Mapping the Culture(s) of Sri Lankan Tourism: a cosmopolitan-capitalist value of culture in tourist topographies

Authors: Shelby Ward*, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Topics: Tourism Geography, Cultural Geography, Third World
Keywords: postcolonial, Sri Lanka, tourism, cultural tourism, participatory mapping
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Senate Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In December 2017 - January 2018 I conducted participatory mapping exercises in Sri Lanka, asking individuals to draw or map what they wanted tourists or travelers to see on the island. This paper specifically follows suggestions from individuals that have recognized or mapped “cultural” sites or experiences for tourists. I contrast these radically personal values of culture with traditional tourist maps in promotional materials. However, what often is depicted as “cultural” in both the participatory maps and the promotional maps often is a deferred signifier for “Buddhism,” this inclusion and simultaneous exclusion of Buddhism as culture works on parallel lines as inclusion or absence. Traditional tourist maps and the participatory maps work work between dialectic temporalities: anti/colonial, commodifiable/ radically personal, and in/authentic. I argue that these dialectics confirm the value of culture through Dispesh Chakraparty’s (2000) reading of capitalism and history, and contribute that this additionally follows a cosmopolitan logic. I argue that capital itself is cosmopolitan, or cosmopolitanism is exchanged and practiced as capital. This cosmopolitan-capital framework enables us to discuss the universalization of value on cultural sites and practices, but as they are also understood as “particular.” I maintain that it is the intersections of capital, cultural, history, and the state which produces Sri Lanka as a desti/nation.

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