During the last 2016 Atlas Annual Conference in Canterbury “Tourism, Lifestyles and Locations” ( 14‐16 September ) the special track on Dark Tourism, Memory and Pilgrimage attracted quite some attention and presentations and this led to the suggestion by the Atlas board to consider the possible creation of a Dark Tourism SIG. During the conference 11 papers were presented by a variety of academics on topics that had an obvious link with the concept of dark tourism when referring to “death, suffering and the macabre” as defined by Philip Stone (2006) in his definition of this phenomenon. An overview of the presentations can be found below and it demonstrates both a wide geographical range of the phenomenon (Cambodia, Turkey, Czech, Belgium, USA, the West Indies, Malta and Germany a.o.), and a broad scope of research topics and methods that range from torture museums to natural disasters and socio-cultural impacts, war heritage and memorials, national identity, the management of criminal landscapes, the link with religious and cultural tourism, geographical representation, content analysis and netnography.
After participating in this special track one might suggest that the interest in dark tourism is very much alive (pun not intended) and that it attracts the attention from academics from a wide variety of disciplines indicating that there are obvious opportunities for research in cooperation with other academic disciplines such as sociology, social geography, cultural studies and cultural anthropology. The start of an inter-academic network such as the Special Interest Group within Atlas might provide a new platform for both new and establish academics and could contribute to further international cooperation in these fields and the exchange of knowledge.
The possible introduction of a Dark Tourism SIG is also based on personal interest in this phenomenon. At Inholland University I have researched a variety of dark tourism related topics and some of these have been published in both academic journals and /or as book chapters. Furthermore the topic has also inspired many of our students for their bachelor thesis and in some case these have also yielded publications. In 2013 our university hosted the first international conference on Dark Tourism in the Netherlands and this led to an invitation by the director of the Institute for Dark Tourism Research to become a fellow of this organisation. Ever since, cooperation with the IDTR has been regular and led to an exchange of information, articles and participation at international conferences. Further cooperation with this institute for the SIG therefore seems a logical next step and the IDTR, by mouth of its director Philip Stone welcomed this suggestion. Some additional information on the Institute is provided herewith.
The iDTR, based at the University of Central Lancashire (UK) and led by Dr Philip Stone, is an academic centre for dark tourism scholarship, research and teaching. Since 2005, dark tourism research at UCLan (University of Central Lancashire) has become firmly established as an area of scholarly activity that has important social, cultural, economic and political implications (iDTR, n.d.). The Institute for Dark Tourism Research aims to advance knowledge about the act of visitation to tourist sites of death, disaster or the seemingly macabre. It brings together researchers who seek to deliver internationally recognised research that contributes to the ethical and social scientific understanding of dark tourism and heritage, as well as to the appropriate development, management, interpretation and promotion of dark tourism sites, attractions and exhibitions (iDTR, n.d.).
The main objectives of the iDTR are:
- Build research capacity in the area of dark tourism in order to publish high quality outputs.
- Enhance, influence and inform industry practitioners to help ensure the ethical implementation and management of dark tourism / heritage sites, attractions and exhibitions.
- Establish a global reputation as a centre of excellence for developing innovative interdisciplinary approaches to dark tourism research.
- Increase the level of local, national and international research collaborations with industry, academia and the media.
- Update and improve knowledge that informs the curriculum and the teaching of dark tourism as well as research methods
It seems obvious that these objectives could be in line with the objectives of the future SIG and the cooperation between the two organizations would be strengthening both of them.
Although there was no introductory meeting on this possible SIG-creation in Canterbury and some time has elapsed since, informal meetings and conversations seem to support the idea and therefore I would like to invite possible participants to come forward and support this proposal, as a new Atlas SIG can only be established when a minimum of four full members is in support. As for the clear set of aims and objectives and the required annual work plan some work still has to be undertaken, but this proposal would like to offer a first suggestion.
- This SIG group will focus on the field of Dark Tourism and related themes that could include such developments as slum tourism, red tourism, funerary tourism, battlefield tourism and remembrance tourism and many others that have become recognizable features in our post-modern travelling society as well as the focus of academic pursuit and discussion.
- This SIG group will provide a platform for both new and established academics to discuss research findings on a regular base by opening a social network application dedicated to the subject (e.g. Linkedin-group).
- This SIG group will strive for the possible publication of papers of its members and supporters through the Atlas network.
- This SIG group will organize an international conference on dark tourism and related themes at least every 2 years. The first one will be posted for November/December 2017 and will be hosted by Inholland in Amsterdam. Further details will be communicated through the existing Atlas networks and Trinet. It would be a nice occasion for the official launch of the SIG and confirming its collaboration with IDTR.
- This SIG group will be supportive of PhD candidates and other students (BA and MA) to position their research and receive feedback.
- This SIG group will establish a interactive connection with other academic organizations that have demonstrated their interest in the topic and will set up collaboration with the existing IDTR.
- For the moment the location of this SIG group would be located at Inholland University in Amsterdam where management, colleagues and students have expressed their interest in and support of this new development.
A good idea is not enough when you want to start a new venture. Networking, contacts and support shoud be added and it needs the commitment from several parties. As I can only speak form my own university at the moment, I can pledge the support of Inholland for this SIG and hope that other institutes and academics will follow suit. I therefore invite you to express your interest in this proposal, maybe even add your support for its start and let’s make it a promise to meet in Amsterdam at the end of this year to get face to face and celebrate a new initiative.