Human Gardens and Their Magic: Tourism, Conservation and the Naturalizing of European Visions

Event information
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Venue:FIU Modesto A. Maidique Campus, LC 110

African & African Diaspora Studies Program and
SIPA InteRegional Studies Initiative
School of International & Public Affairs

present a lecture

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Human Gardens and Their Magic: Tourism, Conservation and the Naturalizing of European Visions of Humanity in the Indian Ocean Island of La Reunion

Dr. David Picard
Center for Research in Anthropology (CRIA)
New University of Lisbon, Portugal
(Author of Tourism, Magic and Modernity: Cultivating the Human Garden, Berghan Books 2011)

Program

12:00pm
Introductory Remarks: Dr. Steven Heine, Associate Director, SIPA Introduction of Speaker: Dr. Jean Muteba Rahier, Director, AADS

12:10 - 1:00pm
Lecture: Human Gardens and Their Magic: Tourism, Conservation and the Naturalizing of European Visions of Humanity in the Indian Ocean Island of La Reunion Dr. David Picard, Center for Research in Anthropology (CRIA) New University of Lisbon, Portugal

1:00 - 1:30pm
Discussants:
Dr. Rod Neumann, Chair, Department of Global and Sociocultural Studies Dr. Jean Rahier, Director, African & African Diaspora Studies Program

1:30 to 2:15pm
Q&A

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Building on Bronislaw Malinowski’s classical study, Coral Gardens and Their Magic, the lecture will explore the notion of magic as an overarching theme of European tourism and conservation practices in the Indian Ocean island of La Reunion. By literally gardening the island and islanders in what I suggest to call a post-national gardening state, European-governed nature conservation programmes, local development initiatives and tourism products generate magical realms consumed by mainly European tourists. The island is transformed into a large contemplative garden whose material and human settings are made to bring to live some of the leading metaphors of European modernism.

Through displays and performances set up inside the island tourists meet a “first” humanity archaically cultivating the ground, thus defining human existence in opposition to an unconditioned nature; a humanity initiating time and history. Driving back to their hotels, they subsequently immerse in a historical “creolized” humanity embodied in sites, stories and people found on the coast; a humanity struggling with the contradictions of the human condition and human desires, and tentatively establishing ethical norms that allow humanity to live together. Both the island as a whole, and the way it is approached by tourists, are structured by a pattern that seems analogous to that of the biblical Garden of Eden. It seems to allow tourists to bring alive a mythical universe of time, marked by an initial separation between the human and nature (or God), and symbolically following the flow of time embodied in a movement towards the outside of the island, metaphors for the struggles of and in human history. This mythical universe seems rooted in European philosophical and theological understandings of time and the “logic” of history.

In the second part of the presentation I will focus on processes by means of which this specific garden semiotic has become a dominant format to frame and guide local social life in La Reunion. I will focus on different projects that emerge in the contact zones of publicly sanctioned environmentalism, localised expressions of community life, and tourism development initiatives. I will discuss how the “magic” tourists initially associated with the island garden and its various displays of humanity becomes a marker itself to define social identity within the island.