Risky encounters? Risk in travel narratives of niche tourists from Poland to the former Soviet Union
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The article is devoted to the role of risk in tourist experience. It particularly concentrates on risk as a figure of travel narratives, the identity boundaries marker. The empirical material comes from a study on Polish niche tourism to the countries of the former USSR, the rarely chosen destination in post-1989 Poland. The niche status of tourists is defined by the choice of destination and the mode of travel (budget self-organized tourism usually involving some contacts with nature and local dwellers). Risk is present in tourist accounts yet it is not central – the interlocutors do not see themselves as adventure tourists. The theoretical models of risk are presented in the second part of the article to the end of establishing the cultural and historically specific meanings of risk such as uncertainty or change as well as the correlation between risk and control, including control over one’s destiny. In the final part of the article the empirical material is analyzed through the lens of presented theoretical models. The strategy of backgrounding risk in narratives serves several goals. It produces counter-hegemonic (affirmative) representations of the visited region; it also creates the image of tourists as exceptional and different thus boosting their social status at home. The side effect of these strategies of risk presentation is however the image of the countries of the former USSR as pre-modern, outdated and pristine, as opposed to the (late) modern sophisticated Europe, with which the tourists associate themselves.
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