Death, Dying and Dark Tourism in Contemporary Society: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis

Stone, Philip orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9632-1364 (2010) Death, Dying and Dark Tourism in Contemporary Society: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Despite increasing academic and media attention paid to dark tourism – the act of travel to sites of death, disaster and the seemingly macabre – understanding of the concept remains limited, particularly from a consumption perspective. That is, the literature focuses primarily on the supply of dark tourism. Less attention, however, has been paid to the consumption of ‘dark’ touristic experiences and the mediation of such experiences in relation to modern-day mortality. This thesis seeks to address this gap in the literature. Drawing upon thanatological discourse – that is, the analysis of society’s perceptions of and reactions to death and dying – the research objective is to explore the potential of dark tourism as a means of contemplating mortality in (Western) societies. In so doing, the thesis appraises dark tourism consumption within society, especially within a context of contemporary perspectives of death and, consequently, offers an integrated theoretical and empirical critical analysis and interpretation of death-related travel.

The study adopts a phenomenological approach and a multiple case studies design with integrative and complementary methods of covert participation observation, semi-structure interviews (n = 64) and survey research (n = 419), as well as a focus group and a diarist account. As a result, the thesis explores the fundamental interrelationships between visitors and sites that offer a representation of death. In particular, the research examines these relationships at Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum & Memorial (Oświęcim, Poland), WTC Tribute Visitor Centre at Ground Zero (New York), Body Worlds exhibition at the O2 Arena (London), and the Dungeon visitor attractions (York and London).

The research finds that in a contemporary secular age where ordinary and normal death is sequestered behind medical and professional façades, yet abnormal and extraordinary death is recreated for popular consumption, dark tourism plays a mediating role between life and death. Ultimately, therefore, the thesis argues that dark tourism is a (new) mediating institution within secularised death sequestered societies, which not only provides a physical place to link the living with the dead, but also allows the Self to construct contemporary meanings of mortality, and to reflect and contemplate both life and death through consuming the Significant Other Dead.

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