EXAMINING THE CONVERGENCE BETWEEN PHOTOGRAPH AND
REPRESENTATIONS: A REVIEW OF CLOSING THE HERMENEUTIC CIRCLE
Ph D student
John F Kennedy University, Argentina
Popular wisdom shows certain resistance in understanding tourism and colonialism issues
inside the same process. In fact, colonialism is considered as a mechanism of conflict,
exploitation and racism while tourism is deemed as a way to explore and know new customs
and forge new relationships. However, colonialism and tourism have more in common that
may at first appear. This paper valorizes this point as a vehicle for recovering how the
principle of hospitality legitimated the conquest of America and also for analyzing tourist
destination depiction regarding old colonialism ideology. Toward that end, Caton and
Almeida Santos (2008) provide empirical evidence for these ideas to be reconsidered from a
Colonialism can be very well interpreted as the geopolitical expansion of certain European
nations beyond the continent (in remote places) on the basis of a sentiment of superiority
and ethnocentrism aimed at subordinating the indigenous communities to their own social
values. Even though most of these practices were achieved violently, peaceful measures like
ideology helped in constructing a problematic bridge between West and East. On behalf of
civilization and development, local resources were not only colonized and repatriated but
also economically cynically exploited. From this point of view, ideology, language, literature,
science and religion imposed a psychological division and virtually divided the world in two
(Arendt, 1951; Said, 1996).
Today these subtle methods of colonization are being changed. Religion is being replaced
by late-modernity or globalization, rational development and liberal principle of shortage
which gave origin to rationality and self-administration, and of course the principle of
hominem viatores by tourism (Korstanje, 2007). The principle of hospitality contributed to
the conquest of America because it subverted the nature of humanity and wilderness. This
theoretical paper debates to what extent the old beliefs in rationality proper of colonialism
still are present in our world and in tourism literature, drawing broadly on the work of Caton
and Almeida Santos (2008) where the question of “Closing the hermeneutic circle” is
In XVI century Europe, whenever travelers needed to cross certain territories, host
communities obliged by bringing all necessary assistance until these visitors passed.
Furthermore, such hospitality was part of human rights (heritage from Roman Empire).
Spain reserved and distorted historical facts to prove its rights over America, however other
nations, such as England and France, questioned the sovereignty of Spain over Americas.
Certainly, some scholastic philosophers sustained the argument that the Roman Empire was
physically in possession of America. Taking into consideration that Spain (Hispania) was the
more Romanized province and claimed this country as its heritage. This polemic argument
has not been validated and scholars have been forced to recur to another arguments.
Initially, since indigenous tribes in America did not recognize and honor the principle of
hospitality, deifying overtly what European considered the natural right, it was argued that
aborigines were not human beings (Pagden, 1997; Korstanje, 2007). This point closed a
long debate about the nature of America’s inhabitants and paved the pathway to a new
discourse of domination, the travel. Pagden goes on to say that:
All European Empires that had been created by covetous travelers were
immersed in serious contradictions. The unwelcoming civilized States of our
continent – regretted Kant -, the injustice they boast about visiting foreigner
societies looks immense. These kinds of visitors not only were responsible for
the conquest but also the massacre subsequently (Pagden, 1997:86).
Following the ius peregrinandi doctrine Spain elaborated a politic discourse aimed to
emphasize the rights of free-transit as a sign of civilization and education and tribes which
do not honor this doctrine should be punished and expropriated of their lands. Thus in the
conquest America, in XVI and XVII centuries, authorities promoted the importance of
planning a trip with the end of expanding the previous frontiers. Thus, homo viatore figures
were being reproduced as civilization’s depiction where the Roman Spirit prevailed (Altuna,
2000). Long travels or excursions needed establishments where the traveler may rest.
These establishments were managed by the Catholic Church and trippers must contribute
with 10% of the transported value to pay their stay (Calvo, 1996).
For that reason, two terms are commonly found along with hospitality: hospital (intended to
be used in case of illness) and hotel (for vacation or pleasure purposes). Derrida (2006)
appears not mistaken when he affirms that hospitality may be considered an ambiguous
issue. On the one hand, conditional hospitality refers to kindness to strangers because they
present their patrimony and origin but at the same time, conditional hospitality does not
accept any traveler without previous identification. This is exactly the case of migrants,
vagrants and refugees who sometimes are traced and jailed (Derrida, 2006).
By keeping with the origin of political structure, Balandier (2005) confirms any State is
founded after violence and political States are part of an expiation ritual process to assure
their own future. Societies throughout the world experience moments of order and chaos
internally; the exercise of power allows these contradictory tendencies to coexist without
problems. Thus, Gluckman (1963) considered the importance of conflict and customs in
social relationships as vehicles for reproducing social tradition. His contribution consists in
pointing out that archaic and modern societies play an ambiguous role in maintaining the
social order. On one hand, societies promote rebellion through political competitiveness,
while these rituals are intended retain different lines of power (Gluckman, 1963).
POST-COLONIALISM IN SOUTH AFRICA
Comaroff and Comaroff (1999) discuss missing children and organ traffic issues under post
Postcolonial Africa is replete with accounts of the way in which the rich and
powerful use monstrous means and freakish familiars to appropriate the life
force of their lesser compatriots in order to strengthen themselves or to satisfy
consuming passions. Similarly, Latin America has, throughout the 1990s,
witnessed mass panic about the theft and sale, by unscrupulous gringo, of the
organs of infants and youths…there, and in other part of the world, this traffic –
like the international commerce in adoption and mail order matrimony- is seen
as a new form of imperialism” (Comaroff and Comaroff, 1999: 283).
Basically, this work is aimed to address the following questions:
Why now does there appear to be a dramatic intensification of appeals to enchantment,
to the use of the bodies of some for the empowerment of others?
Why now the acute moral panic?
What, if anything, has any of this to do with processes of globalization and the forms of
capitalism associated with it? or with post-coloniality?
Influenced notably by the work of Gluckmann (1963), Comaroff and Comaroff (1999) are
interested in analyzing the relationship between South Africa post-colonialism and occult
economies. Even though the end of Apartheid held out the illusion that everyone may
speculate, accumulate and consume, for many others this moment has passed without any
payback. In other words:
This, in turn, underlies the essential paradox of occult economies, the fact that
they operate on two inimical fronts at once. The first is the constant pursuit of
new, magical means for otherwise unattainable ends. The second is the effort
to eradicate people held to enrich themselves by those very means; through
the illegitimate appropriation, that is, not just of the bodies and things of other,
but also of the forces of production and reproduction themselves (ibid: 284).
Modern State Nations in Africa are trying to be reconstructed under postmodern conditions
with evident contradictions. On one hand, these kinds of projects find a Black underclass of
youths who embody that contradiction more notably than white residents. Under these
contexts, witchcraft works as a mechanism to create consciousness and expressing
discontent in certain situations. In 1995, the Commission of Inquiry into Witchcraft Violence
and Ritual Murders in South Africa was disposed to respond to a mounting sense of
emergency in this country (Comaroff and Comaroff, 1999).
This Inquiry, formed by Government and Chaired by Professor Ralushai, confirmed the
presence of two streams in postmodern times: a) civic rationalism understood as a call for
liberation in means by peaceful methods such as a rational and civilized education; b) an
assertive cultural relativism related to magic and esoteric issues. These dynamics coexist
contradictorily in all of Africa as in other countries of the World. However, the South African
case was followed by circumstances in extreme violence. From 1985 to 1995 there were
more than 300 cases of witch-related killings registered, while in the first half of 1996 this
figure doubled to 676. The rural population was convinced that their neighborhoods
sheltered trenchant, evil operating humans with phantasmal forces of great power and
destruction. Thus, for Comaroff and Comaroff (1999), organ traffic, Satanism, zombie rituals
and occult economies are part of the same problem: a tension between public and private
In general, for colonial times divination was interpreted as uncivilized practices and was
repressed, hence was practiced clandestinely. However, the post-colonial era has ventilated
these old customs but in a different way, also ritual murder, witchcraft, money magic and
others are as common in the public sphere as television or newspapers. Thus, innovative
technologies are involved in magic ritual orders and vice versa. From this point of view, the
end of apartheid has allowed blacks to claim participation in political issues in South Africa.
When these South Africans threw off their colonial constraints the rest of the continent
learned about the postcolonial experience of unprecedented marginalization, economic
difficulties, and privation of all natures. Under such hardship, there is a human tendency to
create techniques with the end to distribute public wealth among pauperized classes.
Democracy in that way came across with several problems and inequalities. Thus, Comaroff
and Comaroff (1999) have made an important contribution to the study of post-colonialism in
Africa after democracy, and have, through ethnology field work, validated the concerns
expressed by Gluckmann (1963).
Furthermore, world historical forces, including capitalism, colonialism, virtual society and
cyberspace, take their presence into cultural atmospheres in particular times and among
particular persons. These moments lead to the realization that the fragments from the
anthropology of archaic capitalism and neo-liberalism may interact with each other. Hence,
local is globalized whereas global is localized. Capitalism, in other words, would be very well
interpreted as a colonialism method of creating different forms of identity, economic
production and social orders.
IN THE NAME OF CIVILIZATION
One of first scholars to realize the bonds between literature and colonialism was Edward
Said. Said (1996) convincingly created a bridge between western writers, their trips,
representations and colonialism. These literary works privilege and reinforce the figure of
Western Civilized Society before the rest of the World. The uncivilized societies are deemed
ambiguously combining admiration and repulsion for Europe. The social imagery elaborated
a pervasive depiction of periphery. On one hand, non-European cultures were certainly
considered savage, paradisiacal, welcoming and primordial, whereas the other uncivilized,
dangerous, old-fashioned and irrational:
One of most favorite issues of postcolonial theory is what in a broader sense
Edward Said denominated Orientalism, it means the representation of others
by a Western Consciousness in means with projection of own fears, desires
and frustrations towards a third-party (Gruner, 2005: 39-40).
More specifically, in 1880 European nations occupied physically different remote territories.
This kind of colonization lasted until roughly 1914 and represented the preliminary steps of
capitalism. Some scholars surmise that this process was based on the specific prestige
entailed in the discovery of new lands, while for others colonialism was created because of
market expansion in conjunction with other important demographic necessities (Duroselle,
Internally, nations were experiencing different material privations at the time industrialization
emerged in Europe. This created a rise of mass migration, fluxes and exodus from rural
zones to cities. Since peripheral countries exports replaced the European classical form of
production along with agriculture and stockbreeding, many impoverished peasants
populated the urban cities under circumstances of pauperism and lack of hygiene. As a
result, primary destinations were saturated forcing these travelers to be embarked inbound
to America, Australia or India. The paradox lies in the fact of these non industrialized
countries placing their exports in European markets while receiving a dearth of migrants as
work-force (Chiaramonte, 1971; Devoto, 2002; Fohlen, 1975; Gaignard, 1989), with the
The sixteenth century, European nations began to speedily expand their
horizons. Trade, travel, and colonization made the world a little smaller.
Explorers came into contact with more diverse people groups and began to
keep travel journals documenting their perceptions of physical distinct people.
Such travel journals became commonplace for the educated class, particularly
the educated who themselves travelled the world (Westmoreland, 2008).
In parallel with this, many anthropologists were concerned for the future of peripheral sites
and the gradual disappearance of their culture because of capitalism and the advance of
modernity. Whenever Europeans arrived in Africa, the natural mechanism was end the war.
This of course does not mean the Africans were pacifists but they were subject to a much
broader and powerful order that prevents the conflict (Mauss, 1979; Boas, 1982; Malinowski,
1986; Durkheim, 2003; Balandier, 2005; Gruner, 2005). The popular wisdom in Europe
elaborated an image of Africans as peaceful, an image radically altered after the process of
decolonization (Jameson, 1989; Said, 1996; Gledhill, 2000). The point was that classical
British anthropologists were more concerned with studying these tribes before their
disappearance than exploring the colonialism effects in these “archaic” societies. As
Santana-Talavera (2006) recount, a couple of centuries back, many anthropologists left their
homes looking frenetically for understanding “the others” who lived beyond proper
civilization, ignoring the fact that these pristine communities deserved to be protected and
conserved. This obsession has more to do with ethnocentrism and racism than scientific
curiosity. As Westmoreland writes:
One such traveller was the physician Francois Bernier (1620-1688), who first
used the word Race in its modern context In 'A New Division of the Earth
According to Different Species or Races of Men' (1684), Bernier remarks that
'Geographers up to this time have only divided the earth according to its
different countries or regions.' This new division became manifest in terms of
Race. While practicing medicine in India, Bernier came to the conclusion that
human beings do not make up one Race, but rather a multitude of species.
Despite his attempts for accuracy, Bernier failed to give a coherent definition of
Race and continued to use species and race interchangeably (Westmoreland,
Likewise, imperialism and anthropology seek to work together by providing to governments
the pertinent strategies to protect native practices. Today, natives are replaced by tourists
and governments by businessmen. In post-modernism times, Tourism and nationhoods
operate within present social pyramids at the same time discouraging racism, prejudice and
ethnic discrimination (Santana-Talavera, 2006).
Following the Santana-Talavera (2006) point of view, Caton and Almeida Santos (2008)
showed modern tourist depiction regarding Third-World tourist destination follow the same
prejudice as classical anthropology in XIX century. Is possible almost four hundred years of
history have indeed survived?
TOURIST DESTINATION DEPICTIONS
Even though numerous studies have been focused on representation of destinations and
hosts, less attention has been given to the manner in which tourists reinforce media
depictions. Popular wisdom sees, in travel, a way to valorize certain values such as respect
and cross-cultural understanding (Brunner, 1991; Caton and Almeida Santos, 2008).
Similarly, Jenkins (2003) has demonstrated that tourists close the circle in producing
photographs because of they are very similar in comparison with whose found previously in
brochures. Caton and Almeida Santos (2008) researched existent stereotypes and
experiences of students at destinations and concluded:
This study asks whether Western students who visit formerly colonized areas
reproduce in their own photographs the media depictions of hosts and host
cultures that have drawn so much criticism in the literature, or whether their
actual experiences in these destinations override the media stereotypes,
leading them to create image that break hermeneutic circle (Caton and Almeida
This study not only supposes that the communication process is produced by culture but
also conceives the communication as a text capable to be read and analyzed separately.
Basically, postcolonial theory is utilized to explain how Western prejudices work at the time
of constructing “a cultural other” justifying certain practices originally coined in European
imperialism. Photography allows studying colonialism reminiscences since:
Of the 203 photos, 66 were of structures or landscapes only (hereafter, places
pictures); most of the remaining images contained obvious structural or
landscape features along with people (or people pictures). Of the place
pictures, 77% were of ancient or historic structures, ruins, or object that were
particular to a country or region … the place pictures featuring ancient or
historic sites were composed in ways that suggests that they are exotic,
mystical, and past their prime. Often a soft-focus filter was used to diffuse the
light in the photographs, giving them a hazy appearance that suggests their
mystical qualities (Caton and Almeida Santos, 2008:17).
Of 115 photos featuring hosts, 60 contained host traditional and ethnical clothes. In general,
several showed people pointed out as traditional and savages. It is interesting that of the 203
pictures, only 33 were intended to show interacting with hosts and 82 featured only hosts.
The overwhelming number of photos o hosts (specially posed shots), coupled
with the scarcity of photos of hosts and participants interacting, conveys the
idea that hosts are exotic object worthy of the tourist gaze (ibid: 18).
In general, these points of view were accompanied with empirical discoveries that discursive
strategies of exoticization are found in tourists stereotypes. Tourist impressions are based
on binaries tradition/modern, subject/object, master/servant, center/periphery and
devious/lazy. The images captured referred to “the others”, hence echoed some
representation close to exploitation and exploration (the hallmarks of colonialism). This
means that experiences at Third-World holiday destination are embedded with colonial
ideologies. The photographs considered in this study reproduced many Western media
depictions of host and host cultures. Potentially, the unique power of visual imagery has
certain influence on social memory. It remains to be seen whether and how tourist
experiences may reconstruct colonialism discourse or how these stereotypes are transmitted
in daily life. The originality of the work of Caton and Almeida Santos (2008) refers to the
current pervasive attachment of ethnocentrism and tourism. The attractiveness of otherness
and difference triggers the self-confidence in one’s own cultural-superiority that ultimately
gives the outcome of ethnocentrism.
To a greater or lesser degree, colonialism played an important role in the configuration of
European Nation-States but at the same time, paved the pathways for the advance of late-
capitalism promoting the exchange of goods and people. This new wave would not have
been successful without the intervention of a political discourse enrooted in ethnocentrism
and paternalism. With the passing of time, concerns for the disappearance of aboriginal
cultures converged with the theory of heritage and cultural tourism. Therefore, the hegemony
seems to be based on two contrasting ideas, an exacerbated paternalism for the future
(most likely enrooted in cynicism) and the trivialization of the otherness as under-developed,
irrational or underpinned into a subordinated role.
This paper is not only designed to target researchers interested in colonial concerns and
applied tourism fields, but also invites consideration of the way visitors reconstruct the
relationship with otherness, a linkage that cannot be understood beyond the scrutiny of
history. Like the principle of hospitality in the conquest of America, Caton and Almeida
Santos (2008) raise the empirical point that tourism may be interpreted as a mechanism to
create hegemony and false consciousness. Nonetheless, the method followed by these
researchers did not permit a focus on where and how these stereotypes are indeed forged.
This is an issue for re-considered in a future approach.
The author likes to acknowledge the interested assistance of Dr Hazel Sommerville in editing
this manuscript to improve its readability.
Altuna, E. (2000). “Viajes Coloniales: Perú Siglo XVII”. Revista Andes: antropología e
Historia. 11 (2), pp. 25-45.
Arendt, H. (1951). The origin of totalitarianism. New York, Schocken.
Balandier, G. (2005). Antropologia Politica. Buenos Aires, Anthropos.
Boas, F. (1982). Race, language and culture. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
Brunner, E. (1991). Transformation of Self in tourism. Annals of Tourism Research. Vol. 18,
Caton, K and Almeida Santos, C. (2008). Closing the hermeneutic circle?: photographic
encounters with the other. Annals of Tourism Research. 35 (1), pp. 7-26.
Calvo, T. (1996). Iberoamérica: de 1570 a 1910. Madrid: Península.
Comaroff, J. and Comaroff, J. (1999). Occult economies and the violence of abstraction.
American Ethnologist, 26(2), pp. 279-303.
Chiaramonte J. C. (1971). Nacionalismo y Liberalismo económicos en Argentina (1860-
1880). Buenos Aires, Solar.
Derrida, J. (2006). The Hospitality. Buenos Aires: De la Flor Edition.
Devoto, A. (2002). Historia de la Inmigracion en Argentina. Buenos Aires, Sudamericana.
Durkheim, E. (2003). Las formas elementales de la vida religiosa. Madrid, Editorial Alianza.
Duroselle, J. B. (1991). Europa: de 1815 a nuestros dias, vida y política de las relaciones
internacionales. Buenos Aires, Labor.
Fohlen, C. (1975). La América Anglosajona: desde 1815 a nuestros días. Buenos Aires,
Editorial Nueva Clio.
Gaignard, R. (1989). La Pampa Argentina: ocupación - doblamiento - explotación de la
conquista a la crisis mundial (1550-1930). Buenos Aires, Solar.
Gledhill, J. (2000). El poder y sus disfraces: perspectivas antropológicas de la política.
Barcelona, Ediciones Bellaterra.
Gluckman, M. (1963). Order and rebellion in tribal Africa. London, Cohen and West.
Gruner, E. (2005). Las Estructuras elementales del poder. En Balandier, G. (2005).
Antropologia Politica. Buenos Aires, Anthropos.
Jameson, F. (1989). Documentos de cultura, documentos de barbarie. Madrid, Editorial
Jenkins, O. (2003). Photography and travel brochures: the circle of representation. Tourist
Geographies. Vol. 5, pp. 305-328.
Korstanje, M. (2007). “Antropología de la conquista: la hospitalidad y la escuela de
Salamanca”. Sincronia, Fall, Available at http://sincronia.cucsh.udg.mx/index.htm. Accessed
1 March 2009.
Malinowski, B. (1986). Los argonautas del Pacífico Occidental. Barcelona, Editorial Planeta-
Mauss, M. (1979). Ensayo sobre los dones: motivo y forma del cambio en las sociedades
primitivas. Madrid, Editorial Técnos
Pagden, A. (1997). Señores de Todo el Mundo: ideologías del imperio en España, Inglaterra
y Francia (en los siglos XVI, XVII y XVIII). Buenos Aires, Editorial Península.
Said, E. (1996). Culture and Imperialism. Barcelona, Anagrama.
Santana-Talavera, A. (2006). Anthropology and Tourism: ¿new hordes, old cultures?
Madrid, Ariel Editors.
Westmoreland, M. (2008). “Reflections on the idea of Race”. June. 136. Philosophy
Pathways Journal. Available at
http://www.philosophypathways.com/newsletter/issue136.html. Accessed 25 August 2009.