The Thanatourist: collected tales of the thanatourism experience
Dunkley, Ria Ann
University of Wales
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Whilst tourists' fascination with visiting sites associated with death and human tragedy has received considerable academic and media attention, the scholarly literature on socalled 'dark' or thanatourism remains fragmented. Subsequently, this thesis draws on a wide range of interdisciplinary literature and in depth, qualitative fieldwork to provide insights into thanatourism experience. The research was conducted in three phases. During the first phase I developed a thanatourism framework which recognises thanatourism as a complex and variegated concept. The framework was used as a conceptual starting point through which I identified a range of thanatourism sites at which to conduct my fieldwork. Thanatourist experiences are exceptionally personal and emotional and thus required a 'hot approach' to research in order to reach the deep wells of tourist emotion. In the second and third phases I involved nine thanatourists in an iterative series of creative conversations before, during and after visits to various sites. Adopting a reflexive approach and using the participants' own photographs I focus on understanding the motivations and the emotional perceptions of those who visit thanatourist sites. Also, using autoethnography enabled me to vividly reconstruct my experiences, enriching the study and providing valuable insights into my own motivations and emotions. The research is underpinned by an interpretivist paradigm, and I use a bricolage of fieldwork and writing methods. Co-constructing the participants' narratives strengthens the reflexivity and ensures that the researcher's voice is not privileged, and thus the voices of the participants are heard alongside mine. Finally, the accounts of the thanatourists are presented creatively through narrative, poem and play. Adopting this interesting and compelling way to present material allowed me to be playful in my fieldwork and to present emotionally evocative stories of thanatourism experience through a chorus of voices. The study illustrates that thanatourism experiences are complex and deeply meaningful for the individuals who choose to embark on them.
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