Lecture by Crispin Thurlow, November 13, 2009

Language, Tourism, and Banal Globalization

by Crispin Thurlow, Associate Professor of Communication, University of Washington

Described as the “one of the greatest population movements of all time,” tourism is firmly established as the world’s single largest international trade. And it’s not just people who are on tour; language too is on the move. In this talk, I will examine some of the ways that language is commonly taken up in tourism’s search for difference, exoticity, and authenticity. Specifically, I will present a series of touristic textual practices in which local languages are recontextualized, stylized and commodified in the service of tourist identities and the ideology of cosmopolitanism at the heart of tourism discourse. These everyday, ordinary, playful “textualizations” of language/s are, for me, banal enactments of globalization. As such, tourism discourse is to global inequality as colour blindness is to racism; where the one hinges on its mythology of interculturality, the other relies on its rhetoric of multiculturalism. Yet both are neoliberal, neocolonial slights of hand conveniently serving the interests of the privileged (those who choose to travel and those who pass as “un-raced”), usually by concealing their material consequences and by containing difference under an earnest guise of celebration and respect.