Thanatourism, also known as dark or death tourism, refers to the exhibition, promotion and attraction to sites of violent death, such as former prisons or concentration camps, sites of murders, natural disasters and terror attacks, burial grounds and memorials. These sites are part of the recreational landscape of tourism, which, through the genre of thanatourism, has managed to incorporate this particular form of “negative sightseeing” into what is otherwise an industry dedicated to pleasure, time out of time, and escape, as well as to edification, spiritual experience, and personal transformation.
Rather than judge or critique such phenomena as “Holocaust tourism,” pilgrimage to Ground Zero, or travels to New Orleans immediately after Katrina, this conference will raise and discuss the tensions that arise when juxtaposing sites of memory and tourism destinations. How does a state promote a site of tourism that criticizes the state itself? (Germany, Argentina). How does a state redefine its national identity after years of dictatorship, and what is the role of thanatourism in defining this new identity? (South Africa, Rwanda). What kind of visitors/tourists/pilgrims come to sites of memory, and how do they use and share the space? What are the tensions within a site of memory that is also a public artwork, often by a celebrity architect? What are the multiple functions of a memorial, and does commemoration remain the main purpose? How are sites of memory marketed by travel agents, guidebooks, and publicity material?
These are some of the issues that the conference will examine from a transnational and interdisciplinary perspective. The goal is not to compare the politics of memory or the architecture of memorials in different countries, but rather to identify fundamental issues and investigate the ways in which various sites of memory address them (or not).
Until recently, thanatourism has been studied mostly from a management and hospitality perspective. The conference aims to enrich the scholarship on the topic from a variety of methods and disciplines. Related topics include public policy, memory politics, trauma, art, human behavior, commerce, reception, media, and rituals, to name a few. We hope to cover prisons, concentration camps, “houses of terror,” sites of terror attacks and natural disasters, from Argentina to Hungary, New Zealand to New Orleans, Cambodia to Ground Zero.
The conference will take place at New York University on Thursday, April 22 and Friday, April 23, 2009 and will include a keynote speaker in the field.
The conference sponsor is “Transitions,” an academic partnership between New York University and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS, France). The conference organizer is Brigitte Sion, Assistant Professor/Faculty Fellow in Religious Studies, New York University.
Unfortunately, no funding for travel or accommodation is available.
Please send a 250-word abstract, a 50-word narrative biography, and contact information in one single word or pdf document by January 28, 2010 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Acceptance letters will be sent by February 10.
Dr. Brigitte Sion
New York University
Religious Studies Program
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