Sunday, February 28, 2010
This blog is based on ethnographic fieldwork in the tourism industry of Sevier County, Tennessee. This is a place that has labored under the dual identity of being America's backward, impoverished stepchild and being the honored preservers of lost traditions. But neither of these stereotypes captures the essence of what it is to live there. Tourism changes the dynamics of power and the politics of identity in ways that link together narratives of history and heritage with global flows of goods, services, ideas, and people. In the Smoky Mountains might you find an immigrant from Pakistan selling corncob pipes and hillbilly T-shirts, all of which were made in Asia. It is a very special place, made even more so by its unique past, its vibrant diversity, and the often troubling consequences of commercialized tourism.
The beauty of the mountains, the diversity of people, the influx of seasonal workers, the degradation of the environment, the stores filled with cheap mass-produced souvenirs, the poverty of service workers, and the narratives of heritage perpetuated by the arts and crafts industries all make the Smoky Mountains a place filled with disjuncture. To borrow a phrase from the Marxist thinker Raymond Williams, the Smoky Mountains is a "structure of feeling" a place "at the "edge of semantic availability." In other words, it is the perfect place for an anthropologist.
The photo is of Gatlinburg, one of three neon-festooned towns that line the entryway to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.