Monday, 9 March 2009

Cold weather tourism

Before I went on holiday, I made brief reference to the topic of "extreme tourism". There I hinted at a possible rapprochement between the society as "camp" or "ballardian" and more empirically robust accounts of such zones in the academic field of tourist studies. I'm greatly impressed by what I've seen so far in the field of nissology ("Island Studies") as a possible suitable candidate. Particularly noteworthy is the series of related questions posed in relation to "extreme tourism", with a focus here on "cold weather tourists".

If these are partly methodological issues, then I see Island Studies as a vehicle for escaping the traps found in the kind of "cultural theory" that dominates the blogosphere (which I prefer to call the noosphere in this case), and, to a lesser extent, cultural studies in its more formal academic settings. I've previously mentioned how the "fish scale model of omniscience" provides a ready explanation for the ubiquity of Continental philosophy in the "noosphere". If the problem there is an inflated, abstract, grand mode of theorising, at the other end of the scale, difficulties can accrue where large scale empirical verification requires greater team project work. What this can mean in practice is that the team of researchers can more easily become beholden to the wishes of their sponsors, thereby denuding the work of critical content. In other words, it becomes a question of economies of scale.

The appeal of so-called "middle range" theorising lies in navigating between these extremes. Given my [oft stated] reservations about actor network theory, I am unhappy whenever I encounter attempts to frame it as a form of middle range theory. However, I believe there is still something good about such conversations taking place, as they at least imply a degree of reflexivity on the part of the authors about what and how they are doing something, and the kinds of problems that might arise as a result. Again, this characteristic is largely absent in the noosphere, which is why I refer to that method repeatedly in this blog in terms of its being "an avant garde formalism". While not couched in exactly these terms, a very good explanation of middle range theory, reflexivity, descriptive and normative critique, can be found here, which teases out the full implications of the issues I'm trying to raise. 

An example of the kind of work that interests me is using reflexivity in conjunction with the "key questions" raised in nissology in relation to "cold weather tourism" (as per the above link). So rather than just do a typical noosphere style "mash up" of, say, Fred Jameson and Slavoj Zizek, this alternative method offers the promise of elucidating the reflexivity of authors such as Kim Stanley Robinson. For example, how may a text such as Antarctica be construed as a reflexive commentary on the "key questions" raised by nissologists when discussing "cold weather tourism"?
What may start to emerge is a sense of reflexivity where this means a fluid conversation between theory and empirical work (and one should remember that Robinson heavily researches the subject matter of all of his novels to the fullest extent possible, in addition to foregrounding how the context is mediated by particular, and often conflicting, world views).  Perhaps a nissologist could justifiably apply said method to other texts as well, such as Herzog's documentary Encounters at the End of the World? To convince me otherwise, you would have to explain in detailed methodological terms why it was not possible in principle (and I would take a lot of convincing).

I also see it as an interesting way of expanding "key question" number 3 in the study of "extreme tourism". Consider then the compatibility with Fred Jameson's discussion of the connotations of "extreme cold" on page 268 of his Archaeologies of the Future, where he notes how the loss of physical autonomy in a harsh environment equates also to a loss of psychic autonomy. This makes the layers of insulation a cold environment necessitates stand in contrast to the tropics, where heat:

 " conveyed as a kind of dissolution of the body into the outside world, a loss of that clean separation from clothes and external objects that gives you your autonomy and allows you to move about freely...." 

Or so it would seem...afterall, maybe it is wrong to say something opposite is at stake here, so that the cold environment would necessarily consolidate a more autonomous, survivalist personality. In situations such as these, what could scandalize the typology is that section of Cyclonopedia, which discusses "openness" and the "outside". It is seemingly the act of resistance, the attempt at maintaining autonomy, that can make for a strange attractor for those forces that may affect a transformation into something else. Think here of that quintessential "body horror" film, John Carpenter's The Thing, and note then how Jameson's terms such as "dissolution" can be equally applicable in the "cold weather" setting. However, I don't see this as troubling the nissology paradigm, as "question 3" is posed as an open question, and must be tested and contextualized in relation to the other listed key questions. Any problem in this instance would seem to relate more to Jameson than nissology per se, which is more equally balanced [than Jameson] in terms of receptiveness to empirical, case by case studies.

No comments: