The Tourist/Researcher Nexus: Investigating Social Justice Projects in Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos

Claudia Bell


Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos are destinations growing in popularity. All three countries are poor, with a context of recent or current conflict. Tourism is regarded as a potential saviour: a source of foreign money, whilst enhancing global awareness of each nation. Whilst tourism is largely government managed, diverse NGOs work to ameliorate conditions of the poor. There are also private social entrepreneurs running operations to upskill disadvantaged people. This paper explores a range of grassroots ventures. Tourists are the customers for most of these enterprises; so how does the academic researcher considering these spaces as case studies, differ from tourists?

Fieldwork took place on three visits, 2017-2019. Initiatives included artisan and craft projects, food producers, restaurants, and eco-tourism. For social entrepreneurs running these, theire schema is responsible, grassroots development, to a social justice agenda. Many tourists consciously seek such sites. In this way, the touristic practice resembles the researcher praxis. This researcher, like any visitor, located such enterprises via websites, travel blogs, and in the field. Most functioned as charities or modest businesses. Ethically, and out of courtesy as well as desire, the researcher also purchased goods and services from each enterprise, exactly as tourists do.

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