Revitalization and counter‐revitalization: tourism, heritage, and the Lantern Festival as catalysts for regeneration in Hội An, Việt Nam
Department of Anthropology , University of Chicago , Chicago, USA
When employed for development purposes, tourism often elicits a fundamental tension between locals’ desire (and need) to both change and to stay the same. Like other development projects, it is often paradoxically conceived as a means of empowering and ‘bettering’ hosts that necessarily rests in the hands of the guests. After briefly tracing the historical conjunctures between development discourses and tourism, the author argues for the adoption of an alternative theory, one that eschews development’s tautologies and evolutionary notions: Anthony Wallace’s classic revitalization theory, a ‘deliberate, organized, conscious effort by members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture’. He contends that this paradigm is a more totalizing set of processes, since it accounts for environmental, religious, psychological, and biological pressures stemming from extra‐cultural challenges. Using ethnographic fieldwork to explore the emergence of Hội An from a sleepy Vietnamese town into the country’s most popular destination, the author shows that, while the impetus for the adoption of tourism may have been the intervention of outsiders, locals perceiving a variety of pressures on their way of life truly shaped the manner in which the town regenerated itself. In particular, they respond to the tension between transformation and tradition by implementing a monthly Lantern Festival that ritually refreshes their sense of communitas and reinforces the unique temporality in which they live. More importantly, it urges both practitioners and theorists to consider the productivity of adopting a revitalization paradigm to better understand and implement urban regeneration projects that focus on tourism and festivals.