An Introduction to Dark Tourism
The term Dark Tourism commonly denotes travel to – or the exploration of – places which are associated with tragedy, suffering or death. Some of the better-known examples include sites such as the ‘Death Camp’ at Auschwitz, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and Ground Zero at Hiroshima.
The field of Dark Tourism, and the expression itself, were first defined in 1996 - in a study by Professor John Lennon and Malcolm Foley of Glasgow Caledonian University, aimed at understanding the attraction of tourists to such sites.
Other academics have tried to pinpoint the nature of this interest in Dark Tourism, as well as analysing the social and moral repercussions. One research fellow at the University of Central Lancashire, Dr Philip Stone, posited that “dark tourism represents immorality so that morality may be communicated”. Later, Maximiliano E. Korstanje suggested that the process served as a method for “domesticating death in a secularized world”.
For many, the concept of Dark Tourism is perceived to have a very morbid quality. In Germany this perspective on travel is sometimes referred to as 'Gruseltourismus' ('shudder tourism'); the term ‘Thanatourism’ has even been coined (in reference to ‘Thanatos’, the Greeks' daemonic personification of death), to denote tourism which dwells solely on the macabre, and sites associated with particularly violent death.
Perhaps more dubious still are those destinations which cater specifically to this kind of death-fetishism.
Some have labelled Dark Tourism a kind of exploitation, whereby heightened emotional responses to a place are marketed as a unique selling point. The media also has a lot to answer for in this field; whether it’s a horror flick reframing the victims of Chernobyl as radioactive mutant zombies, or even Bram Stoker’s retelling of Transylvanian folklore and history.
Difficult ethical questions are raised by the presence of local people selling souvenirs on the site of the Nanjing massacre in China - or at the dilemma of having to put money into the hands of the North Korean government, before you can pay a visit to Pyongyang.
My own interest in Dark Tourism is not such a morbid affair.
The intentions behind including the theme on The Bohemian Blog were not to celebrate suffering; but rather to investigate bizarre or unique places which have played an important, if often overlooked, role in human history.
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