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21 May 2015

“Tourism, City and Identity”

Lecture by Xavier Antich

Xavier Antich

[Catalan | Duration: 01:58:20]

The Catalan philosopher talks about tourism and its relationship with cities. He stresses how crucial it is to think about the model of the city itself before wondering about the model of tourism it should have.

On 27 April 2015, the philosopher Xavier Antich, a lecturer in Aesthetics and Theory of Art at the University of Girona and chairman of the board of the Antoni Tàpies Foundation, gave a lecture titled “Tourism, City and Identity” at the Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB). The closing event in the second Master’s Degree course in Tourism and the Humanities (Autonomous University of Barcelona), this lecture was jointly organised with the Institute of Humanities and presented by the course director, Miquel Flamarich.

The overall idea of the lecture is that the present approach to the debate on tourism is inadequate. Antich believes that it is too concerned with whether tourism is damaging or enriching and therefore overlooks the really important question: what kind of city do we want? This model must respond first to the wishes of citizens with regard to the sort of city they would like to live in, and should only then address the question of how the citizens want their city to be presented to tourists. As Antich puts it, “Tourism doesn’t degrade the city. It’s the city that degrades itself when it is planned with a view to attracting tourists”.

Antich organised his lecture into four groups of ideas. First, he focused on tourism and travelling itself which, he says, entail leaving one’s familiar world behind and, accordingly, setting out on an experience of uncertainty and transformation. This is a transformation of both the individual who makes the journey and the community he or she visits. Nowadays, however, this process is increasingly weakened following the advent of mass tourism and homogenisation of everything that is presented.

Second, he enquires further into the latter point, now focusing on the brand-name city. Once it becomes a brand, the city “is bereft of the processes that explain it, constitute it and underpin urban life”. The city is then subjected to a process which can be read in two different ways: first, its identity is simplified to become obvious and generic; and, second, it is alienated from its own history because its monuments become fossilised as sacred objects, stripped of the history and processes that explain them.

In this situation, when cities are denuded of the conceptual sense that explains them, the experience of the journey is impoverished and trivialised. Hence, in his third and fourth sections, Antich suggests that, given the present-day market logic, tourism – conceived of “as the result of institutional and frequently private initiatives planned with a view to defining inducements and occupying niches in the market” – should be reconsidered.

Taking as an example the city of Barcelona, which he believes has been constructed without consulting the citizens, he proposes that the present model should be replaced by another that would result from the citizens’ participation and involvement of the humanities and the human sciences in shaping the new policies. The historical routes of the city that are presently organised for both local residents and tourists by the Museum of the History of Barcelona (MUHBA) might be a good way to start.

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