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Welcome to my blog. Here I share my successes and failures along my journey to becoming an anthropologist. My most prominent interest anthropologically are the new approaches to handing food security/healthy eating in the US, particularly in urban "food deserts". I enjoy the Anthropology of Tourism as well; combining food and tourism has scholarly promise. My other interests which have converted into anthropological hobbies of sorts include converts to Islam, diaspora of Muslims, and MENA in general. I also have some interest in historical archaeology.

I welcome comments, discussion and even respectful debating. I will however keep discussions to a respectable level. I reserve the right to ban anyone from this forum.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tourism and Commoditization: A Comparison of Two Ethnographies

***I have decided to add some of the human faces behind the discussion***Forgive the pic sizes. I tried going back to fix them but it would have taken too much time. I am new to adding pics to the blog!

Commoditization of goods, bodies and services is noticeable not only in Western societies but in post-colonial ones in the periphery as well. With the increase in air travel in the 1950’s and 1960’s (Cabezas 2009:32), tourism around the world began to grow due in part to lower cost. As the tourism industry began to develop through an increase in hotels and resorts, in some cases people who have traditionally been the more marginalized members of society have felt the greatest negative impact of this industry (Cabezas 2009:19). However, there are some cultural groups where commoditization within the tourism sector has generated not only negative effects but positive ones as well.


Both Elayne Zorn, anthropologist and author of Weaving a Future: Tourism, Cloth & Culture on an Andean Island (2004) and Amalia L. Cabezas, anthropologist and author of Economies of Desire: Sex and Tourism in Cuba and the Dominican Republic (2009) have completed thought–provoking research on tourism in their respective areas of the world. Elayne Zorn is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at University of Central Florida. Zorn has completed field research in the highlands of Bolivia and Peru (on the Peruvian Island of Taquile) examining how the traditional way of life of the indigenous population is affected by globalization specifically in the context of tourism. Amalia L. Cabezas is an assistant professor in the Department of Women’s Studies at University of California, Riverside and was born and raised in Cuba. In their research, they have both emphasized the topic of commoditization, particularly regarding how the commoditization of goods, bodies affects the toured.



Here, I compare the work of both Cabezas and Zorn, through evidence taken not only from their individual research, but from the work of other anthropologists/scholars regarding how commoditization (of goods, bodies and/or services) within the tourism industry affects the host population.

According to Zorn, “commoditization refers to the process of selling something (or someone) that previously was not exchanged for money; commodification refers to changes in meaning and values that accompany that process” (Zorn 2004:168). Cabezas as well as Zorn put substantial emphasis on the topic of commoditization. Using qualitative data, generated though the cultural anthropological method of ‘participant observation’, they both make convincing arguments regarding how commoditization and tourism affect the host population. Although they both used ‘participant observation’, Zorn’s work was strictly from an etic point of view while Cabezas, having grown up in Cuba conducted research partially from an emic point of view, meaning Cabezas is a “native anthropologist” who comes from the culture where she conducted some of her research. Additionally, Zorn focuses on the commoditization of Andean crafts while Cabezas studies commoditization of bodies.

Cabezas’ area of research is located in the Caribbean countries of Cuba and the Dominican Republic, where she spent a total of ten years gathering data (Cabezas 2009:6). She indicates in her ethnography that she spent “less time examining differences within and between the Dominican Republic and Cuba” although she recognizes that the differences (e.g.-the countries have distinct political relationships with the United States that have affected policies) are “nevertheless significant” (Cabezas 2009:5). Cabezas analyzes how multinational involvement in developing countries has affected the local population in both countries while putting special emphasis on gender and the effects on women. Zorn’s research on textiles, as previously noted, has been primarily done on the Island of Taquile in Peru. Her discussion of the people on the island gives the reader a brief but well-written background about the culture and history of the people of Taquile. Cabezas spends more time discussing the political history Cuba and the Dominican Republic have with the Global North. Zorn’s discourse revolves around how the advent of tourism on the island has both positively and negatively altered the lives of the people she has worked with. I will focus on some of what I believe are the most relevant parallels among the two ethnographies. First, I analyze how commoditization impacts racism or racial attitudes toward the locals, and I will then examine how commoditization has impacted gender dynamics and/or differences. Gender dynamics and differences refers to the relationship that men and women have with one another within a given culture; how men and women are expected to behave such as what is designated as “men’s” or “women’s” work.


One of the distinct parallels between the work of both Cabezas and Zorn relates to the impact of racism towards those who have been traditionally marginalized, and how race is intertwined with tourism and commoditization. On the Island of Taquile, tourism and the commoditization of textiles seem to have reduced at least some of the racism Taquileans have experienced in the past. Taquileans are Quechua speaking people who “identify themselves as runa, or Indians” (Zorn 2004:8). They are subsistence farmers who do not have some of the conveniences that are located in developed areas such as electricity or running water. To many in other parts of Peru including some in the nearest city, Puno, they “represent the backwardness and isolation of Native Andeans” (Zorn 2004:8).


Prior to the commoditization of their textiles, Taquileans were looked down upon by those who label themselves mestizo/a, or non-Indian (Zorn 2004:179). Once Taquileans started to gain national and international acknowledgement (through travel, etc) for their textile crafts, racism reduced and Taquileans received better treatment from fellow Peruvians (Zorn 2004:139). That said, the better treatment took time and, according to Zorn, she believes that better treatment is due to an improvement in their economic situation. As Zorn notes, “Taquileans were poor Indians. Now, they are not so poor, and represent the possibility of more wealth because of their status as a tourist attraction” (Zorn 2004:140). Furthermore, because the tourists who visit Taquile are looking for an authentic cultural experience with the Taquileans, they (Taquileans) are expected to “perform” accordingly and thus their race and cultural heritage becomes an advantage. Zorn elaborates by saying, “Representations of indianness are central to the attractiveness of the island of Taquile as a tourist site” (Zorn 2004:151).


In contrast to Zorn’s research where tourism and commoditization has reduced racism, in Cuba and the Dominican Republic they have exacerbated it. Cabezas indicates how darker skinned people in both Cuba and the Dominican Republic are faced with roadblocks acquiring jobs in “frontline service positions” in the tourism and hospitality sector (Cabezas 2009:99). As Cabezas elaborates, the positions that require a high level of guest interaction, “is limited to those who have the proper social characteristics (gender, race, age, “good looks, sexuality and “personality”)” (Cabezas 2009:97). An exception to that is limited to entertainment, where the concept of “Afro-Cuban talent, music, culture and dance are made a prominent feature” which, according to Cabezas implies a “primitive, close-to-nature, racialized other” (Cabezas 2009:99).


To add insult to injury, many of the large resorts/hotels in Cuba and the Dominican Republic are owned by countries in the developed world, and local people are restricted from job mobility and are supervised by expatriates from Europe (Cabezas 2009:96). Cabezas clearly notes that, “in hiring and designation of job duties, European notions of white supremacy collude to articulate the reproduction of white supremacy” (Cabezas 2009:101). Additionally, another form of racism that permeates the tourism industry affects Black Cubans. The term jinetera, as Cabezas notes, has been used in the past as a person who exploits tourists for money “at multiple income-earning schemes”; however, the term has become a label put upon Black Cuban women only (Cabezas 2009:121). As Fernandez notes, Black women have been “historically inscribed as hypersexual and erotic even though some studies conducted in Havana indicated that it was primarily light-skinned women who were involved in the sex trade” (Cabezas 1999:121). In contrast, according to Denise Brennan, anthropologist and author of When Sex Tourists and Sex Workers Meet says that “race is central” to the tourism industry (Brennan 2004:153). To elaborate, according to Brennan, some tourists who specifically travel to the Dominican Republic are looking specifically for “dirt cheap colored girls” (Brennan 2004:153).

Cabezas and Zorn alike specifically address how gender dynamics and/or differences have been affected by tourism and commoditization. In Taquile, even though men weave, it is the women, as a general rule who do most of the weaving. As Zorn mentions, “women weave most of the “traditional” textiles, which are highly patterned or finely striped” (Zorn 2004:72). Zorn explains in her ethnography that “cloth itself is gendered: several primary aspects of cloth production and the resulting textiles are considered female” (Zorn 2004:72) For the Taquileans, there is great emphasis on being a weaver. Weaving is “proof of productive and aesthetic abilities, and believe a person (male or female) who does not weave is lazy and undesirable as a potential spouse” as Zorn explains (Zorn 2004:77).


Weaving for Taquilean women has, according to Zorn, been a way for women to “speak” and “sing” through the designs in their cloth; in addition, that “silent language” woven in the cloth is interpreted “differently, and consistently by gender” (Zorn 2004:78). That is important because prior to marriage, as Zorn indicates in her ethnography, a female adolescent has “considerable personal …/as well as creative freedom in public singing” and as a consequence, the woman “may lose some of that freedom and creativity, and thus lose power, when they marry and in highland Bolivia at least, stop singing” (Zorn 2004:78). When the women stop singing literally, they begin to “sing” figuratively through cloth (Zorn 2004:78).

Many of the motifs that women have traditionally used in the cloth differed from what the men wove. Following the 1980’s (although commoditization of cloth began in the late 1960’s), when Taquileans were commoditizing their cloth, motifs and “gendered distinctions” began to change (Zorn 2004:11, 78). The traditional motifs women wove were abstract but in the 1980’s, they began to weave “representational and naturalistic” images. Zorn analyzed that the reasons could be that the “new images may sell better” or that women may be acquiring new images from school books (many women have started school) (Zorn 2004:79).


In Zorn’s ethnography she pointed out that because men are spending more time in “urban society” than women (opposed to weaving) than “this may create openings for women to expand their symbolic and economic importance as culture bearers and brokers” (Zorn 2004:79). However, as Zorn explains in her book, weaving is not considered a masculine activity and thus men will tend to keep it within the “boundaries of their home and community” (Zorn 2004:79). Additionally, another change in “gender differences” includes the “wearing of the ethic dress” (Zorn 2004:79). As Zorn explains, in the community of Taquile, unlike other areas in the Andes “where women tend to retain ethnic dress longer than men”, ethic dress is woven and worn by both sexes (Zorn 2004:79).

In Cabezas ethnography, she analyzes how the topic of gender is deeply intertwined within the tourism sector, “neoliberal polices” and the commoditization of bodies (Cabezas 2009:57). In the Dominican Republic, austerity measures put in place by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund generate increased poverty and fewer opportunities for the more marginalized members of society (Cabezas 2009:58). Austerity measures include significantly reducing social service programs and increasing “trade liberalization and currency devaluation” (Cabezas 2009:58). Measures such as “trade liberalization and currency devaluation” usher in transnational corporation factories who pay (mostly women) an extremely low wage (Cabezas 2009:58). These “low wages”, as Cabezas asserts, “induced many into the sex trade” (Cabezas 2009:79). Cabezas observes that the Dominican Republic is not alone. She notes that “since Cuba reentered the world capitalist economy in 1990, it appears to resemble the Dominican Republic more everyday (e.g.-“tourist-oriented prostitution”) (Cabezas 2009:26).”


Similarly, Cabezas maintains that “recent research indicates that dominicanas (female Dominicans) are hampered by sexual inequalities in the workforce” (Cabezas 2009:59). According to Cabezas’ secondary research, 2005 United Nations Human Development Report “indicated that dominicanas are mainly employed in positions with little mobility, whose functions are governed by gender stereotypes, and where they receive compensation inferior to that of their male counterparts” (Cabezas 2009:59).

Cabezas substantiates the above point through her own research. Jobs within the tourist sector are “gendered” according to Cabezas, favoring the males economically. She found “the structure of occupations is such that higher earnings often go to male-defined positions such as bartenders and baggage handlers” (Cabezas 2009:101). Furthermore, for women working in the tourism industry, the employers “require women to exhibit and use their sex appeal as part of their work” (Cabezas 2004:102). Cabezas emphasizes that “job requirements are often predicated on images of women as objects of male desire and gratification and where physical attractiveness is the most important qualification (Cabezas 2009:102).”

Another way commoditization of sex is manifested in the tourist industry is though “tactile sex” (Cabezas 2009:117). “Tactile sex”, according to Cabezas is “commodifying sex in freelance arrangements” (Cabezas 2009:120). Women navigate the terrain of day-to-day economic survival by having affective relationships with foreign men. However, Cabezas interviewed women in the Dominican Republic “who identified themselves as sex workers but referred to their tourist acquaintances as amigos (friends), indicating an unwillingness to characterize them customers or paying clients” (Cabezas 2009:119). In Cuba as well, Cabezas makes note that most women would not identify themselves as a sex-worker but would admit to having affective relationships (relationships based upon affection and romance) with foreign men (Cabezas 2009:8).

To conclude, I concentrated on the topics of racism and gender specifically in the context of tourism and commoditization by comparing two ethnographies written by two cultural anthropologists. As I showed, there are distinct differences between Zorn and Cabezas’ ethnographies regarding how tourism and commoditization affects the local population. In Peru, on the Island of Taquile, Zorn showed in her research that tourism and particularly commoditization of woven cloth reduced the racial attitudes fellow Peruvians had towards the Taquilean people. In contrast, according to Cabezas, racism has perpetuated in Cuba and the Dominican Republic since the tourism increase. Likewise, I analyzed how gender dynamics and/or differences have been affected by tourism and commoditization. I discussed the gender differences in cloth since the 1980’s on the Island of Taquile and how women are weaving different motifs in their cloth than prior to tourism and commoditization. Finally, I discussed Cabezas’ research regarding gender dynamics within the tourism industry. Cabezas found out that low pay in the tourism industry and being at the whims of domestic and international political decisions have created more women searching for subsistence though affective relationships with foreign men which unfortunately does not come to fruition for most women.

In my brief study of tourism thus far, I learned how globalization, Western hegemony and commoditization affects the toured on a practical level. Also, I have also learned about the humility of a people during their journey toward improving their lives either through showcasing and selling their craft to foreigners or trying to find subsistence for them and their children, even if culturally unacceptable, in an unstable world of corruption. Tourism impact is felt differently around the world. Some cultural groups have experienced many positive modifications while others, like Cuba and the Dominican Republic clearly have been faced with negative changes, economically and culturally.

Works Cited

Brennan, Denise 2010 When Sex Tourists and Sex Workers Meet: Encounters within SosĂșa, the Dominican
Republic. In Tourists and Tourism. Sharon Bohn Gmelch, ed. Pp.151-163. Long Grove:
Waveland Press

Cabezas, Amalia L.
2009 Economies of Desire: Sex and Tourism in Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
Philadelphia: Temple University Press

Zorn, Elayne
2004 Weaving a Future: Tourism, Cloth & Culture on an Andean Island.
Iowa City: University of Iowa Press


Chiara said...

Great paper. I will have to re-read to get even more out of it.

I have been a tourist in the Caribbean a number of times including in Cuba and in the Dominican. I did research in Costa Rica, and a psych professor of mine did a research project in Mexico on village women and paid their time by buying one of the dolls each of them made to supplement their income. In this way they were remunerated in a way that didn't corrupt the research by being overly high a payment in relation to their normal income. She also said that she did the interviews while the women continued with their household duties to disrupt their lives the least. Some of my interviews were done in homes and around other commitments of the interviewees.

As a tourist I have a mixed feeling about being there, because in fact they depend on tourist dollars for jobs and income, yet tourism drives up local prices, and prevents establishment of other economic sectors.

Regarding racism I noticed it less in Cuba than the Dominican. I speak Spanish so I was able to have conversations with people who don't speak English which gives a broader view, and even with that, in my minimal experience, I didn't see the racism so distinctly.

In the Dominican all the entertainers for the nightly shows were very Black African and looked not as mixed with Hispanic as the others. It was rather uncomfortably like the Cotton Club in a way.

Will re-read your paper and probably comment again.

Anthrogeek10 said...

In the Dominican all the entertainers for the nightly shows were very Black African and looked not as mixed with Hispanic as the others. It was rather uncomfortably like the Cotton Club in a way.

This was mentioned in my paper and it is interesting that you noticed this on your visit. Racism may not have been very visible to you, as a tourist, even though you speak the language. Yes, I agree, being able to speak the local language really allows a person to understand more of the local life. Informants do not always do the translation process justice. Is it pretty typical of researchers to pay informants or study subjects? I was not aware of that.

Take it easy Chiara--be good to yourself.

Chiara said...

Often subjects are paid for their time and sometimes expenses, but ethically this cannot be so high that it skews the research eg a normal drop out rate, etc. Other times subjects are not paid. Payment usually comes from the grant funding the project.

I am aware of various forms of racism in the Caribbean (part of my doctorate) but it was not so overt in the narrow contexts in which I was a tourist, except in the Dominican. In Cuba more people were obviously mixed race which narrowed the gap. I am well aware that those who look like pure descendants of Spaniards are privileged over those who look like pure descendants of slaves and that there are East Indian and Chinese mixes as well. The general hierarchy is clearly the lighter the better, which is part of the discomfort with the Dominican entertainers.

There is a tendency to blame white influence for notions of beauty and superiority but there is also evidence that these norms of beauty existed prior to white influence

The issue is complex to say the least, and moreso when people immigrate to white cultures and find they are considered dark whether they are in their own culture or not.

You are dealing with some very interesting topics.

Thanks for your concern, and I am taking care of myself. Fortunately the family are all helping each other, and extended family, neighbours, and friends have been most kind.