Research Student: Kamalika Jayathilaka
A study of tourism imaginaries and worldmaking in Sri Lankan heritage tourism: a case study of Kandy (provisional title)
Impelled by a retrospective understanding of the critical role played as a travel writer endorsing/marketing a particular preferred, ideological, socio-cultural ‘construct’ of Sri Lanka to a predominantly Western readership, my research project endeavours to examine the ‘construction’ of place in tourism. As such, it will attempt to throw light particularly on the latter’s fundamental role in the (re)invention (re)production and (re)creation of heritage through textual and visual means through a study of tourism imaginaries and worldmaking in Kandy, Sri Lanka.
Academic literature reiterates that images of the non-western world created in tourism for western consumption, in the process of marketing the former to the latter, still reflect a western, white, male, colonial perspective. This study will attempt to investigate this through an examination of visual and textual representations to understand whether historicised, exoticised colonial images are maintained/ reinforced or challenged and transformed through the use of national imaginaries, within 21st century (contemporary) projections of Kandy.
What’s more, the concept identified as ‘worldmaking’ in tourism studies, which is fairly recent claim that tourism does not simply mirror a world that’s out there, but plays a constructive role in recreating destinations, populations and pasts. It also highlights the dominant role played by the travel or content creators in this process. Therefore, a part of this study will also be to explore their role in the process; whether the personal imaginings of these travel writers/content creators interact with and are influenced by dominant, institutionally grounded ‘tourism imaginaries’.
Kandy, a world heritage site embodying significant native historical and cultural value, has world renowned tourist attractions. As such, it provides an ideal site for this investigation, which would not only shed light on the largely unexplored topic of tourism’s role as a worldmaking agency but also interestingly investigate this in a post-colonial context.
In 2005 I completed my undergraduate degree in Sociology with First Class Honours at the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka and subsequently, in 2008 a Master’s Degree in Sociology with Merit at the University of Worcester, UK. In 2015, I was awarded the School of Sociology and Social Policy full fee bursary to follow the MA in Social Research at University of Leeds, which I completed with Distinction. During the course of the MA I applied and was successful in obtaining a place and funding (through the Leeds Anniversary Research Scholarship-LARS) to undertake my PhD research at the same school and university.
During my professional career as a Sri Lankan travel and business writer I journeyed extensively around the country observing, writing and interacting with diverse groups of people; representing through words its culture, people and places. Later, also as a business writer in Leeds I wrote about many independent local business establishments, generating in the process interviews and discussions with various figures in the business world.
What motivated me to undertake PhD study?
My background in sociology induced me to question and ponder widely during my professional endeavours as a travel/business writer, encouraging me to return to academic research in search of answers. My experience as a travel writer in particular triggered various questions and broader sociological insights that in turn inspired me to explore and understand further the construction, perpetuation and/or challenge/transformation of tourism imaginaries surrounding Sri Lanka and its heritage. The PhD would provide me with the perfect opportunity to unpick some of the intricate social relations and realities underlying tourism representations of Sri Lanka.
What makes me passionate about my subject?
Most our day-to-day actions revolve around stories, where we constantly delve in and out of imaginings, both ours as well as others. This awareness that the travel stories and countless imaginaries/representations we create and share help shape others’ notions about places and hence the world, makes me particularly passionate about understanding tourism’s myriad imaginaries and its powerful role as a worldmaking agency.
What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?
Upon completion of the PhD I hope to gather experience as an academic through involvement in both teaching and social research.