Heritage tourism and symbolic representation of national identity: an ethnographic study of Changdeok Palace, Seoul

Park, Hyung Yu (2007) Heritage tourism and symbolic representation of national identity: an ethnographic study of Changdeok Palace, Seoul. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This ethnographic study concerns the conceptual and symbolic interrelationships between heritage tourism and national identity. The research focuses on the World Heritage Site of Changdeok Palace in Seoul, South Korea (Republic of Korea). The study's theoretical framework suggests that heritage is not only a fundamental attribute of national culture but an important form of symbolic embodiment through which people can construct, reconstruct and communicate their sense of national belonging. This thesis examines discourses of nationalism and the nation, as well as perspectives concerning heritage tourism and past representations, emphasising that it is possible to actualise national identities and notions of nationhood in the ordinary realm of everyday life. Moreover, there is scope to examine nationalist sentiments and heritage tourism experiences within the context of a newly modernised (non-western) society. This study utilises a multi-method (qualitative) approach: ethnographic interviews with visitors and palace employees; observational accounts derived from `systematic lurking' situations; participatory techniques through active involvement in guided tours; utlisation of friendly conversations; and open evaluation of written (visitor) narratives. The findings indicate that a sense of `Koreaness' is firmly grounded in an emotional attachment to the nation, evoked during people's heritage encounters. The Changdeok experience encourages individuals to embody and personalise a sense of national belonging in a country that has been historically subjugated and geographically redefined. Visitor interpretations and representational narratives concerning the roles of `significant others' (Japan, North Korea and the West) encourages South Koreans to recontextualise their national consciousness and self-(collective) identities. Changdeok's auspicious setting arguably encourages people to escape the ordinary realms of everyday life, achieving intense but brief symbolic inversions further depicting that heritage tourism can be conceptualised as a spiritual journey of national rediscovery and cultural continuity. Heritage tourism experiences at Changdeok Palace serve as conscious mechanisms by which individuals' subjective and (inter)-contextual understanding of heritage contributes to embracing the nation's complex past, as well as helping to provide an understanding of its unique present. Finally, the work arguably illustrates that the study of heritage tourism can help to unfold the nuances and complexities associated with national identification.

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