Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change
ISSN: 1476-6825 (Print) 1747-7654 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rtcc20
Mythic Geographies of Representation and Identity: Contemporary Postcards of Wales Annette Pritchard & Nigel Morgan To cite this article: Annette Pritchard & Nigel Morgan (2003) Mythic Geographies of Representation and Identity: Contemporary Postcards of Wales, Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change, 1:2, 111-130, DOI: 10.1080/14766820308668163 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14766820308668163
Published online: 29 Mar 2010.
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Mythic Geographies of Representation and Identity: Contemporary Postcards of Wales Annette Pritchard and Nigel Morgan The Welsh Centre for Tourism Research, University of W ales Institute, Cardiff This article explores how picture postcards contribute to the cultural production, performance and consumption of landscapes, places and identities. Drawing on cultural and critical studies, it scrutinises the postcard as a cultural text and as a site of cultural production. It begins by briey reviewing the concepts of ethnicity and identity in relation to its case study country of Wales and suggests how its imagined communities and landscapes have a broad mythical structure that can be mapped across a series of discourses. It then outlines the study’s approach to postcard analysis and locates the visual in social science research, confronting issues of interpretation, validity, sampling and reexivity. The article subsequently presents a discourse analysis of a dozen contemporary Welsh-produced postcards from the archives of the National Library of Wales. In particular, it navigates the visual narratives that are privileging particular stories of place, culture and nationhood and analyses what is being invoked to epitomise contemporary Wales and what is being set aside in these postcard representations. It suggests these visual texts reect an internal re-mapping of Wales that is celebrating the capital city of Cardiff as its metropolitan cultural core and marginalising alternative imagined communities of Wales, redening them through spectacle and theatricality. Finally, the article concludes by suggesting how further analysis of such visual touristic texts could offer insights into the cultural production and consumption of identities, landscapes, and places. Keywords: tourism, identity, landscape, postcards, discourse analysis, Wales
Introduction This article interrogates the picture postcard as a popular cultural text that reects and shapes particular discourses of place and identity. In doing so, we are attempting to further those analyses of representation that see ‘tourism as a system of presencing and performance’ (Franklin & Crang, 2001: 17), which, with reference to Hall’s (1997) circuit of culture, consider tourism discourse as a key element in the circularity of knowledge and power (Morgan & Pritchard, 1998). Just as tourism promotional material, travelogues and travel writing are instrumental in creating discourses of place (see, for example, Ateljevic & Doorne, 2003), so picture postcards are a rich cultural reservoir of popular perceptions of peoples and places. Postcards imagine complicated, evocative places and many tourism scholars have examined the postcard within the discourse of the masculine, colonial gaze, which objecties, stereotypes and romanticises notions of the exotic Other (Edwards, 1996). Such studies have explored how postcards have been seen to mark the cultural difference between the civilised and the uncivilised, between the colonial and the Ó 2003 A. Pritchard & N. Morgan Vol. 1, No. 2, 2003
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colonised, between ‘us’ and ‘them’. However, whereas there have been many representational and theoretical analyses of historical postcards, explorations of contemporary postcards are rare (see Whittaker, 2000). Moreover, despite the ‘massive scope for culture- or nation-specic studies’ (Edwards, 1996: 198), there have been even fewer studies that explore the interrelationships between identity, nationhood and postcard representations of place. Recent discourses in tourism have begun to emphasise the interplay between tourism, landscape, representation and social structures, experiences and identities (e.g. Aitchison et al., 2000; Ashworth & Dietvorst, 1995; Crouch, 1999; Ringer, 2000). Many of these studies have explored the ways in which residents, visitors and the wider tourism industry all participate in the continuous social construction and performance of tourism landscapes and their places. As a result, it has been argued that the visible materiality of a place expresses the emotional attachments of its residents and visitors, as well as the means by which it is imagined, produced, consumed and contested (Morgan, in press). In this article, we want to explore how picture postcards contribute to the cultural production and consumption of landscapes, places and identities. Today, place is conceived not as an objective, physical surface but as a site not only which we inhabit, but which all of us, differentially empowered and socially positioned, actively construct and invest with meaning (Mitchell, 2000). Here, we explore how a particular version of an ethnic identity is being marked out and (re)dened through the photographic lens of the picture postcard. In particular, we navigate some of the visual narratives that are privileging particular stories of place, culture and nationhood in our case study of Wales in order to demonstrate how contemporary cultures reect upon and perform their collective senses of identity and their connections to space, ethnicity and nation through the increasingly everyday discourse of tourism (Edensor, 2002; Franklin, 2003). This is achieved by scrutinising postcards drawn from four series of postcards which are currently being produced in Wales and which feature the work of four Welsh-based photographers. As such, each postcard could be described as an auto-ethnographic visual text, in that it is a ‘text a culture has produced about itself’ (Dorst, 1987: 4, cited in Rojek & Urry, 1997). Drawing on cultural geography, post-colonial studies, critical and cultural studies and cultural history, we scrutinise the postcard as a cultural text, as a site of cultural production, which is the culmination of both social interaction and individual experiences. In the discussion below, we analyse which representations occupy centre stage in these postcards, which are marginalised; which cultural icons are given precedence, which are ignored; what is invoked to epitomise contemporary Wales and what is set aside by the photographers in their role as agents of cultural marketisation. Just as any visual text, a postcard ‘can … be seen as part of the dominant ideology of a society, reproducing and enhancing its preferred images while appearing to present entirely accurate representation’ (Crawshaw & Urry, 1997: 182). Yet, of course, such texts privilege particular denitions of cultural representation and identity and certain versions of ethnic place accounts. We suggest that the visual narratives privileged in the contemporary postcards of Wales discussed here should be seen within wider internal discourses which
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are combining to redene the emotional geographies of Wales and Welsh identities at the beginning of the 21st century. Some time ago Taylor (1994: 4) explored the ways in which ‘Photography and language is conventionally used to keep a dream of England before waking eyes’. Echoing aspects of his thesis, we suggest here that these Welsh-produced picture postcards are contributing to the current redrawing of the mythic map of Wales from within. This reconstruing of Wales is elevating and celebrating the capital city of Cardiff as its metropolitan cultural core and increasingly marginalising those strands of Welsh identities, which have been associated with ‘Valleys Wales’ and with rural Wales (Osmond, 1988), redening them through spectacle and theatricality. We begin by briey reviewing the concepts of ethnicity and identity in relation to the case study nation of Wales and suggest how its symbolic landscapes have a broad mythical structure that can be mapped across a series of discourses. We then outline our approach to postcard analysis and locate the visual in social science research and tourism studies, confronting issues of ‘trustworthiness’, ‘interpretation’, ‘sampling’ and ‘reexivity’. We subsequently present a discourse analysis of a dozen contemporary Welsh-produced postcards from the archives of the National Library of Wales (NLW). Finally, we conclude by suggesting how further analysis of such autoethnographic visual touristic texts could offer insights into the contribution of internal discourses to the wider cultural production and consumption of identities, landscapes, and places.
Mapping the Mythic Geographies of Welsh Identities The question of identity, of how we dene ourselves in relation to others and society has assumed an increasingly central role in today’s rapidly changing cultural times (Hall, 1996, 1997). Paradoxically, despite the globalisation of economies, societies and cultural processes, notions of nationality and ethnicity retain their importance as everyday and theoretical constituents of identity (Edensor, 2002). Indeed, ethnicity, which implies an active cultural denition, has emerged for many people as a key marker of self and others, dening how we see ourselves ‘within the possible range of culturally constructed selves’ (Osborne, 2002: 160). Ethnicity is as much a marker of difference as of similarity – setting us apart as well as binding us together – as evidenced by the recent rise of the concept of diaspora in political, cultural and social discourses. Understanding any ethnic group, thus involves not merely understanding their physical locations and migrations, but also the kinematics of cultures, stories, myths and imaginings. In this way, tracing the sense of being an ethnic group is about understanding how a group continuously seeks to invent itself (Parsons, 2000). Such continuous inventions and reinventions are journeys of being and becoming, which invoke and merge mythologies, memories, culture and the emotional geographies of places. In the case of the Welsh (as with any national or ethnic group), it is not just those within Wales who have shaped the multiple Welsh identities – Wales has also been made and remade by peoples other than the Welsh. Indeed, as a constituent country of the United Kingdom, Wales (and Welshness) has usually been constructed in relation to Britishness; ‘Welsh identity has constantly renewed itself by anchoring itself in variant forms of Britishness’ (Gwyn Williams, quoted in
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Stephens, 1992: 161). This is particularly so if one agrees that Wales ‘has long existed not as a distinct nation state … so much as a state of mind’’ (Parsons, 2000: 11). Whilst partial self-government (since the creation of the National Assembly for Wales in 1999) seems to be contributing to a greater sense of nationhood and identity (www.wales.gov.uk/organipochamberbusiness/ content/petitions), the notion of Wales as a ‘state of mind’ retains its validity. As a result, since repeated (often mundane) visual images culminate in an enhanced sense of identity, history and community, those representations privileged in visual texts emerge as central to the continuous remaking of Wales as a state and a state of mind. Rojek and Urry (1997: 14) point out that gazing on and experiencing ‘… certain scenes or artefacts is to reawaken repressed desires and thereby to connect past and present’. We will therefore argue below that indigenous contemporary postcards of Wales afrm an emerging sense of nationhood and testify that tourism is indeed ‘one of the new cultural expressions and performances of nation formation’ (Franklin, 2003: 38). Early work on Welsh identity (e.g. Hechter, 1975; Nairn, 1977), has been heavily criticised both for its problematic treatment of the cultural homogeneity of the indigenous population of Wales and for its conceptualisation of Welshness as insufciently complex to accommodate the diverse forms of social life contained within its territorial borders (Fevre & Thompson, 1999). Later studies, inuenced by Anderson’s (1983) representation of the nation as imagined community, have endeavoured to present a much more complex and inclusive picture of Welsh society. A dening theme of this work is the desire to understand the hybridity and multiplicity of Welsh lived experiences and the differing ways of ‘imagining Wales’. This means that we need to treat ‘Wales’ as it has gured in successive, rival discourses, and consider the question ‘How many Wales?’ or ‘How many ways of being Welsh’ (Day & Suggett, 1985: 96). It is clear that, like any ethnicity, Welshness revolves around the relationship between identity and subjectivity, between dening self and other, or inter-subjectivity and in dening the wider identity of Welshness in terms of cultural, social and political solidarity. In saying this, we would strongly question the notion that identity must involve an essentialist idea such as Welshness, something that is immutably, naturally and essentially simply existing. Welsh states of mind are contested entities and: Fault lines are drawn over the question of what constitutes the identity and heritage of Wales and what qualies to be recognised as Welsh heritage. These are profoundly political questions, which have considerable import for the ways in which appeals to national feeling are mediated in the public sphere. (Dicks, 2000: 62) Indeed, as formerly settled identities, communities and landscapes which we had come to regard as ‘traditional’, have become ever more fragmented by social, cultural and economic change, the very concept of identity has become increasingly problematised. For over a quarter of a century sociologists such as Anthony Giddens have been theorising personal identity as conditional and malleable and feminist social scientists have led the decentring critique of power dynamics which has challenged the very category of identity itself
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(Atteld, 2000). Our identities can therefore best be described as a complex matrix of interdependent, ‘nested’ elements, constructions of culture and place, and also of time. They are formed where the past collides with today’s social, cultural and economic structures so that ‘Each individual is the synthesis not only of existing relations but of the history of these relations. He [sic] is a pre´cis of the past’ (Gramsci, 1988, quoted in Rutherford, 1990: 20). Notwithstanding these debates over the concept of identity, there is still some currency in the notion that we can discern three overarching but conicting strands within Welsh identities: Y Fro Gymraeg, Welsh Wales and British Wales (Osmond, 1988). Both Y Fro Gymraeg and Welsh Wales, have as Gruffudd (1994: 33) argues, their own ‘imagined communities’ and imagined landscapes. The former is wrapped up with those rural myths and narratives which have become inextricably linked with the discourse of Welsh nationalism and fostered a Welsh ‘Y Fro Gymraeg’ identity based on land (gwlad) and language (iaith), embodied in the folk (gwerin) (Dicks, 2000; Morgan, 1983). Here, the ‘real’ Wales is to be found in the unsullied mountains, in song and nature, and in pure but poor communities. Indeed, Gruffudd (1999) argues that this rural Wales has been constructed as a metaphor for the nation and represented as a place apart from the rest of Britain. As he says: ‘The terrain of Wales has long been contested both materially and symbolically and the multiple interpretations of landscape illustrate Wales’s ambiguous position – within the British state yet on its margins; and furthermore imagined and represented as separate by some of the Welsh’ (Gruffudd, 1999: 149). Such sacralisation of landscape is not peculiar to Wales and rural landscapes have often been imagined as the ‘authentic’ essence of a nation. For instance, Daniels (1993) has argued that the gentle, pastoral lowlands of southern England – and their representation by artists such as Constable – have come to symbolise Englishness and have been used at times of crisis (such as the two World Wars) as emblems of national identity. The second strand within Welsh identities has been termed ‘Welsh’ or ‘Valleys’ Wales. By contrast to Y Fro Gymraeg, this is an industrialised and urbanised identity, working class and Anglophone, essentially Labourist in viewpoint and modern in approach (Smith, 1999). Of course, such crude identiers oversimplify complex and diverse lived experiences and recent empirical work by Roberts (1999) has found evidence of changing views on identity in the south Wales Valley towns and communities, especially on the Welsh language, which has seen a marked revival in these areas in recent decades (www.wales.gov.uk/keypubstatisticsforwalesheadline). Roberts’ work suggests that, partly as a result of rapid economic and social dislocation under disorganised capitalism (Lash & Urry, 1987), there has been an erosion of the old divisions in identities between north, south and west Wales. However, despite this, his study does point to a continued sense of a separate form of Welshness as perceived by residents in the south Wales Valleys. Whilst, together with Y Fro Gymraeg, this is the most recognisable conception of Welsh identity, rarely is Welshness understood to be truly urban or multicultural. Thus, the third strand of Welsh identity – Metropolitan or British Wales – has hitherto been the most peripheral strand (Gruffudd, 1994). This neglect of multiculturalism in the dominant versions of Welsh identity is conrmed by
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Williams’ (1999) work on the experiences of black people in Wales, and the many obstacles they face in claiming Welsh identity. Perhaps reecting the previous marginality of this strand of Welsh identities, it is interesting that there is comparatively little sociological work on the different and contested meanings of Cardiff, Wales’ capital city (Fevre & Thompson, 1999), a theme to which we will return below. The mythical identities and imagined landscapes associated with these three strands of contemporary Welsh identities can be seen to broadly equate to ‘a tripartite archetypal landscape mapped across a series of discourses – spatial, social, gendered, physiological and artistic – in a hierarchy of ideal types that governed classical cultural theory from Aristotle to nineteenth-century Romanticism’ (Cosgrove, 1993: 293). As we will see in the analysis of postcard representations of Wales below, the wilderness landscape – ‘outside’ – is furthest removed from the city and from civilised life. In Wales it is Y Fro Gymraeg, ‘the wild wood, the moor and waste, the mountain fastness and the trackless desert or marsh…. It is the home of the animal and its inhabitants regarded as such by their more sophisticated and cultured peers in … [the] city’ (Cosgrove, 1993: 297). Of course, wilderness may be both denigrated as a place of untamed and uncivilised nature and celebrated as a place of elemental, unspoiled beauty and Wales has long been linked with ideas of Nature and the noble savage. For example, Adams (1996) has explored how English literature and art imagined Wales as a foreign land, examining how writers and travellers such as Wordsworth celebrated it as ‘rugged, unspoilt and peopled by rustic characters – so unlike rational, organised, powerful England’ (Adams, 1996: 26). The country was also depicted as ‘the locus of innocence, uncorrupted by the iniquities of low life in the city or the fashionable vices of high society’ (Dearnley, 2001: xvi), just as many rural landscapes continue to be celebrated today as counterpoints to postmodernity, offering an organic, simplistic escape from the profane and everyday (Tresidder, 1999). Whilst on one hand elevating Wales to a spiritually or morally superior position, this tradition also represented Wales as a pre-modern Other to be preserved for amenity. ‘There is a long historical tradition of ‘peripheral’ places like Wales being represented as a spiritual, moral and environmental resource for the metropolitan cores’ (Gruffudd, 1999: 166). It was as a result of the Picturesque and Romantic Movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that Wales achieved the heights of aesthetic fashion and became constructed as the location of a rural idyll (Lord, 1995). In the twentieth century, however, ‘a widespread form of neo-Romanticism did the same, creating a strange, moralised landscape’ (Gruffudd, 1999: 151). Travellers and artists sought inspiration and enlightenment in Wales, the Celtic Fringe, ‘the ultimate refuge in the far west, wherein persist, among valleys that look towards the sunset, old thoughts and visions that else had been lost to the world’ (Fleure, 1926: 1, quoted in Gruffudd, 1999). These sentiments can be seen in various narrative forms – such as novels, maps, travelogues and even planning policies. Thus, the Scott Report on Land Utilisation in Rural Areas (1942), which conceived of the countryside as an amenity area, continued to regard rural Wales as some kind of spiritual and aesthetic resource for urban England (Gruffudd, 1999). In the same decade, travel writers suggested that ‘The
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traveller who buys a ticket at Paddington or Euston should be warned that he is about to travel backwards as well as westwards, for Wales is a storehouse of the past’ (Lewis & Lewis, 1949: 1–2, quoted in Gruffudd, 1999). At the same time, however, formalised nationalist politics in Wales laid claim to these Welsh cultural and physical topographies, which constituted Wild Wales of Y Fro Gymraeg. The Wales of the gwerin, traditional, organic and Welsh-speaking, became both symbolically and actually ‘a storehouse of a specically Welsh rural identity and as such was specically politicised’ (Gruffudd, 1999: 159). Thus, in today’s symbolic landscape, this outside, Wild Wales is ambiguous, contested and contentious, conceived in competing discourses as both gwlad and as elemental wilderness. The middle landscape – ‘inside’ – in contrast, is one of tamed nature, it is the landscape of labour and human community: here, Welsh or Valleys Wales. This symbolic, imagined community of the southern Valleys has long been synonymous with coal mining, community, nonconformity, political radicalism and self-education (Jones, 2001), a view particularly popularised since the 1930s in lm and novels (Stead, 1986). This landscape of labour and industrialisation has been constructed across diverse narratives (particularly in art and literature) as a landscape of degradation, ‘in which the industrial and crowded valleys are described … as a “fallen” and deled place’ (Dicks, 2000: 82). This remains a powerful contemporary cultural representation, but one which is now merged with a construction of the Valleys as tourist attraction. This touristication of the Valleys was underpinned by widespread land reclamation activities and a rapid expansion of Wales’ industrial heritage sector in the 1980s and 1990s (Dicks, 2000), epitomised by a former steel town – Ebbw Vale – hosting Garden Festival Wales in 1992. Thus, just as the symbolic landscape of Y Fro Gymraeg is seen to be both the landscape of folk Wales and mystical Wales, so Welsh Wales or Valleys Wales is seen as both the landscape of poor, but cohesive community and a place of commodied, ‘greened’ heritage. Both are constructed as landscapes of spectacle, rmly located beyond the core, cultured and sophisticated realm of the metropolitan seat of power that is Cardiff. Cardiff, the city, is now the locus of culture, commerce, power and political discourse in Wales and lies at the heart of the ‘new’ mythic geography of Wales, although this position is tenuous and contested. Cardiff is a very new capital (created in 1955) and its status is subject to conicting interpretations. Whereas London’s and Edinburgh’s claims to be capitals have never been disputed, Cardiff’s claim chiey rested on being the largest settlement in the country (Hague & Thomas, 1997). It played no signicant role in the political history of Wales before the 19th century and has no special cultural or religious signicance to the Welsh population (Davies, 1993). Its economic sphere of inuence is also small by comparison with other capitals and it was never previously a nancial or administration centre as historically Wales was never a coherent political entity. ‘As a political project, then, Cardiff’s designation as capital, and actions taken to bolster this status have been open to radically different interpretations’ (Thomas, 1999: 172). It is a city that hardly typies or symbolises the country’s cultural distinctiveness and with
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a cosmopolitan population quite different to the rest of Wales, Cardiff stands apart from it (Thomas, 1999). Remaining a capital city for any length of time is always dependent on more than simply being designated such – it requires popular acknowledgment and acceptance. More often than not, a capital city will be expected to provide an appropriate symbol of the country of which it is capital. It need not be typical of that country but it must be worthy of its special designation (Thomas, 1999). As we will see below, ‘the political enterprise of establishing and exploiting Cardiff’s status as a capital city’ (Fevre & Thompson, 1999: 20), particularly following the regeneration and redevelopment of Cardiff Bay and the decision to locate the National Assembly for Wales in the city, is strongly reected in contemporary postcard representations of Wales. We will argue that these Welsh-produced narratives should be seen within the context of the on-going construction of Cardiff as the imagined community for British or Metropolitan Wales, hitherto the most marginal and ill-dened of Welsh identities, but increasingly emerging as the most powerful across a range of tourism and other discourses (Morgan & Pritchard, in press). Of course, as we shall also explore, each of these three simplied, symbolic landscapes are ambiguous, contested and interpretatively open. As we have seen already, wilderness may be both denigrated as a place of untamed and uncivilised nature and celebrated as a place of elemental, unspoiled beauty. This subjectivity of interpretation is particularly a feature of the visual since a photograph is no mere replication of fact but a mode of representation deeply coloured by ambiguities, and generally representative of the paradigm in which it has been constructed. All images ‘are inextricably interwoven with our personal identities, narratives, lifestyles, cultures and societies as well as with denitions of history, space and truth’ (Pink, 2001: 17) – as the next section will now discuss.
The Study’s Approach to the Visual and Identity As any cultural artifact, visual texts are representations of ethnographic knowledge, sites of cultural production and the output of both social interaction and individual experience (Pink, 2001). The picture postcard itself as a genre is a dynamic, context-sensitive narrative, which is a discursive expression of the popular culture of the time. In fact, postcards provide the world’s most complete visual inventory since few objects, peoples or places have not at some time been the subject or a component of a postcard (Phillips, 2000). Postcards have been described as falling into several intersecting intellectual frames, including: colonialism, romanticism, liberal humanism, realism, postmodernism and the culture of the tourist industry (Whittaker, 2000). Just like any cultural artifact, however, they are not merely a medium for the ‘neutral’ retention of images and are more than ephemera, temporarily viewed and just as quickly disposed of. Picture postcards are narratives and ways of looking, a lter between the photographer’s subject and the world: neither factual records nor innocent of value but legitimatisers and arbiters of certain interpretations at the expense of others. Anyone who uses a camera or views a photograph or a picture postcard is engaging with some theory of representation and the photographers (whether professional or amateur) who produce those images ‘respond to and refer to known visual forms, styles,
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discourses and meanings through the content and form of their visual images’ (Pink, 2001: 27). Thus, in creating images which reproduce or reference ‘conventional compositions and iconographies individuals draw from personal and cultural resources of visual experience and knowledge’ (Pink, 2001: 27). In this, there is no value-free position from which to see or to view – from the moment that they are framed, photographs dene space and location and map position and situation, immediately suggesting social and spatial hierarchies and homologies. Yet, the power of the photographic image lies in its very ability to seemingly represent reality; it is the camera’s apparent objectivity, which gives it a representational legitimacy and privileges the photographic image over written text. For many viewers, the photograph seems closer to lived experience than words ever can be, precisely because of this notion ‘that the images produced are not the product of a human brain but of an impersonal camera eye’ (Hamilton, 1997: 86). Photographs therefore offer particular perceptions of a society and can create new ways of regarding people and places – as Hamilton demonstrated in his study of photojournalism in post-war France. He demonstrates how this was ’a photography of the cultural’ – a collection of powerful black and white images (typied by the ‘lovers by the Seine’ genre) which ’created a system of representations of what made France French in a particular era’ (Hamilton, 1997: 77). As he argues, such photography created a certain vision of the people and the place that it documented, a version of ‘Frenchness’, which rested on how it was represented by the choices of the photographers. Unlike written text, which can be seen to be constructed with a certain point or perspective in mind, photographs appear to reect not distort, objectify not subjectify. As such, photography can persuade where the written word would be distrusted and has become the key medium for our understanding of the world, a trusted two-dimensional medium to which we attach special signicance. It is surprising, therefore, that the visual is a neglected area of study in social science research. Qualitative researchers in the last three decades have given too little thought to using images (such as lms, photographs, drawings, cartoons, grafti, maps, signs, symbols and diagrams) to enhance their understanding of the social world (Banks, 2001). This neglect ignores that: ‘taken cumulatively images are signiers of a culture; taken individually they are artefacts that provide us with very particular information about our existence’ (Prosser, 1998: 1). Whilst we are not suggesting that images should replace words as the dominant mode of research or representation, we are arguing that they should be seen as an equally meaningful sphere of study in social science research. This is especially so in the eld of tourism research since the visual plays such a crucial role in the production, practice and performance of tourism (Crouch & Lubbren, 2003). Understanding and interpreting visual images is however, highly problematic and the issues of ‘representation’, ‘trustworthiness’, ‘interpretation’, ‘reexivity’ and ‘sampling’ are all highly contested in visual research. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the validity of the visual was criticised on the basis of its subjectivity, bias and specicity and today many sociologists continue to reject visual images, arguing that their subjectivity and specicity ‘renders them invalid for the scientic project of
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sociology (Pink, 2001: 10). However, in the 1990s, sociologists such as Chaplin (1994) developed a more interdisciplinary approach to the visual, incorporating ideas from feminism, anthropology and cultural and critical studies. Certainly, the notion of any visual text (including postcards) as portraying ‘reality’ is problematic. It is more the case that ‘rather than recording reality on … camera lm, the most one can expect is to represent those aspects of experience that are visible’ (Pink, 2001: 24). It is important to recognise, however, that those ‘visible elements of experience’ will be imbued with different and competing meanings as different people interpret them on the basis of their individual subjective knowledge. ‘Meaning(s) emerge out of relationships rooted in a particular place and time…. Ultimately, meaning(s) cannot be understood outside the power relationships and struggles of a specic context’ (Louw, 2001: 20). The focus of the visual analysis in this paper is a discursive analysis of 12 postcards drawn from the modern postcards collection (NLW Box 1341) held in the maps and photographs archive at the NLW. All the cards are from four series of postcards produced by companies in Wales (Ffotograf, Image Cymru, Origins-Gwreiddiau and Cymru Wyllt-Wild Wales) and featuring the work of four Welsh-based photographers (see www.photo-lib-wales.co.uk). The 12 cards we analyse are intended to exemplify these series, but no sample frame was used and there is no attempt here to satisfy issues such as validity or triangulation, as we believe this would be forcing the study to succumb to the agenda of a scientic orthodoxy. In the positivist tradition, validity refers to the extent to which the ndings reveal the ‘correct answer’, a notion which is inappropriate when referring to approaches like discourse analysis which have different epistemological and ontological underpinnings (Tonkiss, 1998). In the words of Barker and Galasinski (2001: 46): ‘We can never have “objective” knowledge…. Knowledge is not a matter of getting a true or objective picture of reality but of creating tools with which to cope with the world’. More important in discourse analysis are the researchers’ abilities to gauge the results of the research against their own objectives, rather than some external ‘reality’; in this, they must be open to the notion that there may be multiple, competing and conicting interpretations of their analysis (Jamal & Hollinshead, 2001). Ultimately, evaluation of the adequacy of a discourse analysis study will be pragmatic and it will be judged on the extent to which it ‘makes possible new and meaningful interpretations of the social and political phenomena it investigates’ (Howarth, 2000: 130). In addition to adopting a discourse approach, this study is also auto-ethnographic (Dorst, 1987, cited in Rojek & Urry, 1997) since it analyses these postcards as texts of Wales, which have been produced within Wales and since it has been written by two Welsh researchers. As reective and reexive researchers writing about identities, it is critical for us to foreground and acknowledge the place of our own multiple identities in the research and writing processes. In other words, we need to acknowledge how our writing has been shaped by our own positionalities – the ways in which our individual lived experiences, beliefs and social locations have affected the ways in which we understand the social world and inuenced how we research it (Henwood & Pigeon, 1993). Such biographical exposure is important as it
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transforms the reexivity of research from a problem to a resource (Harding, 1991) as well as acknowledging that ‘no researcher practises research outside his or her system of values and … no social science method can ensure knowledge is produced independently of values’ (Brunskill, 1998: 46). As white, able-bodied heterosexual researchers, we could be described as writing from the centre, from within those ideological, discursive and material structures that form the centred structures of power and knowledge. At the same time, however, in negotiating the complex and multiple micro-relations of privilege and discrimination, most of us transverse the boundaries between the centre and the margin, both in our individual subjectivities and our personal relationships. Thus, whoever we are, difference continually decentres us and as two individuals we both also occupy positions along other separate lines of difference. This recognises that wherever we are writing from, it is a location, not so much centred or marginalised but a place in motion. Such an articulation of our own shifting identities is important for us as researchers, because, once we recognise ourselves, we can begin to see others and to recognise the other that is ourselves. Such researcher acknowledgement of self forces us to recognise that the sense we make of others’ texts, words, actions and arguments is ‘an expression of our own consciousness’ (Cohen & Rapport, 1995: 12) and that in the context of our readings of the visual texts in this study, our own lived experiences in Wales are crucial.
(Re)presenting Wales In the following section, we focus on the selected postcards and ask which images, and therefore, which of the three competing identities and imagined communities of Wales identied above do the postcards foreground and therefore privilege? In discourse analysis, of course, it is incumbent upon the researcher ‘… to read against the grain of the text, to look at silences or gaps, to make conjectures about alternative accounts which are excluded by omission’ (Tonkiss, 1998: 258) and thus we also ask which images and therefore which identities and imagined landscapes are marginalised and set aside. In the answers to these questions, we can discern just how much resonance the conceptualisation of Wales’ evolving mythic geographies outlined above has in this narrative form. Two of the three imagined communities of Wales discussed above are immediately evident in the postcard representations – those of urban, Metropolitan Wales and remote, wilderness Wales. The Metropolitan Wales of Cardiff (the locus of modernity and culture) is clearly identied and represented, as is rural Wales of Y Fro Gymraeg, although, as we shall suggest, this is represented as a peculiarly placeless wilderness of exploration and adventure, peopled only by hikers and walkers. Welsh Wales of the Valleys is less obviously present, although it can be seen. It is still photographed as a landscape of coal and community, although now the pithead winding gear belongs to a museum, rather than an active, working mine. The ‘core’ of Wales’ mythic geography is Metropolitan Wales, as represented by Cardiff, which signies modernity, culture and political and social power in contemporary Wales. Unusually in this collection of postcards, the postcards of Cardiff are identied on the front as ‘Millennium Stadium Wales’ and ‘Cardiff Bay’ and each carries a dragon motif, echoing Y Ddraig Goch (The
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Red Dragon) of the Welsh national ag. This specic identication and marking of place is signicant – no other site merits such obvious signication (other than a composite card of Traditional Wales). The rst card comprises a photograph taken from within the new Millennium Stadium during a rugby game between Wales and France, thus signifying Wales’ long association with this particular sport. This ultra-modern stadium, with its retractable roof and moveable pitch, is seen here packed with a capacity crowd, which appear as a sea of spectators dressed in red and white (two of the colours of the Welsh national teams and national ag). This spectacular architecture of the modern is seen here as modern spectacle and the postcard thus simultaneously celebrates Welsh sporting and design achievement. The successful construction of the stadium in time to host the opening and closing games of the 1999 Rugby World Cup has come to symbolise forward-looking, modern Wales in internal discourses of Wales and in February 2003, the stadium itself was voted the number one icon of Welshness in a popular poll (anonymous, 2003). A second powerful internal discursive formation has developed around the redeveloped Cardiff Bay area, which features in our second postcard under discussion. Here, a glass and steel ve-star hotel (St David’s Hotel and Spa), along with the current home for the Welsh Assembly, luxury apartment blocks and a glass and marble bank frame the articial lake created by Cardiff Bay Barrage. These symbols of luxury living, devolved governance and global capital epitomise the new Cardiff and the new Wales. By contrast, the reminders of Cardiff’s past associations with heavy industry and maritime commerce (the red-brick Pier Head Building and the wooden Norwegian Church) stand dwarfed. The composition of the photograph clearly foregrounds and thus elevates the icons of the new Wales, the older buildings visually and literally lost in the sweeping arc of the Cardiff Bay lake. Finally, the yachts nestling at the foot of the harbour signal the Bay’s emergence as a tourist attraction and centre of leisure activity. Here, in this postcard, we see conrmation of the overwriting of the topographies of the old Cardiff by the new, as Cardiff Bay, an articial imagined community of British Wales has literally and symbolically displaced Tiger Bay – a community evocative of Valleys Wales, industry and social deprivation. Thus, both the major icons of the ‘new’ identity and nation of Wales – the stadium and the regenerated Bay area (particularly the sites for the new National Assembly for Wales building and for the Wales Millennium Theatre) – seem to stand for all of Wales; the former, the standard-bearer of its sporting and popular culture, the latter the locus of its governance and high culture. These two cards depicting Cardiff, contrast sharply with another postcard, entitled ‘Traditional Wales’ in the Image Cymru series. Comprised of a collage of scenes (ve) rather than a single photograph, this is the only other card that carries a dragon motif and is specically identied by text on the front. It is also the only card discussed here which bears English-only captions on its reverse, as all the others are in Welsh and English, reecting a bilingual Wales in text, if not in image. In Traditional Wales, we see a melding of both the outside and the inside symbolic landscapes of Wales, the communities of Y Fro Gymraeg and Valleys Wales, both rmly located in the Wales of tradition and history. This is conrmed in the postcard title and echoes the wider
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cultural, economic and political discourses in Wales that are marginalising these communities (Morgan & Pritchard, in press). The former community is seen in ‘The Welsh Eisteddfod’, ‘The Welsh Sheep’ and ‘The Welsh Lovespoon Maker’ and in these three scenes, as in all ve on the card, the use of the denite article, seems to elevate each representation to a special signicance (Barthes, 1977), wherein the singular embodies the plural. ‘The Welsh Eisteddfod’ is the only icon of Y Fro Gymraeg to warrant representation in this visual narrative of Wales. This is not an image of a vibrant, modern Welshspeaking Wales, however, but an image that depicts a special performance – the crowning of the bard, the key moment of this annual celebration of contemporary and traditional Welsh culture. In ‘The Welsh Lovespoon Maker’ we see a young wood carver making lovespoons – a traditional gift of love and affection for Welsh people, which has also become a popular tourist souvenir (Barrett, 2001). As a worker of wood, the ancient embodiment of life (Fontana, 1993), this craftsman seems rmly rooted in a Wales of tradition, folklore and mythology – the Wales of the gwerin, also symbolised in ‘The Welsh Sheep’, an animal which has strong associations with rural Wales across a range of narratives, including tourism (Pritchard & Morgan, 2002). Indeed, in this collection of postcards, sheep feature far more prominently than the people of rural Wales. Arguably the sheep, an animal associated with stupidity (Fontana, 1993), is also bound up with a view of this landscape of Wales as a backward and peripheral land, furthest removed from the Culture of the city. The fourth scene depicted on this postcard is ‘The Welsh Mining Village’ with its rows of miners’ cottages, washing lines and pithead winding gear. In fact this scene, which seems to typify the communities of Valleys Wales, is actually a photograph of the area surrounding the Rhondda Heritage Park, one of South Wales’ most well known visitor attractions. Thus, just as the Wales of Y Fro Gymraeg is dened on this postcard through spectacle and performance, so too is Valleys Wales – here a museum masquerades as a living, industrial community, evocative of that which has been lost. Indeed, in this montage that represents the dual identities of Traditional Wales, performance is a strong theme, seen particularly in the scenes of the Eisteddfod, the lovespoon carver and the mining village. Overarching both these mythic landscapes and communities of Wales is the Welsh dragon, seen in the nal photograph on this postcard. Itself a sculpture commissioned for Garden Festival Wales, this symbol of Wales thus also echoes notions of performance, entertainment and the touristication of the Valleys. Just as Traditional Wales reconstrues Valleys Wales and Wild Wales as communities of spectacle and tourism, two further postcards – Sheep/Defaid and Sioe frenhinol Cymru, Llanfair ym Muallt, Cymru/Royal Welsh Show, Builth Wells, Wales – respectively depict a ock of sheep and a young boy holding what maybe a sheep or a goat. Here, again, we can discern an overlap between agricultural life and theatricality since even the latter’s celebration of the rural worker, rooted in the soil, has a performance dimension, as the boy is an exhibitor at an agricultural show and is thus part of the ‘theatrical set’ that is the tourist’s Wales. The choice of a young boy is also interesting and is resonant of the tradition in picture postcards of largely depicting indigenous peoples as children or as
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‘elders’, the one innocent, the other wise and sage – and both unlikely to be uncomfortably confrontational to the tourist gaze. In contemporary postcards of Wales theatricality and performance thus emerge as strong themes, particularly in representations of the imagined communities of Valleys Wales and Wild Wales. The overwhelming focus of the photographers’ lens, however, is the natural environment of Wales and here it is the landscapes that form a different theatrical set. These are the lands of mystic Wales, henge Wales and hiker Wales: never are they the lands of the Wales of gwerin and iaith. The landscapes are often mountain fastnesses, shrouded in clouds or fast owing streams clothed in mist (as in Sgwd Yr Eira, Hepste Valley). Such landscape depictions have a long association with mystery and with the spiritual world and the choice of these symbols have profound cultural and spiritual signicance: their meanings, associations and connotations usually having developed over many hundreds or even thousands of years. ‘Clouds symbolise mystery and the sacred … For the Romans, the British Isles, shrouded in mist, symbolised the magical land at the end of the world’, whilst mountains are ‘meeting places of heaven and earth’ and they ‘symbolise masculinity, eternity and ascent from animal to spiritual nature’ (Fontana, 1993: 113–114). This theme of Wales as the western outpost of the early British was continually echoed in its representation by the 18th and 19th century Romantic and Picturesque movements (Lord, 1995). In these contemporary postcards, we can see not merely echoes of Wales as a landscape of spirituality, morality and escape, but its modern dramatisation. Today’s postcard representations portray the uplands of Wales as an ethereal, misty and otherworldly land (as in Crib Goch at dawn/Y Grib Goch ar doriad gwawr). These sunset compositions of brooding mountains or western seas (Near Solva, Pembrokeshire/Ger Solfach, Sir Benfro) also evoke memories of a more ancient time, such as that of the Annwyvn or the summerland of ancient Welsh mythology (Delaney, 1994), which remains almost, but not quite within the reach of the modern traveller. Continuing the theme of mystic Wales, these peripheral and marginal wildernesses are where the ‘monuments and symbols of “ancient” Britons are located: the dolmen and henges, the speakers of original Celtic tongues’ (Cosgrove, 1993: 299). Yet, as Cosgrove (1993: 26) suggests, there is an ambiguity here ‘for the native peoples of these regions, for all that they may preserve the original spirit of the nation, are deemed rude and uncultivated, even brutish and bestial’. Viewers of today’s postcards of Wild Wales do not need to confront these brutish people, however, because in this ancient Celtic landscape, the inhabitants have been erased – they are but spirits in the material world and, just as in landscape archaeology, they have the ‘metaphysical status of ghosts in the machine’ (Thomas, 1993: 26). Even when this ancient land is cultivated, people continue to be invisible. In the view of the Black Mountain from Carreg Cennen Castle/Y Mynydd Du O Gastell Carreg Cennen we see a farm in the distance and ‘The elds are cultivated, but the cultivators and their machines are not visible’ (Bender, 1993: 246). The landscapes of Wales are not completely bereft of people, however. The standing stone – such as Maen Llia, Near/Ger Ystradfellte – is a lone stone sentinel of the ancient past, guarding an empty landscape that awaits the arrival of the modern day explorer. This
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unseen observer is prominent in these postcards of Wales and some even seem to juxtapose today’s traveller – the climber or hiker seeking relief from a rootless and spiritually moribund existence – with this elemental, empty wilderness. In one postcard, we see a lone male hiker, astride a mountain summit (Adam and Eve at sunrise – Tryfan summit/Adda ac Efa). In another (Snowdon and the Nantlle Ridge at sunset/Yr Wyddfa a Chrib Nantlle o’r Cnicht) the mountains themselves seem to mesmerise a female hiker at sunset. In both, it seems the reclamation of the old knowledge of these ancient landscapes is but a short journey away. Of course, that same hiker searching for enlightenment is also master of all he or she surveys, as: Anyone … standing actually or metaphorically on promontories and taking in the view looks with a masculine eye of survey, ownership and control ... This gaze was always that of explorers and adventurers, conquerors and colonialists. (Taylor, 1994: 10)
Conclusion This paper has provided a nation-specic exploration of the interrelationships between constructions of identity and nation and postcard representations of place. Specically it has investigated how picture postcards contribute to the cultural production, performance and consumption of landscapes, places and identities and unraveled how contemporary ‘postcards participate in the construction of particular collective identities … [and] are engaged in the production of the nation’ (Moors, 2003: 25). In this particular paper, we have seen how these visual narratives are privileging certain stories of place, culture and nationhood in the case study of Wales. Postcards are of course, but one narrative and tourism one discourse – albeit an inuential one given its economic and political signicance to Wales – in this inscribing of place. Other discourses are also contributing to this making and remaking of Wales and in the visual sphere, these include photography, art and cinema. These visual narratives privileged in these postcards, should therefore be seen within the wider political, social and cultural discourses, which are contributing to the redenition of the emotional and mythic geographies of Wales and the Welsh. This reconstruing of Wales is elevating and celebrating the capital as its metropolitan, cultural core. Ironically, in this, we can also discern the interplay of discursive antagonisms. The regeneration of Cardiff Bay began under the Conservative government of the 1980s as a project to create a locus for British Wales. However, following devolution under the Labour government in 1999, it has evolved into a place that has come to symbolise the international Metropolitan Wales, and vies for parity with the other capitals of the UK. This new journey of being and becoming which the politicians of Wales have launched the country upon, is also accelerating the marginalisation of the communities of Wild and Valleys Wales, redening them as spectacle and playscape and fracturing the political and cultural bond between rural Wales and Y Fro Gymraeg. This has added signicance if it is seen in a context of the current Welsh Assembly Government’s political project to promote Wales on the global stage. Rhodri Morgan, the First Minister of Wales, sees this is a complex task as:
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Half the problem really is in deciding how you merge the pride that we have in our linguistic, cultural, industrial and political history that is Wales’ past with the image and condence you have about your future. (Welsh Affairs Committee, 2000: point 5) Here, he expressly connes the linguistic, cultural, industrial and political heritage of Welsh Wales and Y Fro Gymraeg, to the past. Thus, the political dominance of Labour – a party and philosophy that has explicitly dened itself as modern and forward-looking and contrasted itself with what it regards as backward, traditional, rural Welsh-speaking Wales (Thomas, 1999) – cannot be easily dismissed in the on-going creation of place myths and identities. This is, however, an expression of ‘New’ rather than ‘Old’ Labour and modern Wales is being constructed in political discourses as a place for enterprise, consumerism, leisure and marketisation. Valleys Wales, redolent of de-industrialisation and imbued with the radical ‘Old’ Labour tradition, is redundant, as is the rural Wales associated with the breakdown of agricultural communities and with Wales’ national party (Plaid Cymru-The Party of Wales), currently the main party of opposition to the ruling Labour administration in the Welsh Assembly. It is important to remember of course that any nation or national identity is not an artifact but a process. Occasionally identities seem to be imposed to the exclusion of others, sometimes they merge, often identities co-exist and it is wise to remember that people often own more than one identity. Moreover, in a devolved UK, it is necessary to ask what it means to claim a Welsh, Scottish, English or Irish identity and through which conduits the differing lived experiences of those groups are represented. As Fevre and Thompson (1999: 5) ask, ‘we must begin to consider how public representations of “Wales” and “Welshness” are reproduced as well as explore what the consequences of these practices are for how people understand what it is to be “Welsh”’. In this paper, we have explored how the picture postcard, itself a subjective interpretation since it is ’mediated through the perspective of the person making it ... a mixture of emotion and information’ (Hamilton, 1997: 83), reects the evolving mythic geographies of Wales and testies how contemporary cultures reect upon and perform their collective senses of identity and nation through the discourse of tourism. There is ample scope for similar visual research in tourism studies, an area that remains surprisingly undervalued in the research community of a phenomenon that is so image-driven. Such textual analyses could also be augmented by investigations that interrogate the views of the agents of cultural marketisation themselves – the photographers, place marketers and politicians – as well as explorations that consider how tourists and others may act reexively in relation to tourism discourses. In this respect, postcards, as any cultural artifact, provide ‘an outlet in which we can explore our reexive self … to justify our existence through a complex celebration of both our individuality and our society’ (Tresidder, 1999: 138). There is also scope for further auto-ethnographic and historical study of visual discourses of tourism and identity. Here, we have focused on ethnicity and nationhood, both of which are subject to continuous inventions and reinventions and which are journeys
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of being and becoming which invoke mythologies, memories and mythic geographies of place. In such processes, repeated everyday visual images play an increasingly central role in the ongoing making and remaking of places and identities. Their constant privileging of certain stories and narratives contribute to particular denitions of identity, history and community. In the same way, of course, the occlusion of other stories and identities from the visual discourse silences these dissident voices and erases these alternative identities from the emotional map of the nation. Acknowledgements The authors would like to thank the anonymous referees whose comments were extremely helpful to our revision of this paper. We would also like to thank the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff for nancing our eldwork through its research opportunities fund. Correspondence Correspondence should be directed to Dr Annette Pritchard, The Welsh Centre for Tourism Research, Welsh School of Hospitality, Tourism & Leisure Management, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff, Colchester Avenue Campus, Cardiff CF23 9XR, Wales ([email protected]
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