Category Archives: theorizing heritage on the move

Photograph illustrating conflagration of local heritage and tourism

Mobilities: the blind spot of heritage studies

Maria Gravari-Barbas (EIREST, Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)

The relationship between mobilities and heritage is multifaceted, complex, and particularly favorable for understanding contemporary heritage development. Yet few publications examine the relationship between mobility studies and heritage studies. No reference to heritage is made in manuals on mobility, despite the diversity of the themes addressed (Adey et al., 2014; Urry, 2007). Conversely, in the field of heritage studies, heritage is most often seen as an endogenous social product originating within the region or area. For many researchers, heritage cannot be dissociated from national construction (Chastel, 1987). It is interwoven into the identity of the nation, contributing to the maintenance of a collective imagination around a sense of nationhood. More generally, heritage is understood as a social product of the ‘permanent’ inhabitants of an appropriated or claimed region within a scientific approach that establishes the local identity of the groups (social, cultural, or ethnic) living there. The role of temporary populations (or of populations perceived as temporary) in heritage development processes is, more often than not, most often neglected. This applies to migrations (whether voluntary or involuntary), nomadism, and tourist mobilities.

The relationship of tourist populations to heritage development also represents a blind spot in heritage studies. Although numerous works on the multiple relationships between heritage and tourism obviously do exist, such studies focus on the different ways in which tourism takes over heritage that is ‘already there’, often produced a very long time ago by indigenous populations, with a view to using or enhancing it for tourism purposes. Researchers focus on the impacts of tourism’s development of heritage, sometimes positive but more often than not negative. Before the middle of the 20th century, the bibliography on ‘mass’ tourism had already drawn a profile of tourists as destroyers of heritage. More recently, during these first decades of the 21st century and within a context qualified as over-tourism or tourismophobia (Milano, 2017), the relationship of tourists to heritage is approached from the angle of predation: tourists ‘consume’ heritage, visually or physically, in the sense that they wear out, destroy, and in all cases pervert the heritage visited. The legitimacy of tourist populations to ‘produce’ heritage, with tourists themselves being driving forces behind heritage development, is strongly contested.

A tourism heritagization?

The globalization of the tourism industry causes tourism to become an increasingly important producer of commodified heritage (Cameron, 2008), implying a dual logic in tension between standardization and territorial differentiation.

Work by researchers has highlighted the “world tourism boom” (Cazes, 1989:9) from the end of the 20th century onwards, with greater emphasis being placed on the impact of the consumption of heritage by tourists. However, such work pays much less attention to the production of heritage by tourist populations. Some studies, however, stress the need to move beyond the single idea of the impoverishment of local cultures due to globalized tourism, and instead to analyze the social relations between tourism production and consumption (Ateljevic and Doorne, 2003). Indeed, tourism has played a role as a producer of heritage in the areas in which it originated historically [notably in Europe with the Grand Tour]. More than in the past, however, it plays an active role today in the affirmation of heritage. The ‘tourist gaze’ (Urry, 1990) results in strong decision-making power. Heritage recognition is often exploited as a tourism label. The number of tourists visiting an area justifies the affirmation of heritage, far beyond the historical centers of the emergence of the notions of heritage and tourism. As one resident of Marrakesh said about the tourists who come to live more or less temporarily in the riads: “This fever for buying traditional houses is beginning to become a real phenomenon. Should we accept it as inevitable, as part of a global mutation? […] What on earth do they come looking for here? Have they understood something that we, the children of the country, have not?” (Kurzac-Souali, 2007, translation ours) The issue of hybridizations (Amoamo, 2011) and the role of tourism in contemporary heritage production is central to these questions, which explore the hypothesis that tourism functions as a “heritage-producing machine” (Gravari-Barbas, 2018).

To suggest that the gaze and actions of tourists can cause the creation and development of heritage may seem heretical. There are, however, several situations that demonstrate the way in which tourism has helped forge local cultures. Moreover, the emotional relationship these ‘temporary inhabitants’ have with heritage often results in real investment on their part (patronage, voluntary work, mobilization for the safeguarding of endangered elements) that extends far beyond the propensity to pay for the heritage visited (Gravari-Barbas and Jacquot, 2020).

My research aims at exploring the ways the ‘outsider’s’ actions and gaze transform the local site. Mobile populations’ actions turn riads into “maisons d’hôte”, galleries or museums and tenement buildings into signifiers of or monuments to migration. This happens because mobile populations see the places they visit or live in, by choice or by obligation, differently than the locals do. The cross-analysis carried out in this paper on two diametrically different case studies offer interesting ground for further generalizations on the role different types of mobilities can play in the heritagization process. This is the main aim of my research: to challenge the dominant approach of locally-oriented heritage and demonstrate the decisive role of mobilities, and their hybridizations, in heritagization dynamics and production (Gravari-Barbas, 2022).


Adey P.,Bissell D., Hannam K., Merriman P. and Sheller M. (2014) The Routledghe handbook of mobilities, London, New York: Routledge.

Amoamo M. (2011) ‘Tourism and hybridity: Revisiting Bhabha’s third space’, Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 38, No 4, pp. 1254-1273.

Ateljevic I. and Doorne S. (2003) ‘Culture, Economy and Tourism Commodities: Social Relations of Consumption and Production’ Tourist Studies Vol. 3, No 2, pp. 123-141.

Cameron C. (2008) ‘The Marketing of Heritage; From the Western World to the Global Stage’, City & Society, Vol. 20, No 2, pp. 160-168.

Cazes G. (1989) Le tourisme international : mirage ou stratégie d’avenir, Paris: Hatier.

Chastel A. (1987) ‘La notion de patrimoine’, in Nora P. (dir.), Les lieux de mémoire, Volume 2:La Nation, Paris: Gallimard, p. 406-450.

Gravari-Barbas M. (2018) ‘Tourism as a heritage-producing machine’, Tourism Management Perspectives, Volume 25, Pages 173-176.

Gravari-Barbas M. and, Jacquot S. (2021), ‘From Tourism gaze to tourist engagement,a relational approach to heritage’, in Stock M. (ed), Progress in French Tourism Geographies, Routledge.

Gravari-Barbas M. (2022) Tenements in New York and riands in Marrakesh. Mobilities and the new paradigm of heritagization, in Cattan N., Faret L. Hybrid Mobilities, Transgressive spatialities, Routledge, p. 15-36.

Kurzac-Souali L. (2007) Architecture du Maroc, no. 17, 2004, Editorial

Milano, C. (2017) Overtourism y Turismofobia. Tendencias globales y contextos locales. Barcelona: Ostelea School of Tourism & Hospitality. 

Urry, J. (2007), Mobilities. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Urry J. (1990), The Tourist Gaze, (2nd ed. Sage Publications, 2002).

Image : Riad heritagization. Resematization of local architecture by tourism © MGB, 2017