Critical theories in tourism - a systematic literature review

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Tourism Geographies

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Critical approaches to tourism knowledge production and representation alongside critical approaches to tourism as a lived experience outside academic circles (its impacts on places, peoples and economies) are not new in tourism. However, propelled by a ‘critical turn’ and by an overall critique of positivist research, debates concerning the meanings and implications of ‘the critical’ in tourism have gained momentum and more visibility in the last fifteen years. As an attempt to organise and critically assess the growing body of knowledge on criticality, we conducted a bibliometric analysis of critical studies published in tourism journals, books and book chapters in four languages (English, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian) in the last 43 years (1977–2020). Four main aspects of criticality in tourism were assessed, namely the main critical approaches mobilized, the areas/topics of interest, authorship and the emancipatory outcomes pursued. The review shows that a) the word ‘critical’ in tourism is mobilised within a multiplicity of different and not clearly defined approaches, beliefs and terminologies alongside diverse understandings of criticality; b) a significant nexus exists between criticality and sustainability; c) Western universities plays a dominant role in propelling critical scholarship; and d) limited explanations are provided on how participatory and emancipatory practices are sought and achieved. Based on the outcomes of our review, critical research in tourism should not stop debating the meanings associated to the term ‘critical’, challenge traditional capitalist discourses of sustainability with alternative theories (such as regenerative tourism), consider postcolonial/decolonial perspectives, and provide more details on how emancipation and participation are supposed to be achieved.




Taylor & Francis


Tourism and Travel


Critical theory, critical tourism studies, critical turn in tourism, hopeful tourism

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Indexed in Scopus


Open Access