approach. European
Journal of Marketing, 38(3/4), 321–337.
Cole, S. (2006). Information and empowerment: The keys to achieving sustainable tourism.
Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 14(6), 629–644.
Dick B. (2007). What can grounded theorists and action researchers learn from each other?
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In recent decades, the idea of community participation has played an important role in the search for sustainability, solidarity and inclusion in tourism development. The concept of participatory development has evolved in the course of rich and contradictory discussions on good life, democracy and colonialism towards a vision of alternative and small-scale tourism development, especially in the case of economically marginalized communities. This is the situation in Nicaragua, where the rapid growth of international tourism has encouraged government officials, development practitioners and researchers alike to explore and enhance the opportunities for rural tourism development through social projects. To be sure, the initiatives and guidance for community participation commonly come from the outside, from guests. While criticism of and scepticism about the real possibilities of participatory approaches in tourism have grown steadily, the academic literature has paid only cursory attention to the ideologies, values and ontologies underlying the idea of participation as such. The research journey described in the thesis is a search for ethics in tourism settings. The study analyses participatory tourism encounters between rural communities and tourism experts, drawing on postcolonial critique and hermeneutic phenomenology. Encounters are defined here as spaces and liminal spheres between people in which the conditions of participation become negotiated. The scientific purpose of the study is to deconstruct and envision alternatives to participatory encounters through the notion of hospitality. To this end, the research follows Jacques Derrida’s and Gayatri Spivak’s call to question whether our ways of knowing and being in the world, such as the Western episteme and Western metaphysics, are universal and natural. The theoretical approach builds on Emmanuel Levinas’ thought on ethics of hospitality, which invites one to envision ethical subjectivity as responsibility and receptivity towards ‘the Other’. Situating the idea of participation at the intersection of intersubjectivity, hospitality and ethics, the study asks: How do self and other, or hosts and guests, welcome each other in participatory tourism encounters? The empirical dimension of the research includes a longitudinal ethnographic study on rural tourism development in Nicaragua, based on three field visits between 2007 and 2013. The research material was produced through semistructured interviews and participatory observation in four coffee-cultivating communities in the country’s northern highlands, and at the offices of the international aid organizations, NGOs and the Nicaraguan tourism ministry. In order to focus on the relations between rural communities and tourism experts, the analysis of the data was guided by the methodological discussions in hermeneutic phenomenology. This process combined both a holistic and selective reading of the data to explore how the informants described, experienced, and gave meanings to the encounters that took place in rural tourism settings. The experiences from Nicaragua indicate that tourism experts tend to celebrate what they see as the ease of tourism development, along with the unconditional hospitality conventionally ascribed to rural areas, as a recipe for success. While the possibilities, conditions and risks of welcoming tourists become continuously shaped in various encounters between hosts and guests, guests regularly overlook or romanticize the historical, social and material experiences of the people living in host communities. The analysis indicates that despite – or actually because of – emancipatory intentions to help the local hosts, tourism experts end up dominating the spheres of dialogue. The study argues that instead of discussing the relational mode of participating - being, doing and knowing together - both practical and scholarly debates have paradoxically celebrated the individual free subject as the protagonist of inclusion and social justice. In this light, the study proposes that moving towards more inclusive and hospitable spaces of participation requires a readiness to interrupt self as an individually responsible subject. The research contributes to the streams of tourism studies which call attention to other-orientedness in social relations. The results can be applied as a source of encouragement to decolonize research methodologies, promote participatory projects and develop pedagogical approaches that keep the door open to the unpredictable and the unexpected. Perhaps the most salient contribution of the study is that it provides a conceptual tool to facilitate reflection on alternative ways of doing togetherness.
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