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Postcolonial Perspectives on Community Development

Postcolonial critiques on community development

On Postcolonialism and Power Structures

Community is not homogenous, even if seen in the perspectives of postcolonialism, narratives. Hall and Tucker (2004, p.1) write that even if the colonised are seen from the Said (1978) point of view, where “to be one of the colonised is potentially to be a great many different, but inferior things, in many different places and at many different times.” Hence, the Global South, which was largely colonised at one point of time, and which is the subject matter of much Orientalism, is not a homogenous society.


From the Western perspective, the increasing attraction to once colonial lands, is generally attributed to the attraction towards the exotic, indigenous and colonial, be it peoples, customs, artefacts, arts and crafts or lifestyle. Here otherisation is from the Western perspective, where all that is Oriental, is exotic and indigenous. Here the power to define what is exotic and indigenous is from the Western side. Everything that is not Occidental, must be exotic and ‘native’. Thus, the structures of knowledge and power are in the hands of the Western thinkers, writers and researchers. However, cultural idea is not a stagnant idea. It is, as Clifford (1988, p.9) writes, “an ongoing process, politically contested and historically unfinished.” This process is an important aspect of tourism studies as a lot of tourism discourse also revolves around cultural politics (Hall and Tucker, 2004, p.13).

Undoubtedly, postcolonialism has impacted to a great extent, the theories within tourism studies as well. Issues of identity, representation, the studies on the nature and implications of the political, cultural and economic encounters have regularly made references to postcolonial discourse (Hall and Tucker, 2004).

Ashcroft et al (1989) wrote that postcolonial theory, in both literature and scholarship is the result of the European inability to deal with the cultural complexities of the postcolonial texts.

Finnstorm (1997) wrote that colonial hegemony could not be the only source of power and cultural construction and the local populations cannot be reduced to “passive objects of cultural formation”. This has the undesired effect of homogenising postcolonial situations and objectifying postcolonial subjects (Finnstorm, 1997). On Community Development Programmes

Community based development programmes have been undertaken in different parts of the world as they are seen as more participative in nature, where the marginalised sections too stand to gain from such projects. For example, in the 1990s, communities in the St. Vincent region, Kenya, were involved in community based developmental programmes, which focussed on ‘nature tourism’. These communities found the programmes to their benefit and Zappino (2005, p.4) critiques the tourism sector in the Carribean region because the local community development is not considered by the system as it is “essentially managed by partnerships among international hotel chains, air companies and tour operators that are promoting all-inclusive holidays.” He also writes that the mass-tourism arrivals in the region are a threat to the environment and advocates a development of a more sustainable development model of tourism. Zappino (2005, p.5) argues that tourism also has collateral effects which are both environmental and social, and that these are seriously threatening sustainable development. These criticisms are the reasons why community development projects are encouraged in the first place. Thus, an important question is whether community development programmes' capacity to offer benefits of sustainable development can be seen in isolation from the impact of these programmes on the power structures of defining community and culture. Therefore, the critique of the community development projects must take into consideration these experiences as well. In a more stringent critique, he says that “postcolonialism is divorced from postcolony.”

Creative tourism, which is also on the rise, worldwide, is also mindful of community. McNulty (2010, p.72), writes that “tourism is too important to be left to the marketers. It needs to be owned and managed by the community to ensure that the benefits are realised.” Furthermore, he writes that tourism should be envisioned as a form of community development and as cities may have needs that the visitors can financially support.

Tourists would see the existential authentic experience offered by local communities as the ideal experience (Barbara, 2014, p.11) and that is the USP of creative and nature tourism, both models that depend so heavily on communities and therefore are closely related to community development discourse.

Indeed tourism and development are interconnected because tourism so often provides the impetus for development projects and the latter may lead to more tourism. Edwards et al (2008, p.1038), state that tourism is one ‘among many social and economic forces in the urban environment. It encompasses an industry that manages and markets a variety of products and experiences to people who have a wide range of motivations, preferences and cultural perspectives and are involved in a dialectic engagement with the host community. The outcome of this engagement is a set of consequences for the tourist, the host community and the industry’.

Collantonio and Potter (2006, p.63) write that tourism has been used by governments as a tool of economic policy capable of generating income and employment, of diversifying the economy, and of promoting regional development through multiplier effects and the building of local productive capacity. Rogerson & Visser (2007), point at significant investigations and research that evidence and demonstrate the role of tourism in the development of African cities, particularly in the context of poverty alleviation, economic development, sustainable development and employment opportunities. They contend that smaller towns and cities in Africa, such as Bonnievale, Clarens, Greyton and Robertson, which faced decline in the agricultural sector, have emerged as rising small town or city tourism centres (Rogerson & Visser, 2007).

Irrespective of the benefits that tourism may give to the local population, it is worthwhile to understand how far they do accept the intrusion into their perceived spaces by people who they may feel are objectifying them. This is particularly important in the postcolonial discourse surrounding tourism and community development. Chase et al (2013) write that the public may often perceive the negative impacts of tourism development to be greater than their economic gains, resulting in the negative feelings that the residents may garner for the tourists. While this may be true of any resident community, anywhere in the world, the feeling of negativity towards tourists may be intensified, where the tourists have a binary self and other viewpoint towards the local communities. The tourism industry too is to be blamed for this as it repackages culture often in a way that is not a true representation of that culture. This erodes the authenticity and value of local culture (Chase et al, 2013, p.12) and instead of the culture and cultural stories being told by the actual inheritors of that culture, the narrative is taken control of by outside influences.

Bologna and Spierenburg (2014), refer to the conservation areas in South Africa, that have become an important aspect of nature tourism as well. These projects are the result of the community based conservation concerns, which became so dominant in the 1980s linking community and environment together. However, what was the real benefit to the communities for whom these conservation projects were implemented?

On Orientalism

Moosavinia et al (2011) say that Orientalism is a Western perspective of the Orient. In particular, the Western knowledge of the Orient from nineteenth century has influenced the definition of the Orient using a “set of recurring images and clichés” and that “this knowledge of the Orient is put into practice by colonialism and imperialism.” To a great extent Edward Said’s work is responsible for the binary opposition critique of Western scholars on the Orient. Said (1978) based his critique on orientalist studies on the ground that the European representation of the Orient contributed to the creation of a binary opposition between Europe and its ‘other’, the Orient. The biggest concern for Said (1978) was that orientalism fosters power structures, where the knowledge of the Orient is in the hands of the Western scholars (Moosavinia et al, 2011). The problem with the approach of Orientalism as adopted by Western writers and critiqued by Said, is that it describes the various disciplines, institutions, process of investigation and styles of thought by which the Europeans came to 'know' the 'Orient'. This system as a ‘willed human work’, institutionalises the imaginary boundary between ‘two unequal halves’ and materialises it in the shape of colonialism and imperialism (Moosavinia et al, 2011, p.105).

Tourism depends on the preconceived ideas and definitions of a place and its people. From the Western traveller’s point of view these preconceived ideas are to a great extent constructed not from experience but imagination of what a place and its people will be like. Therefore, many Western tourists would find a certain charm in the thought of quaint postcolonial lands, and would definitely be disappointed to find that the reality does not justify the notions. Therefore, from that point of view, there is greater possibility of attracting more tourists if the place and people retain the charm of that preconceived notions have bestowed them with. This can be problematic for those who are the locals or natives of the place. Hollinshead (1992, p.44) points out: “in the postcolonial setting, indigenous people may find themselves trapped, in a sort of tourized confinement in the suffocating straitjacket of enslaving external conceptions. They are caught in the objectifying stant of the Whites, Westerners or Wanderers-From-Afar, in an anonymous but continuing process of subjugation.” An example of this can be found in Carr (1999), when he recounts the Maori experience in the New Zealand tourist culture of using Maori culture for attracting more tourism, with the effect that “there was a time when foreigners would have been excused for thinking, by posters and videos they saw, that New Zealand existed solely of flax-skirted Maori jumping in and out of steaming pools” (Carr, 1999, p.19).

As Said (1978) points out, the problem with the preconceived notions is that the representation given to a place and its peoples is often the one that is found in the Western literature and theory. This gives the Westerners an upper hand in defining a place and its culture. This representation is strong and powerful enough to create a binary opposition of the self and the other as seen from the Western point of view. Here the self is seen as privileged observer and articulator of the culture and peoples of the Orient and the actual people become mute objects of study (Moosavinia et al, 2011). Ooi (2005) writes a critical review of orientalism and in the context of tourism. She takes the example of the BBC series Holiday Programme, and criticises the representation of Singapore as made in the programme to reinforce her point that oriental perspectives as Said (1978) had said are sadly misconstruing of the East, where the West dominates the narrative of the Eastern people as well as culture. She writes of the BBC programme:

The programme did not mention that the current government was one of the parties who drove the British colonial masters out in the 1950s, few Singaporeans use Chinese medicine as the first choice of cure today and many of the so-called strict rules and regulations are also common in other countries, including the UK. Implicit in the messages are: Singapore is a successful colonial legacy (thanks to the British); Singapore is still an exotic Asian destination; and Singapore is not a democracy. Viewers will get to experience Britain’s colonial heritage in Singapore, see how those Asians heal themselves and experience life in an autocratic regime. Such types of images and messages enthuse viewers, sell destinations and also caricaturize host societies (Ooi, 2005, p.287).

Clearly, the Western viewpoint, which unfortunately is the first and sometimes the only point of reference for travellers is misrepresentative of Eastern or Oriental culture.


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  • Barbara, N. (2014). The Business of Creative Tourism and Creativity in the Tourism Business. In Anthony David (Ed.), Barker Identity and Intercultural Exchange in Travel and Tourism. Bristol: Channel View Publications.
  • Bologna, S.A. and Spierenburg, M. (2014). False Legitimacies: The Rhetoric of Economic Opportunities in The Expansion of Conservation Areas in Southern Africa. In René Van der Duim, Machiel Lamers, Jakomijn van Wijk (Eds.), Institutional Arrangements for Conservation, Development and Tourism in Eastern and Southern Africa: A Dynamic Perspective. Springer.
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  • Zappino, V. (2005). Carribean Tourism and Development: An Overview. Discussion Paper at the European Centre for Development Policy Management. Retrieved from http://ecdpm.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/DP-65-Caribbean-Tourism-Industry-Development-2005.pdf

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