The “untouched” frontier: an unsustainable imaginary in the anthropocene

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While limitless growth is widely recognized as contradicting sustainability, tourism imaginaries are often overlooked as key agents in the perpetuation of growth-based and extractive development. The experience and consumption of regions being newly developed for tourism are often shaped by entrenched imaginaries of “untouched” nature, which have proven remarkably durable in the face of Anthropocene-era recognition of environmental degradation. Through a case study of the Myeik (Mergui) Archipelago in Myanmar (Burma) informed by participant observation, face-to-face interviews, TripAdvisor reviews and online media, three facets of untouched imaginaries are identified as impeding sustainability. First, the colonial ideology underpinning the untouched fosters an extractive logic, shaping frontiers into resources for tourists to accumulate social capital while obscuring ecological imbalances. Next, despite humanity’s ubiquitous impact in the Anthropocene, the “untouched” has in this case persisted, as eco-branded tourism enclaves continue to affirm nature-society binaries in producing pristine spaces. Finally, untouched imaginaries are shown to fuel the imperative for limitless growth, motivating tourist practices upon which industry may continue to capitalize. Amidst debates of how to politically and economically restructure tourism sustainably, sociocultural imaginaries are identified as in urgent need of contestation and replacement.
Original languageEnglish
Article number6
Pages (from-to)1430-1466
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Sustainable Tourism
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Imaginary
  • Anthropocene
  • Frontier
  • Untouched
  • Myeik Archipelago
  • Myanmar
  • Burma
  • Mergui Archipelago


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