"The Darker Side of Travel – The Theory and Practice of Dark Tourism" edited by Richard Sharpley & Philip R. Stone (Bristol: Channel View Publications, 2009), 275 pages.
Another academic book on dark tourism, and quite a step up from earlier works such as in particular Lennon/Foley (2000), both in the breadth of scope and in academic rigour. Naturally, it's also a lot more up to date. Unlike Lennon/Foley, it's a collaborative work of several authors, including some of the biggest names in current dark tourism studies. This includes the two editors, who also contributed disproportionately to the compendium themselves, both as single authors and as joint authors (two and three separate chapters each, respectively, i.e. they are involved in 8 out of the 13 chapters!).
Topically the book is subdivided into three blocks: 1) Theories and Concepts, 2) Management Implications, and 3) Dark Tourism in Practice. Despite the title of the latter, this is still largely an academic book, and practitioners of dark tourism will probably get even less out of this than out of Lennon/Foley, at least in terms of practical guidance or hints. At best, there is some inspiration in some of the details discussed.
The destinations covered by the book include Ground Zero in New York (repeatedly!), Grutas Park in Lithuania, Chernobyl in Ukraine, Cyprus, the House of Terror in Budapest, the various memorials in Washington D.C., the Nanjing Massacre Memorial in China, Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek in Cambodia, Murambi and other genocide memorials in Rwanda, as well as a number of temporary exhibitions of related topicality, such as the famous/infamous Body Worlds. Without denying their dark appeal, I would personally not count the latter as dark tourism in the strictest sense, precisely because they are not permanent sites to travel to, but rather attractions that happen to pass through, i.e. come to the visitors, as it were, for a short while only.
Another area (too) much discussed in dark tourism studies which I would personally discount from dark tourism proper is battlefields and the "Dungeon" type "dark fun factories" – see categories and beyond dark tourism. But I have to acknowledge that for some reason these things do attract a lot of attention, and occasionally there is an overlap with places covered here too, such as Gallipoli.
The book is strongest where it is trying to really take dark tourism seriously, both as a phenomenon and as a research topic. Especially Sharpley and Stone's contributions include a comprehensive digest of previous theoretical literature, which they use to pave the way towards a more unified approach (although they are ready to admit that the field is so diversified that this remains a tall order to ultimately achieve). The relationship between dark tourism consumption/motivations and the role of death in contemporary (Western) society receives particular emphasis. However, lighter sides of dark tourism are also covered. One author (Walter) even goes as far as claiming that most dark tourism isn't actually targeted but mostly more accidental, taking the forms of side-trips rather than being the main object of travel for anyone. The latter may be true for the author in question himself, and is based on just his anecdotal personal experiences, but there are those of us who are a lot more targeted. At least I can count myself as a solid counterexample. But that may not be representative, of course …
Overall the book is well edited, though if one wanted to be pernickety, then a few editorial glitches could be pointed out (esp. in Wight's chapter 7) … and then there is one embarrassingly serious howler in Beech's article about genocide tourism, namely on p 211: where it was clearly meant to say "Wannsee conference", we read "Schwanseekonferenz" instead (as in 'swan lake')!!! Especially in the sensitive area of Holocaust studies this is particularly cringe-inducing.
For the dark tourism practitioner none of this is all that important. The target audience is academics anyway. For the latter, the book is a key work in the field and indispensable reading, without doubt. Travellers not so interested in the theory, however, can just as well ignore it.
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©, Peter Hohenhaus 2010-2019

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