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Below the Deck: A Critical Mapping of American Cruise Culture

Amanda Kercmar Candidate, Master of Arts in Cultural Studies - University of Washington Bothell you'll feel that you're a member of a very exclusive clubthis is where wishes come true. These are just two examples of discursive production of imagined identities of the 2.8 million American cruise tourists annually. Understanding how the imagined identities of cruise tourists are produced is important because this informs us about the production of power and knowledge in and across space. This also matters because tourism exists at local, national, and international levels, and the way the imagined identities are informed by cruise tourism advertisements and images might be applicable outside of this specific industry.

tourism, cruise, imagined identity
discursive formation, cultural geography, political economy Content/Media/Assets/CruisesDestinations/MexicanRivi era/Itineraries-Module.jpg?t=1335902482667 ges/Seabourn-cruises-ServiceLnav_031011.jpg CLContent/Media/Assets/CruisesDestinations/alaska_ 214x129.jpg?t=1337023024068

Research Proposal
Using a discursive analysis of cruise advertisements, promotional practices, promised experiences, and passengers experiences, as well as considering what is privileged/not privileged in these texts, my capstone project investigates the production of American cruise tourists imagined identities.

The verbal, visual, and other social practices that continuously reproduce these identities will be evaluated in a series of critical maps, representing the cultural geographies of cruising. By performing a case study on Seabourn, a luxury cruise line, my capstone project shows the intentionality of cruise lines as they shape the imagined and embodied tourist gaze of the American cruiser.

Research Proposal
It should go without saying that tourists are a particularly privileged people with physical mobility and the ability to move across space, with the freedom and time to travel for leisure, and the economic means to pay for this luxury. However, even within this high cultural status, tensions of power and knowledge still exist. Tourism is a leisure activity which presupposes its opposite, namely regulated and organized work. It is one manifestation of how work and leisure are organized as separate and regulated spheres of social practice in modern societies (Urry, 1990, pg. 2). It is perhaps this opposition which first imagines the tourist. 2.jpg

The Big Picture

The production of cruiser identities is embedded in larger cultural critiques of class, race, privilege, and mobility. The political economy of cruise tourism is situated in the commodification of the tourist gaze. An in depth review of the websites, deck plans/cabins, and promotional literature (brochures, pamphlets, passenger photographs of Seabourn Cruises, may show how these companies carefully and perhaps intentionally situate the cruiser within the contexts above.

To put it simply, culture is about shared meanings. Now, language is the privileged medium in which we make sense of things, in which meaning is produced and exchanged. Meanings can only be shared through our common access to language. So language is central to meaning and culture and has always been regarded as the key repository of cultural value and meanings (Hall, 1997, pg. 1)

Research Questions: Part 1

Where is luxury cruising?

How are the spaces of luxury cruising organized and imagined?

With this in mind, how are privilege and status being produced?

Research Questions: Part 2

Which realities are privileged and which realities are obscured in these cruise ship advertisements?

How might these images be shaped by the perceived image of how a cruiser should appropriately act?

Research Questions
visitors are able to mark their identities as tourists and achieve the raison d'tre of their travels by engaging with the act of photography and through and explicit performance of their knowledge of this particular, place-dependent photographic convention. - Thurlow and Jaworski, 2011, pg. 242

Whereas our social identities shift throughout the day, what allows us to move coherently from on to another is often imagined to be our personal identity, or who we are our constant. Carla Kaplan, 2007

Imagined identities are always being (re)interpreted and negotiated by individuals and groups within and across geographic spaces, both physical and conceptual. Identity and meaning are not inherently in an object or body, rather, they are understood through the ways in which we talk about that object/body, in relation to difference and within structures of power and knowledge.
The production and consumption of imagined identities of the American cruise tourist must be understood as discursively formed and malleable. This knowledge production and archiving of lived/embodied experiences contribute to the imagined identities of cruisers.

Scene Setting: Luxury

With their unmatched sense of style, elegance and grace, Seabourn ships beckon you to travel beyond the bounds of the imagination. Aboard Seabourn, every desire is met promptly and with a welcoming smile. Whether it's a warm blanket and a cup of gourmet hot chocolate as you drift along the Norwegian Fjords or a relaxing neck massage poolside, you'll feel that you're a member of a very exclusive club.

Seabourn ships carry between 208 and 450 passengers. Seabourn Cruise Line is owned by Carnival Corporation, the largest cruise corporation in the world, at 51.6% of market share (2011)

Now that you have sailed with Seabourn, you understand the unique sense of belonging that occurs as you get to know the interesting, convivial people who share your voyage. That same sense of belonging to a cordial group of travelers is enjoyed by those - and only those - who have sailed with us, as members of our exclusive Seabourn Club.

Theoretical Backdrop: three strands of literature which frame my study

Critical Discourse Studies: [Discourse] is a way of representing the knowledge about a particular topic at a particular historical moment. Discourse is about the production of knowledge through language. But since all social practices entail meaning, and meanings shape and influence what we do our conduct all practices have a discursive aspect. - Stuart Hall
Hall, S. (1992) The West and the Rest, in Hall, S. and Gieben, B. (eds) Formations of Modernity, Cambridge, Polity Press/The Open University.

Cultural Geography: It is probably now well accepted, though it is still important to argue, that a lot of our "geography" is in the mind. That is to say we carry around with us mental images of the world, of the country in which we live (all those image of the North/South divide), of the street next door. Doreen Massey

Critical Tourism Studies: The tourist gaze is not a matter of individual psychology but of socially patterned and learnt ways of seeing (Urry, pg. 2, Berger, 1972). It is a vision constructed through mobile images and representational technologies (Larsen, pg. 245).
Larson, J. Geographies of Tourist Photography Urry, J. The Tourist Gaze

Methods Textual Analysis of Seabourn Cruise advertisements, commercials, websites, brochures, and emails
Within the theoretical frameworks laid out this proposal, an analysis of the publications from Seabourn Cruise Lines will perhaps show that imagined identities of luxury cruise tourists are situated across and within particular spatial contexts, and are in part, shaped by cruisers physical locations, and their knowledge of the world. Imagined identities, as performed by cruise tourists cannot be known individually, but are understood within social relationships. My research will show that the production of cruiser identities is multi-faceted and continuously being informed and reinterpreted.

Preliminary Observations of Luxury Cruisers in Advertisements

Seabourn Cruise Line No images of same-sex couples or families

Very few, if any images of children

White heteronormative couples, appearing to be 3060 years old

Many images without people - Tranquility

Methods Reviewing Passengers online photo sharing

The nature of tourist photography is a complex theatrical one of corporeal, expressive actors; scripts and choreographies; staged and enacted imaginative geographies. Tourist photography is [thus] made less visual and more embodies, less concerned with spectatorship and consuming places than with producing place myths, social relationships. Jonas Larsen

Methods Analysis of Cruise Advertisements in Cond Nast Traveler

I will perform a textual analysis on one-years worth of Cond Nast Traveler magazine to see how cruise travelers are imagined in advertisements. I will look at all cruise advertisements, however, paying particular attention to those by Disney Cruise Line and Seabourn Cruise Line. In addition, I will review a variety of other travel and non-travel magazines to see which magazines these cruise lines advertise in, and to see what knowledge is privileged/favored in these advertisements.

Critical/Evaluative Mapping
In addition to cruise line advertisements, cruisers are also informed by their relationship to the ways that cruise ship maps/deck plans are constructed. Cruise ship deck plans advertise the cabins in particular ways, privileging cruiser occupied spaces. I will consider what is favored in these descriptions and what is not, including written descriptions and number of images. I will evaluate the different cabin options on both Disney and Seabourn cruise ships to compare the ways that cabin descriptions change with price and room type. In All Balcony Suites feature doors my preliminary research, it appears as though higher opening to fresh sea breezes from priced, more luxurious room types are advertised with a a private mini-balcony... greater number of images and longer, more illustrative room descriptions. ansatlantic_14Night_East_thumbnail.jpg?t=1326474136969

Critical/Evaluative Mapping
Map illustrating passenger vs. non-passenger spaces on a cruise ship: highlighting the spaces that are not labeled, and considering how these maps both produce and are products of the identities of cruisers.
Map deconstructing the written text and images of various levels of cruise ship cabin floor plans on Seabourn ships decoding of images, length of description, emotion of adjectives. Map showing the origins and destinations of cruise ship travel by Seabourn Cruise Line, highlighting a spatial evaluation who is imagined as a cruiser, and who is not. This map will have a layer that focuses on the spaces that are neither origin or destination; instead, highlighting the conspicuous absence of certain locations. ansatlantic_14Night_East_thumbnail.jpg?t=1326474136969

Final Product/Dissemination
My final research product will be presented and displayed at the UW Bothell Cultural Studies Conference in May 2013. My research project investigates the ways that imagined identities are produced in/by American cruise culture. The deliverables for this project will be a written summary and a series of critical and evaluative maps that look at the perhaps intentional production of identity and consider who is and who is not a cruise passenger.

Its all about the experience the thrill of doing something youve never done before. Were not talking about your run-of-the-mill vacation here. Were talking about a once in a lifetime cant stop taking about it, this rocks kind of experience (Royal Caribbean International Cruise Line, 2008. Hosany and Witham, 2010, pg. 351.)

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Jaworski, A., & Thurlow, C. (August 01, 2011). Tracing place, locating self: Embodiment and remediation in/of tourist spaces. Visual Communication, 10, 3, 349-364.
Larsen, J. (2003) Performing Tourist Photography. Roskilde: Department of Geography from _OF_TOURIST_PHOTOGRAPHY__CHOREGRAPHIES_ANDPEROR.pdf