Managing authenticity and performance in Gulag tourism, Kazakhstan

Guillaume Tiberghien*, John J. Lennon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

To date, there has been limited research concerning the methodology and approach to Gulag heritage and how it has been memorialised and commodified for tourism purposes. The recent cultural commodification of the Soviet past and the development of participatory visitor experiences at Gulag museums in Kazakhstan necessitate to advance understandings of the roles authenticity and performance play in the management of Gulag museum practices in the country. Using a qualitative case study research approach based on a combination of semi-structured interviews with stakeholders involved in the development of Gulag tourism including senior management of museums, museum guides, policy-makers, tourism operators, local NGOs and experts in Soviet Gulag heritage, direct observations and qualitative document analysis of two Gulag museums and sites in Kazakhstan, the commodification and management of Soviet Gulag heritage is explored. Results reveal that beyond objects on display and images regarded as interpretive illustrations that allow visitors to connect with the past and verify history, dioramas and staged performances re-enacting various elements of the Gulag life are used as immersive and emotional tools to accentuate the ‘dark’ atmosphere of the epoch and induce a more impactful and participatory visitor experience. The findings contribute to literature on authenticity and performance in Gulag tourism by examining the delicate question of the extent to which stakeholders involved in the management of the Gulag tragedy can offer meaningful visitor experiences that are historically accurate and protect the dignity of the victims while adapting to the dynamic roles of museums as heritage and education sites.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages25
JournalTourism Geographies
Early online date7 Oct 2019
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Oct 2019

Keywords

  • Gulag tourism
  • authenticity
  • performance
  • ideology
  • interpretation
  • managerial practices
  • museum
  • heritage
  • tourism management
  • Kazakhstan

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