Tourism, race and the state of nature: On the bio-poetics of government

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The ethno-historical study of tourism can lend a new focus to the theorization of governmentality, demonstrating the ways in which it rests on the systemic, performative, and affective interpenetration of human and environmental bios ('nature'), built form, economy, and the technologies of the state. This paper examines Rotorua, a tourism centre in New Zealand at the turn of the twentieth century, suggesting that it operated as a laboratory for the forms of political rationality associated with the emerging liberal state, in particular those concerned with race. It analyzes town planning and environmental engineering initiatives, the medical discourses relating to the spa complex constructed by the government, and tourists' accounts of the geo-thermal attractions of the area. In each of these cases, tourism was oriented towards the production of white subjects, and the 'liberalization' of Maori populations, through reflexive work on what Foucault called the 'conduct of conduct.' In each of these cases, bio-political imperatives relied on a repertoire of bio-poetical performances, investing the subject imaginatively in forms of conduct that are viscerally embodied, expressive, creative, improvisatory, and even eroticized. Where the literature of governmentality focuses predominantly on the rationalities, technologies, and generalized institutional loci of bio-politics, attending ethno-historically to tourism attunes us to its affective registers, performative repertoires, its intimate relationship with locality and spatiality, and the symbolic (a)logics through which it achieves its purchase on the immanently political territory of natural life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)391-411
Number of pages21
JournalCultural Studies
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - May 1 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Governmentality
  • Liberalism
  • Maori
  • Performance
  • Race
  • Tourism


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