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Barriers to Tourism Development

Towards a New Political Economy of Global Tourism

As pointed out in the Introduction to this article, despite its undoubted signifi-
cance as an item of international trade, tourism continues to be relatively neglected
in the wider development studies literature. While there have been many studies
which have sought to evaluate tourism’s relative contribution to the economic de-
velopment of different countries and regions (Bryden, 1973; Cleverdon, 1979), the
political economy of tourism has yet to fully establish itself as a discrete field of
enquiry. Moreover, there have been few attempts to engage with some of the para-
digmatic debates in the theoretical literature on development. Arguably, this has
partly been due to the dominance of the neoclassical paradigm in the literature on
tourism development, in conjunction with the emphasis on studies of an applied
and practical nature. The preponderance of prescriptive and technical studies of
tourism’s economic impact upon host societies may give some insight into the
overall quantitative value of tourism, but do little to reveal the
complex articulations between technological change and the social relations of
power woven into historically specific modes of tourism development.
The principal objective of this article, therefore, is to reflect and elucidate upon
the systemic sources of power which serve to reproduce and condition different
modes of tourism development, as a basis from which to develop a more theoreti-
cally informed understanding of the structure and dynamics of the political
economy of tourism. This article does not claim to provide a comprehensive study
of the international political economy of tourism, but rather presents a particular
way of looking at tourism development based on the radical theoretical traditions
in political economy (cf. Sherman, 1987). The central normative preoccupation of
such an approach consists of an analysis of the social relations of power which con-
dition the unequal and uneven processes of tourism development, which are
reinforced through particular configurations of ideologies and institutions. In this
regard, the following section reviews some of the central ‘problems’ in the political
economy as well as examining some of the earlier applications of the neocolonial
dependency model in tourism, before then going on to explore the contemporary
tourism political economy in more detail.

Capitalist Development and the Power of Tourism
A radical political economy approach to the analysis of tourism and capitalist
development challenges both the neoclassical view of market equilibrium as the
central dynamic force of development, as well as reified Marxist models which
profess to ‘explain’ development processes according to a generalised and ab-
stract set of mechanical laws. A radical approach asks how and why asymmetries
of power emerge between opposing social class interests and the different geo-
graphical regions brought together through inter-locking networks of exchange
through tourism. In particular it is concerned with the manner in which market re-
lations between different groups of actors in the tourist system conceal the uneven
bargaining powers and underlying material interests of different classes. Before
considering existing models of political economy in tourism it is important to dwell
briefly upon the principal theoretical assumptions which inform the two main

Defining political economy
In its broadest sense the essential distinction between the neoclassical and
Marxist traditions in political economy lies in the respective emphasis given to the
centrality of cooperative and competitive instincts in the formation of human societies
(Barratt Brown, 1995: xiii). In turn, this has been mirrored by the normative disputes
surrounding the appropriate balance between equity and efficiency in the economy
(see Levine, 1988: 107–25). The origins of the latter derive from the liberal tradition
of economic and political thought in the 18th and 19th centuries, which has consis-
tently emphasised the maximisation of individual liberty (to acquire/dispose of
labour and property) as the basis upon which to secure the welfare of society as a
whole, in contrast to the former, which is associated with the Marxist tradition, in
which it is argued that the formal equality between citizens enshrined within liberal
polities, conceals deeper underlying antagonisms brought about by the workings of
the market (see Walker, 1989: 22–41). Marxist political economy thus places the em-
phasis firmly upon the power relations which are constituted by the capitalist mode
of production,1 which in turn give rise to the increasingly antagonistic relations
between capital and labour. In contrast, scholars in the neoclassical tradition, such
as Alfred Marshall, who followed on from the earlier work of Smith and Ricardo
(see Larrain, 1989: 7–9), tended to reduce political economy to the study of individ-
ual economic behaviour in the market.
Whilst the more deterministic aspects of Marxist political economy have been ex-
tensively criticised (see Laclau&Mouffe, 1985; Popper, 1990), the legacy of his work
remains central to a radical political economy analysis of the forces of social change
and mechanisms of appropriation which condition and structure contemporary
patterns of development in the international political economy. Indeed a number of
critical scholars, including Cox (1981, 1987), Sherman (1987) and Strange (1994a, b),
have demonstrated a more open theoretical approach to political economy whilst
retaining the central normative preoccupation of examining the systemic sources of
power and inequalities at different levels in the global system. In a seminal paper,
Cox (1981) developed the concept of historical structures, according to which a par-
ticular configurations of forces (material capabilities, ideas and institutions)
condition rather than determine the range of actions within the international political economy.

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