Ehren Joseph Layne

Caveat to “The Tourist Gaze”


I would like to present a caveat to Urry’s “Forms of Tourist Gaze”. Urry outlines 5 forms of the Tourist gaze: romantic, collective, spectational, environmental, and anthropological. I believe there is a 6th form of the tourist gaze: educational. Specifically, those persons who – namely students – travel for study abroad and or study at international institutions. These types of persons have both a collective and solitary experience with new landscapes:  they survey, they inspect, they gaze in awe, and they stay immersed in one or many activities. They cannot fit into any of the forms Urry outlines because of one aspect of their travel: time. Persons who venture to study in foreign locations often end up living a niche life in said locations: they, after a few months, become a part of the landscape they gazed upon in awe when they first arrived. Over the few months, these persons have come accustomed to the daily activities of the inhabitants; they have begun eating their food, maybe even speaking their language. All in all, students present a nuisance to Urry’s original argument that:


“…there has to be something distinctive to be gazed upon, that the signs collected by tourists have to be visually extraordinary” 


Students only partially exist in the same realm as tourists: the first week or two of their travel may be occupied by visiting locations and commodifying their own sight – gazing upon the extraordinary; however, over time students must turn their attention to something foreign to tourists: survival. I can say from having lived in  Spain for over 2 months that living there forced me to focus on survival rather than tourism. I was a tourist for only a few short weeks: afterwards, I had to behave and live like a Spaniard. As much as I may have looked out of place, and as much as I might have been treated like a tourist, I was no longer in a position where I could gaze upon every new site with inexperienced eyes. I had experienced it all already. I had travelled to all the landmarks brochures and pamphlets had led me to. I could no longer be a tourist because there was nothing left for me to tour. I had to, instead, adapt; assimilate the best I could to the Spanish culture. Relieve myself of my Western gaze and turn my focus to living a life I wasn’t born to live. Urry fails to mention time as a means of de-commodifying one’s gaze: Urry focuses more on the system of the gaze rather than an individual’s gaze and how that gaze may change with time or experience. Because of this, I believe it is necessary for Urry to add the system of tourism that brings students to study in new landscapes, to gaze upon those landscapes, but then have to live in those landscapes. Urry mentions how tourists are usually looking for something outside of their mundane lives; they hope to find, in the staged authenticity of new landscapes, a life so extraordinary to them that they will be able to fantasize about living that same life. Students have no need to fantasize: they have to learn to live it.

One reply on “Caveat to “The Tourist Gaze””

EJ, this is very strong. Here’s a thought on how to improve. Notice that our definition of “thesis” (basically, argument, as you have learned it in college writing class) suggests the importance of rebuttal (you maybe recall this as “planing a naysayer” or responding to a “counterargument”). This is a POWERFUL move in argumentative writing because it anticipates objections your audience may have; and as we’ve learned about rhetorical situations, understanding audience is a huge part of the game. I found myself thinking of a counter argument to your thesis… perhaps, one might claim, you simply weren’t a tourist any more, having been in Spain for so long, and therefore your proposed addition to Urry’s taxonomy is not needed (‘I’m not arguing this myself, but pointing out that one might argue it, and your own argument would be stronger for anticipating that objection, like a lawyer in court). Indeed, you almost do seem to anticipate that objection when you say:
“As much as I may have looked out of place, and as much as I might have been treated like a tourist, I was no longer in a position where I could gaze upon every new site with inexperienced eyes.”

One way to improve this then would be to explicitly claim “one might argue that there’s no need to revise the taxonomy….,” before then responding to that naysayer.

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