Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
Mauritanian Guestbook: Shaping
Culture while Displaying it
Maria Cardeira da Silva
Center for Research in Anthropology, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Lisboa, Portugal
arguing that cultural displays - often created by
colonial impulse or other asymmetrical conjunc-
tures - make people feel culturally knowledge-
able and thereby cultured themselves. At the
same time, in order to pursue my statement
above, I will argue that sites of cultural display
enacted by tourism are a good basis for com-
parative experimentation, precisely because,
while sharing this universal and inescapable
subordination to the visual gaze, they respond
differently and imaginatively to it, in accordance
with their partners, who mutually gaze at each
other. To understand 'local touristic culture',
you cannot ignore the economic, social, racial,
and gender and other identity differentiation
frameworks, within which it is produced and
In order to illustrate this, I will take two main
sites of cultural transaction and display in Oua-
dane - an emerging oasis on the new tourist routes
of the Adrar in Mauritania - where I undertook
fi eldwork for 3 years (between 2003 and 2006). 1
These will be: (i) the exhibitionary procedures of
local 'museums' that are mushrooming in response
to the increasing touristic demand; and (ii) guest-
books and placards exhibiting tourist experiences
Tourism, heritage and cultural display confi rm
that the present era is nothing if not an age of
resilience and tough modernity. However, this
does not imply an essentialized view of touristic
encounters and culture displays. It merely
affi rms that the gaze of others is bound up in the
West's historical way of seeing, as scientifi c
examination, optical entertainment and aes-
thetical contemplation - as Bennett (1988) and
Urry (1991) put it, following Foucault - imposing
the visual gaze as a pervasive way of recogniz-
ing and organizing the world. Yet, simultane-
ously, and because of the pervasiveness of this
gaze, it is possible nowadays to discover a vari-
ety of ploys by which it is enacted, as well as
different ways of dealing with it. For this rea-
son, I favour a comparative dialogue among
different ethnographies of touristic and other
sites of display of culture, a comparative trend
that anthropology has neglected, when culture
as monographicable substance came under
criticism from the 1970s. My theoretical setting
will thus be that of Mitchell (1991) and Bennett
(1988) and their exhibitionary complexes,
1 The research was conducted within the framework of the project Portuguese Castles I (http:// castelos-a-
bombordo . tiddlyspot .com) and more recently of the project Portuguese Castles II. On Heritage, Tourism and
Portuguese Cultural Cooperation in African Context , which I am currently co-ordinating. This article benefi ted
from a teamwork spirit, which encouraged shared information among all the researchers, whom I would like to
thank here. Both projects are funded by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology.
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