Becoming an innovative tourism destination
Theoretical concepts for sustainable growth in the tourism industry
Associate professor in Ethnology
University West, Sweden
Abstract: This paper is investigating some concepts that can be used to address the issue of economic growth in the tourism industry to make it both sustainable, entrepreneur friendly, and so that it engages a wide spectrum of actors among the population. The take on the issue is strictly theoretical, and the aim for the paper is to develop concepts to think with, that can be used also outside of academia.
Key words: destination development, co-production of knowledge, entrepreneurship, economic growth, sustainability, and innovation.
IntroductionThe main focus in this paper is the question: How to think to make a tourist destination prosperous, innovative and sustainable? This question is part of my work in the EU-funded, inter-regional project, Marifus, where I contribute to the overall project with theories and methods from Cultual study, which is my area of expertise. Focus in the project is the canals, locks and waterways along with an old industrial environment which has been preserved close to the city center of both Trollhättan and Vänersborg, which is two smaller cities in close proximity to each other located in the south west of Sweden. The challenge is to highlight these areas without destroying there soul and to make them visible and prosperous without scaring away the people that use the places today.
In this paper I am trying to briefly sketch out some guidelines for a new mindset that can be used to promote innovation and economic growth in the tourism industry as a whole. The paper is theoretical, and the aim is to start conversations about some analytical tools that can be used by many different stakeholders, both inside and outside of academia. This is an important remark because I am going to argue that knowledge needs to be spread more in society for to make it sustainable.
A successful and prosperous tourist destination has to be built on what is there in the first place, and to make it sustainable the work has to be done in accordance with some kind of common vision among the local residents. Even if this is easy to say but very difficult to implement in a society, I argue that this is what must be accomplished. In many ways it is an impossible mission, but why should we let difficulties like that stop us from trying? Let's start the work and we'll see how far we get. The alternative is to give up, and then we know for sure what is happening: Nothing! This is an important epistemological remark and it is grounded in the theoretical work of the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and his co-writer Fèlix Guattari, and it will be presented more and developed further later on in the paper.
To develop this collective approach we need an understanding of culture that emphasizes it as an open ended process. Movement and change is what both researchers and people in everyday life are dealing with when they work with innovations, try to achieve sustainability or be able to deal with culture. These questions cannot be regarded as well defined problems that can be solved once and for all. Because the world; culture, society, people and matter, technology, money and knowledge, is in a constant, intermingling process of joint becoming. This is at least what I argue here in this paper. Culture is considered as a kind of mutable structure, characterized by collective continuous co-creation; a kind of organizing principle. Culture is more than anything the result of interactions between different kinds of actors, and actants, because not only humans can be said to act and make a difference in a given context.
A sustainable and economically viable destination can only be built from below, together with the people that live their life in the location that is to be developed. Without a sensitive and deep understanding of the history, the present and the local’s visions of the future, any developing project is bound to be short lived. To do this I try to connect my theoretical influences with the philosophy of Work Integrated Learning (WIL) that is developed at University West in Trollhättan, Sweden, and that I as a researcher am deeply engaged in.
CultureCulture is everywhere and affects everything, but it is nothing in itself, and can therefore only be examined indirectly, through the effect it has on us and on/in everyday life. Culture is basically change and complexity. This is important to understand if one wants to work with destination development, not least because it is an aspect that is often forgotten. Hidden stories and spontaneous thoughts are examples of often neglected cultural imprints that have to be taken in to consideration if one wants to understand culture and everyday life in society. This paper is, as I said, theoretical, but theory is meaningless if it is not related to some kind of empirical examples. I just have to emphasize that the data presented below is samples to think with, more than anything else. I am not trying to prove anything with it.
Together with the local newspaper TTELA I try to collect thoughts and stories about Trollhättan and Vänersborg. During the spring of 2013 a petition was sent out in the area that both contained information about the project and announced that I was interested in people's thoughts and stories about their respective hometown. The newspaper reaches about 40000 people, and the request resulted in two stories from people in the area. It is an understatement to say that I had hoped for a greater response. After the summer a new petition was published in TTELA, which also announced that the response had been poor in the first call for stories. The result this time was nil. I have given this poor result a lot of thought, but have come to the conclusion that there is not one definitive answer that can explain the outcome. Culture is peculiar in that way. The research never comes up with any definite answers, because there isn’t any available. Cultural study is a science of something that by its nature is vague. Culture is everywhere, and nowhere at the same time. Culture resides in-between. Therefore culture can only be approached indirectly, through more or less corroborated interpretations.
Ideas and empirical data for interpretations of the cultural setting of Trollhättan and Vänersborg can be acquired in many different ways. In open discussion forums on Facebook for example. There at least I found something that I regard as a plausible explanation for the lack of stories when someone in a discussion thread declared that s/he would not give me any story, “for it would surely be exploited by politicians to merge Trollhättan and Vänersborg in to one city.” This I know is something that worries many people in the area and the quarrels between the cities is not a new phenomenon. The quotation from Facebook is maybe a sign of an underlying anxiety that can explain my difficulty of collecting stories. But the poor result can of course as well be explained by people’s lack of time, or that they are unaccustomed to write a text like that and send it to a newspaper, disinterest in the question, or difficulty in seeing the benefits of collecting stories. There are a number of reasons not to share ones story. But as I see it there is no need for that kind of understanding to continue the research. To understand culture I don’t need stories, and even an untold story is a kind of story that contains a lot of information.
Dissonance between Trollhättan and Vänersborg is a well-known and widespread phenomenon that has roots far back in time. On Facebook the discussions that followed my appeals, which I put out there to, almost exclusively came to evolve around the border between the cities. If it really existed, how crisp and vivid it was and where exactly it is. Perhaps this border is something that can be built on when developing the destination? It is something that at least has a deep and unique connection to the area and its history. Differences do not need to be a problem, it can instead often be turned into a benefit. Culture is, as has been stated earlier, everywhere and has connections to everybody and everything.
Tourists are people who come from the outside, to spend money. It is hard to make people come exclusively to this destination but the distance to the coastal area of Bohuslän and the city of Gothenburg is not that far. Trollhättan and Vänersborg is in close proximity to one another, and there is a flow of currency that comes with people that passes through, on their way up north or to the inland. This flow of money can be used by both cities. The trick is to make people stop. And the imaginative border between the cities can perhaps be both used as a catch and turned into a hiking trail. “Come and experience the diversity and contrasts between our two cities.” Or: “Feel the tension and be inspired by the different histories, the nature and the dynamic milieu.” Culture is not, it becomes when and where people interact with each other and the place where they live, even if they do not interact at all.
For cultural researchers imagination is a highly valued asset. And when I use my imagination I come to think of Charles Dickens famous book: A tale of two cities. His story can be transformed and used in the development of the destination Trollhättan and Vänersborg: “Come and participate in a tale of two cities”, is maybe a plausible slogan? Vänersborg actually calls itself Little Paris, perhaps for the sake of the boulevard and the inhabitants taste for more sophisticated cultural expressions and art forms. This story has been used to put Vänersborg on the map. Little Paris is a story about Vänersborg, created by the author Birger Sjöberg and it do captures something of the soul of the city. It is a story of a small, but proud and urbane city. Vänersborg, the regional capital of the county, is a city of administration. This story can be contrasted to and shed light on the story of Trollhättan, which is a totally different city. It is a city with a long industrial history, not entirely unlike Gothenburg, that is commonly called Little London. These unexpected connections, and there are a lot of them if you open your mind and start looking, can be said to be an example of a line of flight that I will explain further on in the paper. To find things to work with and develop you only have to open your eyes, but to use it you need imagination. Every place has something to build on, not necessarily something extraordinary. Culture is amazing in that way. To merge the two cities in to one is to simplify and that serves nobody. The differences between Trollhättan and Vänersborg are perhaps the destination's largest and most important asset?
While there are differences between the cities, there is also much that unites them: The proximity to water and the beautiful walks in the fine and unique nature that surround the cities for example. There is good communications between Gothenburg and the destination and many tourists visiting Gothenburg can certainly be interested in taking a trip up country.
One important thing that really unites Trollhättan and Vänersborg and makes the destination unique in the world is the word or concept: Creativity. I regard this as an under developed story that can and should be used more both in the marketing and in the work to develop a unique and innovative destination. Trollhättan has a industrial history that can easily be summed up with the word creativity. Trollywood, the famous filming site, shows how it has been able to maintain creativity in the area, even after the world is changing and the industrial map is rewritten. Trollhättan has in other words a legacy to uphold and to build something new on the evolving history. Vänersborg as well have a history that can be captivated by creativity, but there in a more (fine) cultural aspect of the word. Vänersborg has a well-known high school program in music and art. A poosible slogan to use is: “Two cities, one creative destination: Come visit or move here and be inspired by the flourishing creativity.” Or “Come visiting the creative Twin Cities.”
To build a sustainable destination not only tourists can and should be attracted, companies are a vital part of destination development. And today, in Trollhättan there is actually an emerging industry with potential for sustainable development. The car company Nevs, that build something new on the old and famously creative brand SAAB, namely cars with electric motors. This is just a few examples of what one can see and develop further when one take culture and theories from Cultural studies in consideration and connect them to the work with developing a tourist destination. Don’t think big, think local and do something with what you have, that’s my (theoretical) conclusion.
Work-Integrated LearningWork-Integrated Learning (WIL), in the fashion I work with is a collective knowledge producing process that takes place in-between work life, academia and society (Nehls 2010). I regard it as a perfect tool for the kind of work that I want to do in the project. The success factor of a WIL-process is directly dependent on that no party is allowed to take over. It is a joint knowledge venture where everyone learns from each other. Equally important is it that every participant in the process understands that the actual outcome by definition is impossible to determine in advance. WIL is a process that is impossible to lead to a specific goal, and for it to be successful it requires that the relationship between the people that work together is well balanced. All parties in the process must in other words give up some of their autonomy. To avoid that WIL is becoming yet another educational fad, or a quick fix that consultants are trying to sell, or worse, a coat of varnish on the same old business as usual, it requires that we dare to tread a path that, by definition, only to some extent can be mapped out. The risk may at first glance seem high, but a long term and well established WIL-process may well be the key to a sustainable society, and a prosperous destination.
The most important feature of WIL, in the way I work with the concept, is its character of a collective and non-linear process. To understand this, one must first accept that life largely is controlled by chance. Before this controversial claim is rejected (it is a common reaction to this type of statements), let me remark that I know that chance is dangerously close to fate and metaphysical figures of thought that are unrelated to what I'm here is about to say and do. When I talk about chance and coincidence, I do this in the meaning of the word that Deleuze (see, eg, 2006:209, 1990:164ff) has launched. He has in many texts resembled thinking with throwing of a dice. He is of the opinion that thinking is not primarily or exclusively something that goes on inside the heads of people, but rather to be understood as something that occurs in encounters between different kinds of actors, within a context. Deleuze means that the whole context must be considered in order to be able to understand how thinking arises and how it changes. It is important to bear in mind that anything cannot happen as a result of chance. But what actually can happen further on is inevitably determined by the conditions that arise from what happened just now. Once you have accepted this you can easily pick up chance and it then illustrates that anything of a limited number of possible scenarios will be realized. The outcome of this kind of processes can never be regulated beforehand or in detail and this is why even small and insignificant things and aspects is important. But it is possible to affect the opportunity horizon from which random outcomes are generated. There is a small, but very important shift in perspective, here (see fx Rombach 1991, Czarniawska 2005, Callon 1998).
Related to chance is another of Deleuze’s concepts, line of flight, that has been touched upon above. For Deleuze, “It is never the beginning or the end which are interesting; the beginning and the end are points. What is interesting is the middle.” (Deleuze & Parnet 2002:39). For Deleuze, the real potential of a text (his concept can easily be related to WIL or destination development) lies in the process, in its lines of flight (basically everything that works and that can be made useful). In the middle, in-between, there is a becoming of knowledge that I would like to think of in terms of WIL and that can be used in destination development. It is always in-between, often as a result of chance, that new ideas emerge and innovations first see the light of day. These in-betweens of culture and everyday life is important, but vulnerable and often neglected because they are thought of as redundant. I argue the opposite, and regard this as one of my most important contribution to the overall project.
Lines of flight can simply be described as a constructive opportunity that arises where/when you least expect. And what is needed in order to take benefit of the potential of these lines is the skill to detect, catch and make something of them as and where and when they appear. Moreover you need a humble openness and a willingness to test also ideas that someone else is responsible for. It is therefore of vital importance that as many people as possible learn how to recognize and capture these lines of flight, for they appear everywhere.
In order to liberate the potential of WIL, and to discover and take advantage of the alignments that occur in-between, it is in everybody’s interest to keep a high ceiling and to ensure that work progresses in an open minded spirit. What is needed in order to discover and make something out of the result, is the often neglected competence to talk and to listen, to converse.
Conversation vs DebateTo liberate the potential of WIL and lines of flight we need a “place” that is designed for communication, because a truly sustainable development can only grow out of conversations between equal and critical but dedicated actors. If this place/space is physical or virtual, is of no importance, what matter is that it can promote unbiased meetings between interested and open minded participants. To make this happen one can do as Deleuze and think of the processes in terms of conversations (See Deleuze & Parnet 2002:1 ff). According to Deleuze, we must engage our self in conversations much more than what we do today. What we, on the other hand do today, but should stop doing, is discuss. There is a fundamental difference between these words, an important and epistemological difference.
Debates have specific goals: To arrive at something that is defined beforehand, something definitive. Therefore debates often tend to evolve into arenas for exercise of power, even if it is not the intention of any of the parties. It is so to speak, built into the nature of the debate forum to fuel the trend to power precisely because the goal is to reach a settlement. The concept of conversation can thus function as a thinking tool for understanding what an ideal WIL process can look like and strive for and how this understanding can be used in destination development.
Conversations are, by definition, unbiased. In a conversation there is a natural and obvious place even for silence and reflection, which often is what it takes to come up with new ideas (or constructive lines of flight). Conversations are simply a brilliant platform for evolutionary trial-and-error-processes like WIL or the kind of destination development that I have in mind. When a problem is discovered in society it is common to start a debate or a negotiation to solve the problem. But too often and too quickly these debates tend to be filled by demands and expectations for quick and tangible results. The problem with many debates and questions raised in society as well as the academy is that its configuration is shut and limited. The questioning itself regulates the mere possibility to come up with an answer. When a question is asked, there is seldom ill will intermingled in the question or from the person who calls for a debate. This tendency should rather be understood as a property which is nestled in to the questioning and discussion forum as such. Culture and everyday life in society are simply full of rules and expectations that must be met before what is happening there can be regarded as meaningful.
It is important to remark that the concept of conversation may not be perceived as a method to solve concrete problems once and for all, so that everybody can return to their respective business as usual. For conversations to be fruitful processes of knowledge exchange they must be allowed to operate over time, in their own pace. When this is understood, participants in conversations about tourist destination development can help each other to control the conversation so that it stays unbiased and not migrates into a debate in which territory is guarded and power is exercised. If this happens the process can be paused and the conversation started over. This require however that everybody that is involved in the conversation give up some of their autonomy and rather consider them self as representatives of specific skills more than as representatives of a company or a discipline, with all that entails in terms of positioning and monitoring of special interests.
To achieve these ambitions it is essential to work carefully with the design of the process, and to really think through the parties respectively responsibilities. Deleuze presents various suggestions on how one might think when designing such a process, or his thoughts can at least serve as inspiration when the rules for such a conversation climate is formulated (Deleuze & Parnet 2002:2). Deleuze’s thoughts should however not be seen as clear definitions but rather as attempts to provoke the reader to think for themselves. Deleuze says that, “all mistranslations are good – always provided that they do not consist in interpretations” (ibid:5). The important thing here is to stay open for, and to devise strategies to discover and hang on to, the lines of flight that show up everywhere but that can be difficult to detect if you are concentrating too much on achieving a specific, pre-defined objective.
Knowledge grows out of the middle, between the participants and their respective competencies that is brought in to the process. A new and different, sustainable destination development cannot be something that arises in the mind of one or a few experts, since these are only small parts of larger systems. By making many people actively aware of this state of affairs, it is possible to understand how to work out successful strategies to promote innovations and develop tourist destinations. But to be successful in this work it is crucial to understand that the process can’t be steered towards pre-formulated goals.
The only value this work or this process might have is entirely dependent upon the actual result that it gives rise to and what this result can be used for. The concept of best practice is problematic, even if one clearly can and should learn from others' best practices and benefit from experiences done by others. It is important that both science and the corporate world is critically reviewed, not only by scholars, because science is just as much as any other human activity impregnated with power and power structures. Transparency is the key word here, and it is important to promote the ability to critically assess the result of the work that is done. The insights gained in and through conversations between representatives of academia and work life can be used collectively and democratically in the process of building a more equitable and sustainable world.
In Deleuze’s and Guattari’s (2003a & 2003b) joint production, it is what is happening in the gaps between actors that are emphasised and important. It is in the middle that the unexpected is to be found, but only if the context where the conversation is taking place is sufficiently open. Help to understand this I get from a quotation from Deleuze when he is talking about his longstanding collaboration with his colleague Fèlix Guattari.
We were only two, but what was important for us was less our working together than this strange fact of working between the two of us. We stopped being ‘author’. And these ‘between-the-twos’ referred back to other people, who were different on the side from one other. The dessert expanded, but in so doing became more populous. This had nothing to with a school, with processes of recognition, but much to do with encounters. And all these stories of becomings, of nuptials against nature, of a-parallel evolution, of bilingualism, of theft of thoughts, were what I had with Fèlix. I stole Fèlix, and I hope he did the same for me. (Deleuze & Parnet 2002:17)
For those who might think that Deleuze is wrong, it is important to point out the fact that if the thoughts are found not to be the constructive tools that I perceive them to be, or if not enough actors get engaged in the work, then the process will inevitably die. The only way to form an adequate understanding of the usefulness and potential of a concept is to investigate the actual consequences that can be connected to it. The value of a concept cannot be forecasted, only back casted or measured with empirical observation of the outcome of the process.
Sustainability and the value of uncertaintyUnclearly expressed thoughts are not always a bad thing. Vagueness can sometimes be the only way forward. This is an important remark and something that has to be taken seriously to understand what I want to accomplish with my work and in this article. To solve the problems that can be connected to destination development, I argue, we do not need more rationality or better methods, we are instead in desperate need for a better use of the knowledge and understanding we have of the human mind. What we need is a different rationality, and time and effort from many different actors, as I have try to argue for above. There is no easy solution to the problems that society as a whole has to tackle, and that problem is similar to the problem of destination development. Therefore thoughts about how to tackle the problems of sustainability and theories of WIL are useful in the work with destination development. These kinds of problems can only be solved if we understand that the solution always already is right in front of us. But as long as we do not see or understand this, the problem puzzles us. The key to the solution is to understand the importance of not to regard uncertainty as a problem. Both the problem and the solution have to do with culture, and culture can only be investigated indirectly because it isn’t anything in itself. Because as soon as we sharpen our eyes to see clearly, as soon as we light up the place where culture is located, the answer vanishes. And as soon as we try to define it and transform it to a goal, which can be broken down into sub-goals, it slips through our fingers. Culture is by definition vague, just like the concept of sustainability and creativity, and this we need to both understand and take in to consideration to solve the problems connected to destination development.
To promote innovations we have to think of and work with visions, instead of goals. And we need another understanding of knowledge and society. We also need hope and comfort in the process. Time and patience is also important. The approach I work with I like to see as a kind of planting of seeds that will grow and blossom into solutions, when and where the context and the climate are right. But to see and understand the potential of this requires of us that we abandon the quest for clarity, and instead embrace the uncertain and see it as a possibility. Clarity is like a lump of sugar for all those who want nothing more than to streamline the process that leads to an innovative and sustainable destination. Power and influence tends to moves up the hierarchy, and when something goes wrong, the logical consequence would be kicking the boss. And then the process start all over and everything continues as before. If for example a famous and expensive expert is hired, he comes from the outside with a ready-made package, a best practice, and implement it, from above or from the outside, and then takes the money and move on. Experts is in many ways like mirrors in that way and they make money on the widely spread demand for clarity, certainty and expertise. Everyone is familiar with phenomenon like McDonalds, that may very well be successful, but it lacks real soul and is not dynamical, and everyone knows that the real money ends up in a multinational company that owns the rights for the concept. Developing a destination by hiring successful external consultants works in the same way and is not sustainable. In the short term it may be possible to create something that attracts attention in this way, but not in the long term. Disneyfication is a well-known phenomenon, and it is the opposite of what I have in mind.
A perfect theory, model or solution triggers feelings of subservience and admiration for the genius who created the theory, model or solution. It transfers responsibility and action focus from the base to the top. And that's unfortunate, if it is sustainability you are looking for or inventions you need. What is needed is commitment and action from as many people as possible. Therefore unclear scientific results, like the one that are produced in Cultural Studies are preferred, for they reduce the distance between the academy and the public. A solution that does not quite hold together sharpens your attention and promotes creativity. It motivates and leads to action; action that leads to motion that creates change and make a destination prosperous and sustainable.
Vague thoughts and theories require attention and commitment; it creates a need for conversations. And sustainability function and work in many ways just like a conversation that needs to be kept alive in order to be effective. If the idea we talk about is clear and unambiguous, then there is nothing to talk about anymore. Then the process stops and we move away from what could be sustainable. Trollhättan and Vänersborg are two cities but one destination. I mean they can be united by a notoriously vague and elusive concept: creativity. And if the creativity is directed towards the challenge of sustainability and destination development, then one plus one certainly can be more than two.
It is important that we understand that there are no shortcuts to sustainable development, just work and effort, in everyday life, from as many actors (and we have to bear in mind that not only humans can function as actors) as possible. A constant striving from a multitude of actors is what sets the process in motion and also what guaranties its sustainability. James Surowiecki (2005) talks about The Wisdom of Crowds, and Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2007) in his book The Black Swan makes us aware of the importance of the highly improbable. Processes of cultural becoming are filled with “black swans” and this makes the outcome uncertain. What we have to understand is that this is not a problem, it is as it is. This is the way reality works.
Insights and knowledge is nothing that can be ordered up. Putting energy into designing a best practice to solve a problem is like putting all your eggs in one basket. Still, it's what we do, over and over again, both in science and society. We assume, a priori, that there is such a thing as a single best practice, always, everywhere. On the contrary, I argue for good reason that it is much more sustainable to start thinking freely about various possible solutions to the problems, and then collect the lines of flight that work. This way it is possible both to promote and develop the ability for creativity. What is best? It is a misleading question. A much more sustainable way to think and work is to start with the question: What works, in this case, here and now? If we start looking for what works, then we have to take into account the role of chance. Then chance is not a problem anymore, it’s a valuable resource. Such a strategy sharpens everybody’s attention, and not least moves the focus from the originator of the problem to its solution. This method and way of thinking about knowledge and destination development is designed to generate new and creative ideas from below, from the very foundation of the destination.
It is better to stop searching for best practices or the truth and instead reflect on the following question: Does it work? Do we want a society built by reverently uncritical and slavish rule-following citizens who folds flat for all authority? Or do we want a society where as many as possible take responsibility for and critically evaluate the decisions and not least the impact of the knowledge that is held true? This is rhetorical questions that have no definitive answers, questions that is designed to trigger conversations.
Cultural Studies, or at least the culture of science I'm doing, draws inspiration from everywhere, which I have try to show above. All that work should be used to enhance understanding of cultural events, events that I as a researcher am also deeply involved in, not only in the Marifus project. I cannot and will never be the one who tells others what to do. It is not the goal of my research. Power and responsibility must be distributed to the community for it and its process of becoming to be sustainable and it will be hard if we lock ourselves in with and rely on a best solution and if we only listen to people that have been approved for excellence.
The thought that I have try to explain here can be explained in many ways. For example by asking the reader to think about a Troll (as in Trollhättan). Trolls (as well as knowledge, creativity, destination development and culture), has to be allowed to remain in the dark (stay vague), or else they die. The only way to experience alive trolls in its natural habitat is to sharpen our senses and make us familiar with the darkness and vagueness, because if you drag a troll out in the sunshine it turns in to stone and becomes something different. I see it as my duty as a scientist to develop and construct concept and tools of thought that can be used to see what one would not otherwise see, in order to help create something new based on what we already have at hand.
A small but important stepWhat I want to promote in the project is conversations that can gives rise to new meanings and significance in the in-between of the actors that builds up the destination. To make this happen we need to regard the destination as a context that gives rise to consequences, a context in a state of constant becoming. And in that process stories and concepts play a central role for the outcome. My task as a scientist cannot be to put forward matters of fact for society, which would be to restrain the multi-faceted character of the world. On the contrary, I think that scientist must redefine their role. Theoretical inspiration for that work I find in an article by Bruno Latour (2008): "What is the Style of Matters of Concern?" where he describes a scientific approach perfect for the project I have briefly sketched out the contours of here.
Latour reasons that contemporary society is characterized by a firm opinion on and understanding of what knowledge is. It is aptly described in the following term: Matters of Fact. A science that works with that objective only deals with facts that can be measured and with the question of what has “actually” happened. This definition of knowledge is both accepted and widely spread in society as well as in universities all over the world, and therefore it needs to be challenged.
When one says that culture (knowledge, sustainability, innovation) is complex and often contradictory concepts one always run the risk of getting accused for being goofy. But if this is the case, if that is a matter of fact about culture and sustainability, how can this be a problem? If culture is best described by the word goofy, is it not better to accept this and try to understand the principles and processes leading to that outcome? The same goes for tourist destinations. We can learn a lot from Latour and his alternative to the rigid Matters of Fact, I think. A more appropriate and constructive ideal for scientific work can be to think about it in terms of, Matters of Concern. The difference between the two notions of science is very small, but crucial.
Latour offers four specifications for a working understanding of Matters of Concern. Firstly, a scientific work that has matters of concern as its leading star recognizes that there is no absolute distinction between subject and object. All knowledge is mediated and therefore the truth can never be clean or neat. In brief, Latour points out that we have to raise awareness of the fact that science is conducted by people and for people and that this is good enough. This is a slightly more humble approach to the result of scientific work. The basic thought here is that we have to recognise that knowledge cannot be distinguished from the scientists that present it. This does not mean that people that are engaged in science should not continue the activities they successfully have carried out. It only means that it is important to tone down the truth claims of the work and to raise awareness of the fact that scientists, like all other people, also have other needs than to seek truth and that it is difficult to be completely clear about what is what. Science is a human activity with all that this implies. A sustainable knowledge production and promotion of innovations needs not only experts, it also needs a society with the ability to think critically about the result that comes out of the academy. A tourist destination is a scattered and open ended place with many different actors and it is the result of the interaction between its parts that is what counts.
Secondly, Latour emphasises that Matters of Concern must be appreciated to be valid. Because knowledge is not good or bad in itself we have to reflect critically, much more than today, about what we hold for true and who we listen to. Matters of Fact, by its very nature, we must take on whether we like it or not. A fact is a fact! This is problematic because it leaves society wide open to the exercise of power. Those who consider themselves to be in possession of the truth are completely closed to further conversations. Examples of what consequences this may have, we see in the far less than constructive debate on the climate that all too often has come to be about who has the truth, and too little about what we can do to avoid a serious threat. The important thing is not how concepts are defined, but what they can be used for. Knowledge imposed from above, objective Matters of facts that we have to obey is dangerous because it disables us of our critical awareness. Knowledge used for other purposes than to make life better and more sustainable for the participating actors is always problematic and needs critical examination. That’s what Matters of concern is all about. Today, especially among researchers that idealise Matter of facts, there is too much focus on academic degrees. The risk with this development is that we tend to listen more to who is speaking, than what they say. Matters of concern are a way to focus more on the research questions and on the result, and less on the researchers.
Latour’s specification number three is about how one should look at the context that everything and everybody is a part of. Above all, it is about giving attention to the fact that things, thoughts and materiality should be included in the assessment of a context and be assigned the same meaning as people. Anything that can make a difference, and therefore also thoughts, texts and material/technology, can and should be considered more. The world is populated by much more than human beings, which is obvious, but a fact often over looked. This statement should be seen primarily as an aid in the efforts to open our eyes to the fact that there is far more in the world that we have to take into consideration than we usually come to think about. Every tourist destination is a context that is built of smaller parts (and not just humans) which all can and should be regarded as actors with the ability to make a difference. Both social and material aspects of the world, people, thoughts, words and things can make a difference. Therefore the most appropriate thing is to only use one term, actors for everything. Knowledge, defined with the help of this approach, is something that occurs in and through a process which includes a wide range of actors, issues and artefacts, all with their specific problems and merits.
The fourth and final specification is about permanence and endurance, and that both science, society and tourist destinations is best understood as processes. The starting point for understanding this is that no actor who is getting into a relationship with other actors is ever unaffected. All meetings/relations between actors do something with the parties and affects both of them and the process of becoming which they are involved in (see also Latour 2000, p. 126).
How to release the hidden power of creativityNow, when the table has been set and the prerequisites for the work that I have in mind have been presented I hope the reader is ready for the final, where I will elaborate on some examples that can push the thinking outside the box and that illustrates the relevance of the theories that have been presented in the paper. Uncertainty and chance is a part of the everyday mix we have to deal with. This is a fact of live that one can regard as a problem to try to eliminate or an opportunity to make something of. And I have argued that it is better to accept and try to build on problems than to try to eliminate them.
It is important to understand that innovations are created in complex relationships. You can never order up an innovation and you seldom find them where you think they are. Innovations emerge from the in-betweens of people, but only when the time and conditions are right. What is required is never possible to know exactly in advance, for then it would not be an innovation but something else. It is hard to see and understand the difference, but that is on the other hand the hardest part. When these conditions are accepted then the constructive work to make something out of the thinking tools that have been presented in the article can start. But one has to understand that the important thing here is what one does, not the goal as such. Because what we have to deal with here is not a work towards a goal, it is a joint venture or a journey of discovery. This is the innovative new way to think about destination development that I find support for in my cultural research.
In order to create a climate that fosters innovation and innovative thinking different skills than those used in society today are required. We need for example a more developed and collective ability to understand and to manage complexity and we have to learn how to live with and embrace uncertainty. We have to learn how to break patterns. Therefore, we cannot by definition do as we have always done. The kind of Cultural studies that I am working with deals with prerequisites for change and creates tools to make the most of the possibilities that is hidden in the complexity of everyday life. Often we want to be able to plan in advance exactly what should be done, how long it takes and how many people that is needed. But that works when one deals with what we already know. Innovation is per definition something that we do not know, it’s about creating something new. To foster innovations we therefore need to understand the value of generous margins, of patience and tolerance for errors and vagueness.
What distinguishes one place from another is its identity, and an identity is a fragile and complex quality that lays hidden in-between as the example with the troll that turned in to stone. Identities of places can’t be pin-pointed exactly, they change when people goes in and out of the place. But everybody knows that some places are better than others and that some destinations manage to attract more visitors than others. This is what destination development is all about: identity and a sense of belonging (both among visitors and inhabitants). To achieve this and to work with this we need to understand the delicacy of the matter, and then we can work with a broad spectrum of tools and aspects. Identity is built by a mix of things that is familiar, of recollections of and connections with memories and different sensations, but we also have to take in consideration the environment and its unique characteristics. It is important that this complex process is allowed to emerge in-between, with as little interference as possible to allow people to put their own stamp on the destination and make room for them to shape his/her own destination out of what is there. It is also important to work with and try to develop collective visions for the future that can guide the process. To make this happen it is important that the place is built up of an architecture whose forms and structures in some sense is open and allows people to mentally or physically add the rest themselves. It is in the gap between tradition and an open ended future that a prosperous and sustainable destination and place to live is created and continually recreated.
A place is never finished; even if it is fixed in concrete it becomes over time when the people who live and reside there interact with the place and with each other and the visitors. Innovation and creativity is processes, and those must be balanced in order to be sustainable. Exponential success is tempting, but involves huge risks for backlashes. Sustainable economic growth (which is the overall objective of the Marifus project) is growing organically, from below and in-between and at its own pace. The objective for this kind of destination development is therefore not to produce a finished concept that can be implemented and sold as a ready-made and copy write-protected artifact. Sustainable destination development must be based on and derived from those who live and work at the destination today, and it has to be a process with vision, not a goal that must be reached. To be successful in this kind of work the architecture and the open places on the destination has to be able to house a certain ambiguity, a kind of lack of clarity in how it should be considered and used. This ambiguity develops and triggers people’s ability to interpret and also help them commit to the physical environment because they are co-creator of it. The effect that I have in mind here resembles what happens in art museums and exhibitions where the meaning is known to lie in the eye of the beholder. Ambiguities activate the imagination and start interpreting processes, and this sets creation processes in motion and promotes innovation. Ambiguities engage the residents and visitors in conversations about the place and its meaning that then changes and spreads.
By consciously build in and count on ambiguities in the development of a place or a destination the sense of integration increases, and that in turn creates good conditions for sustainability. A place that one has made one’s own is a place that one has feelings for. Ambiguity also helps to create interest, and it leads to a sense that there is always something new to discover at the destination. The effect that I am looking for is a common feeling of never being finished. A unique place’s own ambiguity is always related to that particular place history, and its future. Ambiguity is therefore as well as sustainability something that is growing in the gap between tradition and vision, the known and the unknown.
The concept of conversation is a model of thinking that can be said to address all of what I briefly have try to discuss in the article. In a conversation ambiguity is not a problem, it rather starts new conversations. I also regard conversations as a perfect context for developing skills that is needed to promote sustainability and innovation. It is an approach to knowledge that is based on skills and knowledge from Cultural Studies. A common prejudice of Cultural Study is that it deals with art, but it does not. It’s all about culture, but there is a lot of inspiration to retrieve from art, to understand culture and cultural processes of becoming. This I want to elaborate on in the closing of the article and I do it with inspiration from architecture and some thoughts on the city of New York.
A sustainable destination build on uncertainty and creativity, from belowTo release the potential of the theories I have discussed in the paper we need to understand some basic things. For example how the force of habit makes us blind for the architecture and lots of other things that just are there in every-day life and that we tend to forget. This is an aspect of architecture that has been recognized by, among others, the architectural theorist Finn Werne (1987). In his book titled: The invisible architecture, he describes how all designed objects in our world, can be said to encapsulate the notion of the place. This works of course in two ways. He also talks about how the everyday routines rarely or never allow us to penetrate the layer of conventions and habitual thoughts that a clear and rational architecture force on us. Architecture is culture and culture is architecture, and the same goes for destination development.
The value of ambiguity and elusiveness is also something that the architect Catharina Gabrielsson (2006) has talked about in the book: Making a Difference, that deals with public space. It depicts how the architecture conventionally sought confirmation of values, norms and embraced the prevailing order, while art took the opportunity to criticize and ask questions. She has investigated what happens when art's critical and destabilizing approach is transferred to the architectural field by cross-fertilization between the two approaches; and she finds that this approach (the “same” approach that I have discussed above) generates new and often unexpected solutions and ideas. This is insights that can be used in destination developing.
In art and architecture I find openings for just that kind of epistemological conversations that I have in mind and that I have been working with in this project. Architecture resides on the border between conventional science and Cultural Studies, and it certainly has to do with destination development. I see no contradictions between different scientific traditions. On the contrary I find it stimulating to work across borders, because it is often in-between that you find new and useful knowledge. It is in spaces between that different approaches grow and new and constructive knowledge emerges, often as a result of chance. My work in Marifus and elsewhere is not about to determine how it is, but to try to understand where it is possible to go and what is needed for that journey to be sustainable. I see a lot of similarities between Cultural Studies and some schools of architecture in how we approach problems and regard uncertainties. At least according to my interpretation of the influential book Delirious New York, by Rem Koolhaas (1994).
New York is a place that a lot of things that has been touched upon in this paper can be related to. Therefore I would like to end the paper with some reflections and remarks regarding New York as a tourist destination. Because New York is a wonderful example of a prosperous, innovative and creative place that is never the same, even if it is always recognizable. Trollhättan and Vänersborg can of course not be compared with New York, but in the work to develop an interesting destination a lot of insights and inspiration can be gathered both from architecture and from the Big Apple and the work that has been done there.
In comparison with a clean and rational but next to boredom unambiguous location, a multi-layered, indefinite and open ended destination has a much greater ability to disrupt our habitual way of looking at the world around us. Complexity is sometimes regarded as a problem, but I am arguing here that it on the contrary is a valuable quality that should be embraced. Complexity and ambiguity can be built in to the place to help make it more interesting. But to be able to do this and to make the most of it, people that are responsible for the developing process has to understand the epistemology that this thought emerges from. My role in the process is therefore not to tell people what they should do, but to help them understand the the pros and cons of this approach.
New York is a place where everything and nothing at the same time happens as a result of planning. It is an open ended place that gives the visitor a feeling of some kind of estrangement. New York gives its visitors a verfremdung effect because the city is designed to disrupt the habitual vision and enhance the attention. Transformed into destination development it is about putting the visitor in a sense of ambivalence and uncertainty about how the place should be used and interpreted. This makes the visitors more active and boosts the interest for the destination.
Here Trollhättan has huge opportunities with its old industrial area down at the locks. Because no work is performed now the site already creates a kind of uncertainty and ambivalence, and these feelings (which occurs in the gap between tradition and vision) should be able to do something exciting and new out off. The place definitely has the same kind of potential that New York has, and the kind of work that has to be done to develop the area needs no huge investments. What I have in mind is all about doing something constructive with what is already there and the most important thing to bear in mind is to keep the place open ended and in constant motion, to arrange for an open future in a traditional setting.
The goal with the Marifus project it is to arrange for and to optimize the opportunities for participation and innovation. The field work that I conduct is not primarily about collecting stories and to listen to stakeholders and citizens, and it is not about creating a common vision for the destination. That's how research usually is conducted and what convention bid. What I want to do is to do something different and new. I want to arrange for lines of flight and promote creativity. Sustainable destination development is best created by the people who come to the place and like it, and those who already live there. Trollhättan and Vänersborg have a good chance of becoming a destination to be talked about, and the talk attracts visitors, which spreads the feeling further and this increase the interest. Only by giving one can get, this another example from New York can illustrate.
Destination developing is about working with the identity of the place, and identity emerge from the bottom up and hook into what is already there. Identities will be genuine only if they are based on the history of the place. But it is equally important to recognize that both visitors and residents are co-creators of the destination and that a place’ identity arises from the interaction that takes place in-between. It is essential that everyone involved in this process understands this and do not fall into the trap of buying a ready-made concept. Durability is created in and through a constant flow of news and ongoing dynamic change, in and through conversations. Identity is not something you have. Identity is a reciprocal process of becoming. This can be said to be a corner stone for the success of New York as a destination.
The atmosphere of a destination is always the result of interaction between different components. Everything and everyone interacts, influences each other and co-create the experience. Knowledge is rarely found where one believes it to be and what is important and sustainable often occurs unexpectedly. Lines of flight arise where and when one least expects them to do. The well-known logo: I love New York, is a good example of the point I am trying to make here. It is of course difficult to replicate this in Trollhättan and Vänersborg. I love New York is a New York thing, but the process can be used as inspiration for the marketing of Trollhättan and Vänersborg.
As bad as New York was in the seventies, when the campaign was launched, Trollhättan is not by far. But on the other hand the opportunities in Trollhättan and Vänersborg are not totally different. The region is in a period of change and something has to be done. Not long ago the car factory of SAAB had to close down and the unemployment rate is high. The plans for the future are open and people seem to be waiting for something. This is a golden opportunity to try something new, especially as is does not require heavy investments. The change, the new concept has more to do with identity and peoples mindset than buildings. If the epistemology that I have discussed in this article is accepted the mild decadence of the city of Trollhättan and its open ended future can be regarded as an asset, as something to build on, instead of a problem. Even if not many people stop to visit Trollhättan and Vänersborg many people passes through the area. If one thinks just a little outside the box it is not farfetched to see parallels to New York in the seventies and then it is possible to learn from, but not copy, the campaign that got New York back on their feet and restored the city's reputation. There are no guaranties for success and it is by no means easy, but if one does not try a negative answer is given. If one thinks of the idea as a vision, and not as a goal the chances of success increases. Perhaps in the end the result not at all looks like the New York campaign, but that does not has to mean it is a failure.
When marketing New York today the whole world is the target, but the campaign was originally local. A global campaign, they thought would cost too much, and those who lived near New York was easier to attract to the city. The boom for the campaign kicked in and the phenomenon spread when a few satisfied customers returned home and mediated the message in ever wider circles. Here Trollhättan and Vänersborg have something to think about and work with, something to be inspired by. They have the flows of travelers that pass nearby, are well-known for the creativity that is bubbling there, and proximity to the nature and lots of interesting old and empty factory buildings and a well-known canal. The tricky question is: How do you get people that pass by to stop? If only a few people stop and leave the destination feeling happy, excited and curious for more, then perhaps a ball have been set in motion. How to do it and what methods to use are secondary. The key to success is to start with and build on what already is there, to promote what the residents are proud of and pleased with and to involve them and the visitors in the process.
It was decided at the beginning of the famous campaign that the logo, I Love NY not should be protected by copy write laws, and this made it possible for the logo and the campaign to reap spillover effects worth billions when entrepreneurs worldwide put it on everything from T-shirts to coffee mugs. This genius idea seems to be an important key to success for the New York campaign. I regard it as an inspiring empirical example of the carrying capacity of the theories that I have presented in this article, a line of flight and a result of chance.
It is usually not the intelligent, evidence-based and scientifically grounded ideas that shows to be the most effective in real life. More commonly, it is the seemingly insignificant, the vague and perhaps not really thought through ideas that in the end become famous. This lesson is important. My job as a researcher is not to hatch the idea, but to arrange for this kind of ideas to be able to hatch and more importantly to facilitate the identification of a good idea so it can be tested and perhaps become cherished. No one knows in advance what works. Success factors can easily be identified and analyzed retrospectively, but never in advance. And therefore the most important lesson that can be learned from the New York example is not how to do, but how to think before one does anything.
ReferencesCallon, Michel (Ed.), 1998. The Laws of the Markets. Oxford UK & Malden US: Blackwell Publischers/The Sociological Rewiew
Czarniawska, Barbara, 2005. En teori om organisering. Lund: Studentlitteratur.
Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Félix, 2003a. A Thousand plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press.
Deleuze, Gilles & Guattari, Félix, 2003b. What is philosophy? London & New York: Verso.
Deleuze, Gilles & Parnet, Claire, 2002. Dialogues II. New York: Columbia University Press.
Deleuze, Gilles, 1990. Foucault. Stockholm/Stenhag: Brutus Östlings Bokförlag Symposion.
Deleuze, Gilles, 2006. Two Regimes of Madness. Texts and Interviews 1975–1995. New York, Los Angeles: Semiotext(e).
Gabrielsson, Catharina, 2006. Att göra skillnad. Det offentliga rummet som medium för konst, arkitektur och politiska föreställningar. Stockholm: Arkitekturskolan, Kungliga Tekniska högskolan
Koolhaas, Rem, 1994. Delirious New York. New York: The Monacelli Press.
Latour, Bruno, 2000. Pandora’s Hope. Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge (Massachusetts), London.
Latour, Bruno, 2008. “What is the Style of Matters of Concern?” Amsterdam: The Department of Philosophy of the University of Amsterdam.
Nehls, Eddy, 2010. ”Epistemologi för ett arbetsintegrerat lärande.” I Lagrosen, Stefan & Nehls, Eddy & Lund Snis, Ulrika (red.). Lärande i och för det nya arbetslivet . Lund: Studentlitteratur.
Rombach, Björn, 1991. Det går inte att styra med mål!. En bok om varför den offentliga sektorns organisationer inte kan målstyras. Lund: Studentlitteratur.
Surowiecki, James, 2005. The wisdom of Crowds. Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few. London: ABACUS.
Taleb, Nassim Nicholas, 2008. The Black Swan. The Impact of the Probable. New York: Random House.
Werne, Finn, 1987. Den osynliga arkitekturen. Lund: Acupress.