Identity and Ruins: Personal Integration and Urban Disintegration Understood Through a Touristic Lens


  • Jason H. Prior
  • Carole M. Cusack


In the 1970s, scholars of the (natural and built) environment tended to explore the deep connections between personal identity and the landscape, defined as “the arrangement in physical space of artefacts and activity,” with reference to relatively stable and traditional phenomena such as family, religion, and social structures. While it was acknowledged that humans engage in relational processes with their environment(s) and that individual and social identity can alter as a result of changes in the physical setting in which it was acted out, the normative dimensions of human interactions with spaces and the consensus meanings associated with what James S. Duncan, Jr called “very public landscapes” received disproportionate attention. This contrasted sharply with the radical approach adopted by scholars of tourism in the very same decade. For example, Dean MacCannell deconstructed the physical environments that tourists interacted with in terms of artificially constructed “attractions” and “staged authenticity,” and Erik Cohen connected tourism to religious journeys and pilgrimage through his development of a five-dimension typology of ‘tourist experiences,’ which distinguished tourists in terms of their relationship with a ‘centre.’ Fascinatingly, Cohen’s typology turned on the degree to which personal identity was determined by adherence to a centre, and the issue of whether that centre was the centre of the tourist’s own society, and the extent to which “modern man … [is] normally a conformist.” These pioneering observations of MacCannell and Cohen have grown in relevance as the social sciences have strongly asserted the primacy of the self in Western late modernity, and the decline of traditional institutions as authorities for personal identity, religion, spirituality, and as sources from which the self is constructed.