Commodifying local culture for tourism development: the case of one rural community in Atlantic Canada

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George, Ellen Wanda

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University of Guelph


This doctoral dissertation is an investigation of the relationships and connections among local culture, commodification, rural community, and tourism, particularly within the local-global nexus and ongoing challenge for sustainability. It describes the study of one rural community in Atlantic Canada in its pursuit of local culture-based tourism development. Specifically, it explains the commodification of culture process, an important topic that has not been examined in great detail. This exposition also broadens perspectives when assessing the real potential of local culture-based tourism development for rural community sustainability. The investigation followed the epistemological assumptions of the interpretive study; the methodological approach was drawn from hermeneutics and the case study method. A single case study design was applied to investigate a specific contemporary phenomenon of social and structural transformation in one community, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. The researcher employed a mixed methods approach, using both qualitative and quantitative techniques. This dissertation includes a theoretical framework that was developed, applied and then modified to explain how culture, as a social construct of community, is impacted by tourism. Findings reveal a commodification process that is conceptualized under four main premises: (1) local culture is capitalized as an asset; (2) traditional mechanisms of accumulation, transmission and reproduction of culture give way to new modes; (3) fundamental social and cultural changes take place, and (4) a radical shift in community ideology occurs. Findings also suggest that local culture, as capital, may be a community's most valuable asset and warrants inclusion into community asset-based models of sustainability. Paradoxically, results also indicate that commodification of culture for tourism may impede community sustainability by unbalancing other critical community capital assets. In fact, such tourism development may invoke a metamorphosis of community whereas the 'old' traditional community culture eventually dies and is replaced with the birth of a 'new' culture. Consequently, conventional understandings of community sustainability are questioned as this dissertation advances a new theory of commodification of culture for tourism development.



local culture, commodification, rural community, tourism, local-global nexus, sustainability, rural community, Atlantic Canada, local culture-based tourism development