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Title: The ritual performance of dark tourism
Authors: Dermody, Erin
Advisors: Roberts, J
Williams, C
Keywords: Death systems;Sociology of emotions;Thanatourism;Interaction ritual chains;9/11 memorial
Issue Date: 2017
Publisher: Brunel University London
Abstract: Whether it be more recent public tragedies or more distant death related events, sites and gatherings associated with death and disaster present an opportunity to explore the social phenomenon described as "dark tourism". To study this social phenomenon, the current literature on dark tourism widely acknowledges that a multi-disciplinary approach is required and that much work remains to be done to fully appreciate the phenomenon. This thesis draws upon the sociology of death to consider the dark tourism experience as part of a society’s death system, and it draws upon a dynamic theory of ritual interaction from the sociology of emotions to consider the dark tourism visitor experience as a ritual performance. The thesis proposes that the visitor experience at some dark tourism sites may be usefully analyzed within the frameworks of inquiry proposed by Kastenbaum’s (2001) death system concept together with a dynamic theory of emotion and ritual interactions proposed by Durkheim (1995) and Collins (2004). Specifically, this thesis proposes that where visitors have emotional “experiences of involvement” with the death event which is represented at the site, they may focus their attention and emotion on site components to engage in ritual interactions, which produce a momentarily shared new (emotional) reality that, in turn, may generate feelings of “solidarity” and “positive emotional energy” as an outcome of the visitor experience. These new realities and outcomes may serve to mediate the death event for visitors and to strengthen the social order. At present, there is very little theoretical work, and much less empirical research, to support this approach within the existing dark tourism literature. This thesis attempts to address part of the gap in dark tourism knowledge and in the study of this phenomenon by the sociology of death. These theories are considered in the light of research conducted in a single qualitative case study at the 9/11 Memorial site in New York City. Interviews, observations and diarizing were carried out to identify the motivations, interpretations and experiences of 32 visitors, (including guides and volunteers) at the site. Most visitors to the 9/11 Memorial site had prior emotional connections or “experiences of involvement” of some type with the death event. Many visitors expressed that their motivation to visit the site was based on a sense of “obligation” or “duty” and reported interpretations of the visitor experience that are consistent with taking part in what Durkheim described as a piacular rite. Visitors focused their emotions and interacted with components of the site in such a way that four of the critical functions of the death system were identified in operation. Most visitors reported that through their visitor interactions they (a) found the site to be a (sacred) place of actual or symbolic disposition of the dead; (b) received social support or consolidation; (c) interpreted the site in a way that made sense of the death event; and (d) took away from the site some form of moral or social guidance. These interactions were observed to have created a form of collective effervescence that made visitors’ feel that they were part of something larger, a feeling that represented a shared new (emotional) reality. In turn, visitors reported that the visitor experience at the site created increased feelings of solidarity and calm or confidence or energy - or what Collins describes as emotional energy - in their personal and collective lives. The thesis concludes that the role of dark tourism as a mediating institution between the living and the death event may sometimes extend beyond the mediation of death anxiety and the purchase of ontological security as proposed by Stone (2012). Through the ritual performance of dark tourism, a mediation of, by and through emotions takes place, the result of which is that the individual and collective self of visitors may be relieved from the negative emotions aroused by the death event and begin to feel a new sense of solidarity and emotional energy. Indeed, the death event itself may be transformed from something evil into something that is sacred; from something that brought death and chaos, into something that strengthens social order.
Description: This thesis was submitted for the award of Doctor of Philosophy and was awarded by Brunel University London
Appears in Collections:Sociology
Dept of Social and Political Sciences Theses

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