2020-2021 Colloquium Series
The Tourism Studies Working Group is pleased to present
Virtual Proximity: Touring the Remote Island Remotely
Helen Kapstein, Associate Professor
Department of English, John Jay College,
The City University of New York
Friday, April 23, 4PM-6PM PST
Hosted on Zoom [click here]
Before our global lockdown due to the covid-19 pandemic, Google’s virtual tour of Robben Island, the infamous prison island off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, was eyed warily by administrators at the Robben Island Museum, who acknowledged that it was “a serious challenge for the museum because they will have to live up to the user experience online” but who insisted that “it does not affect the legitimacy and the authenticity of the Robben Island experience.” Now that tourism worldwide has been decimated by the international health crisis, virtual experiences might not be temporary placeholders but permanent fixtures in the tourist landscape. This presentation uses the Robben Island example to ask questions about proximity and distance, access and mobility, and seeing and touching that have always been central to tourism studies, but that take on new valences in a virtual context.
In my book, Postcolonial Nations, Islands, and Tourism: Reading Real and Imagined Spaces, I argue that the island space, rather than being cast away, out of sight and out of mind, instead lies at a proximate distance from the mainland nation, underwriting it culturally, politically, and economically. This arms’ length relationship is further compounded and complicated when the real island is replaced by virtual representations and experienced remotely. Virtual tours, like the Google Arts & Culture tour of Robben Island, afford the impression of access and mobility without physical presence or bodily movement. The tour relies on virtual proximity (the use of technology to approximate physical and cultural nearness) but being virtually proximate is still to be doubly distanced—first by the simulation and next by the approximation of proximity. As we navigate through the remote tour, we feel the uncanny mimicry of nearness—being almost, but not quite, there. What this means in terms of authenticity, heritage, sustainability, historic preservation and more are questions we’ll explore during this presentation
Helen Kapstein is Associate Professor in the English Department at John Jay College, The City University of New York. She earned her PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. A postcolonial scholar, her areas of interest include South African literature and culture, cultural and media studies, and tourism and museum studies. Her book Postcolonial Nations, Islands, and Tourism: Reading Real and Imagined Spaces was published in 2017 (paperback 2019) by Rowman & Littlefield International. Current projects include a postcolonial reading of the Brontes’ juvenilia and a theory of Nigerian literary and cultural production entitled Petroforms. Her work has appeared in Postcolonial Text, English Studies in Canada, and Safundi: The Journal of South African and American Studies, among other venues. She is President of the Cultural Studies Association.