Action and Writing

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By David Crouch (University of Derby)

The French philosopher Felix Guattari, in his masterly book Three Ecologies, wrote:

Tourism, usually amounts to no more than a journey on the spot, with the same redundancies of images and behaviour
(p.27 2002 edition).

Awkwardly quoting a rather different level of philosophical reflective power, a review in the LSA Newsletter of my edited book leisure/tourism geographies in 1999 complained that the book included two chapters, one mine, on gardening! (they were of course on totally different spheres of one of the most popular of leisures.) Its seemed that the subject really was not appropriate.

Perhaps the author of the review might prefer yet another piece on football, that has become a metaphor for a nasty side of capitalism. Somehow I find Guattari’s claim pertinent, it carries much common sense. Whilst I have habitually argued that the tourism industry is, shall we say, both overblown of its ‘good’ and blind to its ‘bad’, I have repeatedly pointed to the very different experience that human beings have in a change of scenery, a chance to spend time with distant friends, a way of recovering identity and of adventure. The emphasis of research into tourist practice, feelings and the relation of doing tourism and doing other things in life has over the last decade or so proved more enlightened, more humanly engaged, and that is very welcome.

My chapter in the leisure/tourism geographies book was actually not about gardening, but the distinct character of working-tending a rented plot of land, that in the UK we call allotments. There is a distinctly different politics in this practice, a significant history and character of relating to other people, nature and so on, although of course we are ‘nature’ too. At present I am writing an invited new monograph on allotments in terms of lives, nature, culture and landscape. This radically updates the book I wrote, published by Faber and Faber (1988) and in print ever since, with the widely-known ‘social anarchist’ Colin Ward, whose practical and everyday-life approach to anarchy is greatly respected. Colin influenced my more recent work on gentle politics.

It is written for, if I may, the ‘normal reader’, that provides a welcome break from more academic writing. I think it is important for so-called ‘academics’, actually only one part of who I am, even though it is very unclear what government-appointed judges of so-called ‘research excellence’ regard with respect in terms of ‘impact’.

Over the last year or so I have had chapters published in five books including one on leisure landscapes, another on sacred spaces, four articles in journal-magazines for ‘normal readers’, sorry, again; in the academic journal Cultural Geographies and several book reviews in different academic journals, and am writing this new book now.

But is gardening relevant in leisure studies; or even allotment holding? I recall in the journal Leisure Studies one or two papers over the last decade, on therapy, on gender, on health. In geography, particularly journals around cultural and social geography, there have been articles on gardening and human attitudes to materials, machines and so on; on attitudes through gardening to nature and ecological matters; on gender, health and much else, and I wrote the Encyclopaedia of Human Geography entry on gardening and gardens (2009). Not to push a point (too far), there are issues of politics, leisure and resource distribution, landscape and space/place; community, social relations and cultural difference, ecologies, resource matters ……… More to pursue. Maybe a book with three chapters on gardening (of diverse sorts and character). I wonder if many reviewers don’t actually read beyond the chapter headings…..

And then ironically we return to Guattari. How do tourists relate their experience to what they do, and feel, and relate to back home? Urry’s third attempt at the tourist gaze (2011) retreated from acknowledging the multiple character of our sense in being somewhere, doing something, and effort to relate to ‘back home’ was reduced mainly to things like using mobile phones! Still most work on tourism, and leisure each operate in separate fields with presumptions that the ‘other’ is understood and different from their own; ignores those relations, yet they would seem of crucial importance in understanding the human being in multiple spheres of activity, practice and so on. And what makes sport a distinctive ‘leisure field’? Perhaps its global financial dependency (football happens to be the sport I tend to watch and enjoy more than any other, and enjoyed playing it until going to a school where the choice was only rugby, alas).

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