Suspending reality: An exploration of enclaves and the backpacker experience

Julie Wilson, Greg Richards

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

    77 Citations (Scopus)


    Backpacker enclaves have become important arenas for social and cultural exchange and identity formation. As customised spaces catering for visitors, they provide home comforts as well as points of contact with home for those on the road. Backpackers striving to experience something different often end up surrounded by the extended familiarity of home even in the most remote destinations. This problematises concepts such as the rite de passage or culture shock, which suggest a sudden and substantial shift between home and away. The concept of suspension is put forward as an alternative model, which sees culture shock and reversal being deferred by taking refuge in the enclave, providing difference without seriously challenging the basic cultural and social norms of the visitor. The suspended experiences in traveller enclaves are neither here nor there – not here because the real experience is outside the enclave, and not there because of the familiar surroundings of the enclave. Drawing on research from Bangkok and Sydney, this paper examines the way in which the roles of hosts and guests are negotiated in enclaves. Suspended environments provide a relatively neutral space in which the cultural knowledge of the host can be offered as a gateway to the authentic experiences outside the enclave. The neutral space of the enclave also provides the locals with the opportunity to consume the exotic cultures brought by the visitors in a safe way. The enclave therefore becomes a tool for mediating cultures, so that culture confusion is avoided from both sides, although true reversal is also prevented by the constructed familiarity of the enclave.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)187-202
    JournalCurrent Issues in Tourism
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2008


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