Rodanthi Tzanelli's Weblog

In this weblog I post updates on my teaching, research and publications, as well as other relevant academic activities.

The economies of mega-events: Decolonising the Olympic norm of hospitality in social science scholarship

Seminar Presentation, Edinburgh Napier University
Business School, Graiglockhart Campus
14 June 2017

The economies of mega-events: Decolonising the Olympic norm of hospitality in social science scholarship

Rodanthi Tzanelli, University of Leeds, UK

My presentation considers mega-events as capitalist ventures, promoting re-organisations of time and space in host cultures to enable them to respond to various mobilities of business, technological and infrastructural development, tourism and professional migration, and cultural representation. I specifically examine the Olympic Games as a ‘hospitality enterprise’ still connected to the Olympic values of reciprocity and fair competition. However, contra Marxist and Foucaultian scholarship in the field, I argue that we should split this enterprise into two forms of economy that organise mega-event labour to ensure the provision of hospitality: the ‘artificial economy’ looks after surveillance, security and the control of leisure in the Olympic city; the ‘economy of imagination’ looks after the mega-event as a creative venture, thus producing architectural legacies and ceremonial art to enhance and circulate (broadcast) the host’s cultural atmospheres.

The current scholarly focus on the ‘artificial economy’ as an economy of guest and heritage protection, and the progressive displacement of the ‘imaginative economy’ to the fields of tourism, popular culture, leisure studies and so forth, are normative through and through. They introduce a symbolically gendered division of labour that we also encounter in tourism and hospitality business, moralising economic flows and demoting mega-event leisure regimes (associated with the mega-event’s architectural and ceremonial art, or tourism imaginaries connected to the host’s cultural atmosphere) to superficial, ‘cosmetic’ pursuits. Such arguments reproduce old political discourses that valorise (masculinise) nationalism and feminise national culture that do (should) not belong to contemporary globalised environments of economic transaction, cross-cultural fertilisation and international policy exchange.

Lifting the market’s scene: Burkinology and the right to be otherwise

I promised myself not to do too much computer work on my holidays, but felt compelled to take an hour or so to provide this note on the circus ‘controversy’ of the ‘burkini ban’. Interestingly, this controversy stemmed from a digital ‘rumour’, a privately video-recorded encounter of local police with a bathing Muslim woman in the new swimming clothing. The police was caught on camera asking the woman to remove the clothing – a humiliating demand for anyone rejecting the Western cult of Western holiday (s)exposure. Several places proceeded to bar clothing that “overtly manifests adherence to a religion at a time when France and places of worship are the target of terrorist attacks”. The Nice ban in particular referred to the truck attack in the city on 14 July that claimed 86 lives, as well as the murder 12 days later of a Catholic priest near the northern city of Rouen.


Reading from Leeds ‘Lash, S and Urry, J. (1994) Economies of Signs & Space. London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: Sage’: A diary.

Reflexive mourning
This post summarises impressions from my zillionth reading of a book that has shaped the way I approach the social world. Not having received formal sociological education, save my undergraduate travails into anthropological theory and subsequent personal investment during and then continuously after my PhD in multiple the social sciences, meant that I needed a stimulus and concrete human inspiration to proceed in uncharted territory. John Urry’s work provided this, amongst other intellectually sophisticated voices. This time I read Economies of Signs and Space in three phases/acts: first like a Lacanian dreamer, allowing my unconscious to pick what matters most to me and kill what does not; then as a collector of impressions, in John’s sociological fashion, to generate a meaningful repository of ideas; and finally, like a Foucaultian archivist, who does some violence to past realities. I hope that those who dip into this post forgive me for my custom and the fact that Scott Lash takes a back seat in this narrative – he too is of course very important in my current work and I know well that his contribution to Economies was pivotal. I guess this post is my own tribute to John. It produces thanatourist pilgrimage in conjunction with a friend’s posting on Facebook of photographs from John’s funeral and wake. I am almost sure he would have appreciated the performance.


Worldmaking images of disaster: the ‘art’ of speaking of/for the disenfranchised

Recently, the massive human migrations from war-ridden and natural disaster-plagued regions of the world has flooded my Facebook account. I know I am not the only one participating in this digital philanthropic revolution unwillingly, as a passive site-seer: a subject apprehending the social world as a detached landscape, a collection of sites. By using the concept of ‘site’ I wish to stress the domination of the sensible by seamless geometry, hence a violence of detachment as abstraction from immediacy. But I would also like to note that such involuntary ‘site-seeing’ activities form an essential aspect of sight-seeking: an in-built propensity most humans from the developed world have to associate emotional engagement or its cognitive-ethical equivalent with particular sensory input-output functions we relate with sight. I do not suggest a fundamental lability in the absence of such ‘propensity’, quite the contrary, I wish to bring the significance of its Western European cosmological pathway to the fore. Connections of vision to Western phenomenology, or of landscape tourism to the Western activity of tourism at large are not new, but their digital transposition into the new mobile humanitarian spaces of the internet is.

There is a notable difference between browsing through holiday brochures and browsing through photographs of human tragedy that sight-seeking bridges in unpalatable ways, turning the privileged viewer into a banal consumer of exoticism we associate with suffering. There is no malice involved in such visual mobilities – on the contrary, they are meant to ‘reveal’, ‘expose’ and thus alert others of the humanitarian crisis. At the same time, their actual effect rarely exceeds the reproduction of their practical gesture: it leads to the proliferation of image circulation, endorsing the use of icons as a sort of painful souvenir. I receive posts on Facebook and by email that are dominated by visual narratives of such tragedies: an anxious mother holding her son on a boat; a tearful young man in torn clothes; whole families en route to unknown points of reception or deportation. It is all gruesome and utterly real in the ways the camera lens tells the story, but also strangely non-relational, delightfully exotic. I click on ‘like’ or ‘share’ with the certainty that some of my Facebook friends will also ‘like’ and ‘share’ the image before moving on to another mundane activity such as shopping. None of us is malicious or completely indifferent; the truth is that we don’t know what else we can actually do with such iconic shrines of pain. Are they not there to be shared?

But while we are happily sharing the spoils of yet another disorganised ‘consciousness industry’ (in Enzensberger’s (1970) original terms), we actively participate in precisely what Hollinshead (2007) recognised as worldmaking in tourism: if you are ‘there’ through/in the reality of the image ‘and you are “sentient”, you are engaging in it’ (Hollinshead 2009: 432, italics in the text). The paradox of thereness is all too obvious, as nobody is actually there without the visual mediation of tragedy – which is why charities of the Amnesty International calibre use image to increase political awareness and secure financial support of various important causes. What is more paradoxical is that while our second-order touring into the ‘other’ is industrially designed to contribute to our well-being (as all tourism does), morally it is designated to alert us to well-being’s unequal distribution across the world (thus producing an inescapable guilt). Evidently then, photographing such events – mundane for Facebook participants but life-changing for the camera’s visual ‘objects’ – is both part of globally inculcated regimes of mobility that support Western epistemologies and their markets. To what end, other than the management of capital flows?

Enzesberger, H.M. (1970) ‘Constituents of a theory of the media’, New Left Review, 64: 13-36.

Hollinshead, K. (2007) ‘Worldmaking and the transformation of place and culture: the enlargement of Meethan’s analysis of tourism and global change’, in Ateljevic, I., Pritchard, A. and Morgan, N. (eds) The Critical Turn in Tourism Studies: Innovative Research Methodologies. Oxford: Elsevier, 165-93.

Hollinshead, K., Ateljevic, I. and Ali, N. (2009) ‘Worldmaking agency-worldmaking authority: the sovereign constitutive role of tourism’, Tourism Geographies, 11 (4): 427-43.

Slumdog Millionaire’s Governmobility: Managing Strangeness in India’s Tourist-Technological Systems

A common mistake when considering how film reflects social practice and process is to disconnect it from its contexts of inspiration, inception and production. I argue that it is wrong to consider Slumdog Millionaire (2008, dirs Danny Boyle and Loveen Tandan) a ‘love story’, along the lines of its global marketing. Based on an adaptation of diplomat Vikas Swarup’s Q&A, the film’s ‘text’ (screenwriter Simon Beaufoy), provides a narrative of Mumbai’s fast-track urbanisation-as-modernisation, which is built on the obliteration of its external (immigrants) and internal (slumdwellers) strangers on ethno-religious grounds. Mumbai’s-India’s negotiation of liminal figures, such as the film’s Muslim ‘slumdog’ hero, Jamal Malik from Juhu (slum), is achieved in two stages: first, by failed extermination and later through successful redirection of their (ethno-cultural) difference into consumption circuits.
Taking on board Boyle and his associates’ real engagement with the politics of slum poverty (context), I consider Slumdog Millionaire as a critique of urban modernity’s fundamentalist face in India. In India’s multicultural polity strangers used to be managed by physical obliteration and citizens validated through processing by systems of governmentality (Foucault 1997). This management of mentality by the state, eventually internalised by its citizens (Hindus who murder Muslims in the name of ethno-religious purity), is based on religion in the film’s clip, which incidentally incited real protests in India. In later scenes (already implied in the selected one), we learn that today’s global financial-cultural articulations, strangeness is managed through governmobility (Bærenholdt 2013): systems (such as those of tourism and media/technology) that enable the international mobility of things and humans-as-products.
My presentation draws on the first of three key moments from the film to explore this transition: the Hindu riots and massacres of Muslim slumdwellers (inspired by actual incidents) that young Jamal and his brother narrowly escape (The other two involve Jamal and Salim’s precarious insertion into India’s lucrative tourist industry as Taj Mahal’s cunning self-taught tour guides; and Jamal’s initiation into Mumbai’s telecommunication and media industries as chai wallah-come-telephonic operator and finally quiz millionaire). Jamal appears as Mumbai’s ‘living’ example of governmobile material, which bears witness to India’s success at joining the ‘civilised’ community of modernised nations. During this process, the very idea of ‘borders’ and its connection to strangerhood and vagabondage, are being replaced by the fast mobilities of technology and fleeting privileged tourisms.

Bærenholdt, J.O. (2013) ‘Governmobility: The powers of mobility’, Mobilities, 8 (1): 20–34.
Foucault, M. (1997) ‘The birth of biopolitics’, in P. Rabinow (ed.) Michel Foucault: Ethics. New York: New Press.

Suggested background reading
Kinetz, E. (22 January 2009) ‘Mumbai residents object to “Slumdog” title’, USA Today/Associated Press. Available at:
The Times of India (22 January 2009) ‘Hindu group demands ban on “Slumdog Millionaire”’. Available at:
Tzanelli, R. (2013) ‘Manipulating the Western Tourist Gaze in Mumbai’s Slums’, Slideshare (PPT presentation). Available at:

Belly dancing and embodied answerability in mobile cultures

Profession or social practice?
It is probably common knowledge amongst sociologists of art that belly dancing as a social practice is based on more than meets the eye and the ear in terms of historical development. By discussing it as ‘social practice’ I refuse to consider it solely as a monetised activity (to dance and be remunerated for it by clients), thus allowing some space to reflect on the ways its performance in public enabled human interaction. Once the profession of migrant working-class women in Eastern urban cultures and in the emerging economic centres of the West alike (raqs sharqi and hootchie-cootchie as the sensation of the first nineteenth-century Expos and the nomadic groups of circus caravans; danse du vetre as the past time of French colonisers in Algeria and Tunisia), this hybrid form of embodied art or craft allowed its performers to acquire some sort of social presence.


I read somewhere that filmmakers are dream merchants, mobile entrepreneurs who sell ideas to those with a more sedentary outlook. I doubt that this means they are Faustian dealers at all times. Dreaming is a ubiquitous human characteristic: we can all afford it in our most private moments without any help or immediate external intervention. Incidentally, as mobile subjects, filmmakers are often granted the badge of strangerhood because they cross imagined, symbolic or actual, territorial borders to make art so frequently. It seems to me that this explains better why they are often feared, excluded from host communities and even persecuted in some cases much like the dispossessed vagabond-migrants (not that this likeness removes class and status considerations).

The role of filmmaking in pushing ideational, cultural and political boundaries stands out for its Imagineering quality. By his I mean that filmmakers facilitate a particular type of engineering that played a vital role in articulations of modernity, and now in the so-called post-modern adventure. Imagineering makes dreaming come alive with the help of technology through image – though I would also add sound and possibly other sensory input. Its power stands miles apart from the crude positivist arguments of the scientific establishment that analyses phenomena on calculated schemata of cause and effect. Imagineering is not a diagnostic tool, but an indicator of the endless possibilities of the gifted human being to hope, create and imagine different futures.

Scholarly-gender orders: mega-events as lightning rods in global cultural contexts

For almost a decade now, I have been following the development of literature on mega-events, with extra focus on the Olympic Games (and more recently, the World Cup). My main observation has hardly changed over the years: within the critical tradition of the social sciences, scholarly discourse highlights the merits and problems mega-events generate in urban milieux (e.g. tourist and otherwise beneficial policies for host cities, protests for human rights violations, housing improvement or destruction of whole localities). Within a ‘less critical’ (a-la Frankfurt School) tradition, there is emphasis on the production of multiple mobilities (professional migrations, consumer products, the expansion of entertainment industries and technological apparatuses). One might attribute either thesis to paradigmatic or disciplinary preference, but I do not think that this is enough. In any case, the problem with the clash between these two discourses (for, this is what they are), has consequences for the quality of academic production. It is not that either scholarly analysis is ‘bad’, but that both are clearly politically dichotomised, making for younger generations in academia difficult to acquire an all-around appreciation of the mega-event. Of course, this bifurcated view is politically in nature – for, in spite of the progressive neo-liberalisation of tertiary education, academia is still a space accommodating the need to pursue vocational, rather than mere professional orientation.


The hero and the plot of mobility

Tourism scholarship has always sought to prioritise the two ends of the leisurely system of global mobility: at one end stands the tourist, the person that moves across borders and through time and space to reach the desired destination, the holiday, the accommodation, the beach, the sightseeing complex. At the other end stands the system itself, the hotel, the resort, its labour organisation and bureaucratic structures.

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On haptic connectivity and wholeness

Why were haptic experiences excluded from studies of sociality for decades? It seems that until recently, touch was either promulgated as an instrument of positivist or empiricist analysis, or consigned to the pit of tourist paraphernalia. Today there are reputable tourist studies of the body (e.g. Veijola and Jokinen 1994; Veijola and Valtonen 2007) that support a shift towards holistic phenomenologies, but ‘tourism theory’ itself continues to suffer from accusations of frivolity. The origin of such exorcisms is the idea of experiential authenticity as ordinary, lacking in seriousness and gravity (McCabe 2005). Almost by analogy, the body is something to be discarded as a hedonistic vessel rather than the cradle of human essence.

Read rest of post at Interdisciplinary Journeys