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Lines in the sand: An anthropological discourse on wildlife tourism

Burns, Georgette Leah (2009) Lines in the sand: An anthropological discourse on wildlife tourism. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The management of wildlife tourism has been dominated by ideologies informed by western colonialism and its values of nature. These ideologies, made transparent through communicative and interpretative discourses, influence the way management policies and practices are devised and enacted. The inherent scientific and utilitarian views are supported by a doctrine of separation. This is apparent in the dualism posed, and enacted, between nature and culture that sees humans as being the sole carriers of culture that separates them from the uncultured and uncivilised world of nature into which all other animals, and certainly untamed wildlife, belong. It justifies the use of non-humans for human purposes and continues to allow us to treat non-human animals and other forms of nature in often abominable ways.

This thesis investigates two situations in which wildlife tourism occurs in Australia. Fraser Island and Penguin Island are two wildlife tourism destinations on opposite sides of the continent with very different wildlife but some very similar issues. From these two contexts data was collected through interviews, focus groups, participant observation, and from literary and documentary sources. Understanding the empirical data collected from these case studies is facilitated through a social constructionist view of discourse analysis that allows an unpacking of the messages and a stance from which to challenge the dominant ideologies that frame management and interaction.

In the thesis I demonstrate that anthropology, in its incarnation as environmental anthropology and as a team player in a necessarily interdisciplinary approach to understanding and resolving environmental issues, has much to offer. This engagement has the potential to enhance not only the sustainable future of naturebased activities like wildlife tourism but also the relevance of anthropology in the postcolonial contemporary world.

The need for a holistic framework encompassing all the stakeholders in any wildlife tourism venture is proposed. This approach to wildlife tourism is best serviced by examining perspectives, values and concerns of all members of the wildlife tourism community at any given destination. It is only through this type of holistic and situated focus that we can hope to effectively understand, and then manage, in the best interests of all parties.

More specifically, and finally, I argue for a rethinking of the way wildlife tourism interactions are managed in some settings. The ideology of separation, enacted both conceptually and physically to create maintain boundaries, is demonstrated through the two case studies and the ways in which interactions between humans and wildlife are currently managed. An alternative is posed, that by reconstructing management in settings where wildlife tourists may be more accepting of their own responsibility towards nature, a model can be developed that allows people and wildlife to co-exist without ‘killing’ the natural instincts of either.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Supervisor(s): Macbeth, Jim
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