The Influence of Tourist Performances at Dark Tourism Sites. The Selfie-Phenomenon at Holocaust Memorials

Seminararbeit, 2017

12 Seiten, Note: 1,3


List of contents


Theory: Dark tourism in the post-modern society

Phenomenon of dark tourism

Recent tourist performances and their influence on the stage

Case Study: Tourist performance at Holocaust memorials

Background information

Different observations

Conclusion and practicability



What do Pompeii, Ground Zero, Chernobyl, the Costa Concordia shipwreck or Auschwitz memorial have in common? They are all part of an ever growing phenomenon in the contemporary society, the so called dark tourism. This kind of tourism, which involves travelling to sites of former death or horror, is not new but increasingly getting popular. (Drexel, 2014, p. 70)

Another current tourism trend is the search for personal involvement through self-presentation - in other words - “taking a selfie”. (Miles, 2011) The Oxford Dictionary, 2013 defines selfie as: “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

But how do both trends interrelate? As the selfie-behaviour can be observed at all types of tourism destinations, it doesn’t stop at places of former death and suffering. The project “Yolocaust”[1] of the satirist Shahak Shapira deals with this behaviour at the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. By transforming the selfies that some guests uploaded on popular social media channels, the campaign presents in a direct and unadulterated way, how the social media use in a rapidly changing communication environment is influencing the behaviour of modern tourists.[2] Inspired by this project the paper discusses the cultural phenomenon of taking selfies as an act of recent tourist performance in the light of dark tourism. The aim is neither to focus on the purpose of dark tourism nor the purpose of this behaviour, but to examine, how it is influencing the role and meaning of highly sensible places - in this case - the Holocaust memorials. The analysis will be based on the following research question:

How do modern forms of tourism performance influence the role of dark tourism sites? – A critical analysis of the selfie-behaviour at Holocaust memorials.

After a short literature and theory overview of both the phenomenon of dark tourism and tourist performances/practices, with the example of taking self-portraits, the second part will focus on some current studies and observations at the Holocaust memorial sites in Berlin, Auschwitz and Dachau. In the conclusion part the findings will be discussed in order to provide some practical implications for the responsible institutions.

Theory: Dark tourism in the post-modern society

Dark tourism is considered to be one of the oldest forms of tourism and goes back until the Roman times, where people watched gladiator battles or later the burning of witches. (Wolf and Matzner, 2012, p. 95) In today’s postmodern world the global communication technologies play a significant role for the initial interest of visiting dark tourism sites, as many people face issues of death on a regular basis through modern forms of news media. (Lennon and Foley, 2007, pp. 5–6) The media and digitalization influenced both the awareness and number of visitors and the tourist behaviour. The rise of visitor photography and especially the taking and sharing of selfies as a recent tourist performance is one example. As Holocaust memorial sites aim to be places of historical and political learning and commemoration (Petermann, 2012, p. 66) it will be examined how the modern tourist performances influence this original and important role of the place.

Phenomenon of dark tourism

As already mentioned dark tourism has a long history and popularity, but only recently academics referred to the phenomenon and the concept in its various manifestations. Foley and Lennon (1996) were the first who mentioned and wrote about dark tourism and triggered a lot of research and interest in this field. (Stone, 2006, p. 148) In 2012 the world´s first academic hub to study dark tourism - The Institute for Dark Tourism Research - was created at the University of Lancashire in England. (UCLAN, 2017) According the difficulty in attaching a label to the enormous diversity of dark sites, attractions and experiences[3], attempts have been made to identify different forms or intensities of dark tourism. Dr. Philip Stone, executive director of the Institute, created seven different categories on the basis of the dark tourism spectrum in order to distinguish lighter and darker types of the phenomenon. (Stone, 2006, p. 146)

Due to further research into the topic and the motives, dark tourism nowadays gets more and more accepted and education is perceived to be the key element in transmitting and securing the correct interest in these sites. (Lennon and Foley, 2007, p. 163) Peter Hohenhaus, author of the website, emphasises that dark tourism has nothing to do with voyeurism or malicious joy. Especially for very dark historical sites, like the former death camp in Auschwitz, it is important to see and experience the authenticity oneself in order to understand and learn from the history. (Drexel, 2014, p. 71)

An important aspect, which is influencing these sites, is the postmodern phenomenon of developing touristic products. In many cases the educative elements go hand in hand with those of commercialization and co-modification, which leads to very diverse kinds of visitations. (Lennon and Foley, 2007, p. 11) In order to bring the experience with death into the public eye, the sites have to be open for all kinds of tourists. Therefore these places contain complex performances. (Urry, 2004, p.205) While on a political or social perspective the main purposes are education and remembrance, the economical perspective focuses on aspects like entertainment and financial gains. (Stone, 2006, p. 148) But if a site plays the role of an entertainer or educator it is not only influenced by the institution that stands behind, but mainly by the visitors´ performance and behaviour.

Recent tourist performances and their influence on the stage

Taking photographs has always been a dominant part of tourist performance in order to materialize the tourist gaze and capture images that verify the experience and help remembering. (Tourism Geography) As tourist performances are located in a social and cultural context (Edensor, 2000, p. 325), the emerge of social media and the related communication practices evoked a new kind of performance: the selfie-behaviour.

Some studies already dealt with this phenomenon and mentioned negative outcomes like damages in environment, wildlife harassment, tourists that place themselves in danger or the cultural offence. (Pearce and Moscardo, 2015, p. 60) But how can this behaviour be related to the sense and meaning of the tourist places?

The sense of place in human geography is the subjective feeling people have about it which also includes the role of the place in their identity. (Castree, 2003, p. 167) The emotional importance of a memorial can therefore be different depending on the kind of visitor (for example foreign vs. domestic tourists). In his study about the tourist performances at the Taj Mahal in India, Tim Edensor gives some insights into the different ways in which tourists construct and make sense of the places they visit, which is reflected in their performance (behaviours or actions). (Tourism Geography)

Therefore tourist sites can be seen as stages of performance (Edensor, 2000, p. 341) and the nature of these stages is dependent on the kinds of practices which are played upon them. (Edensor, 2001, p. 64) He furthermore emphasizes: “that stages can change continually, that different interpretations and performative strategies can undermine the materialization and deployment of managerial power.” (Edensor, 2000, p. 333) As the Holocaust memorials have by nature a very sensitive role (of memorizing and educating) the different performances can be competing and the question about which behaviour is appropriate or normal arises. (Edensor, 2001, p. 78) How the recent selfie-behaviour is actually influencing the sense of a Holocaust memorial will be examined in the following part.

Case Study: Tourist performance at Holocaust memorials

Due to the increasing visitor numbers in German and Polish concentration camps (mostly by students but also individual tourists), Holocaust tourism was established as an own category of dark tourism. (Wolf and Matzner, 2012, p. 90) According to the categorisation of Stone (see 2.1) Holocaust tourism can be related to the darkest of the possible tourism forms. This refers especially to the former concentration and death camps in Auschwitz and Dachau, where the genocide directly took place. (Stone, 2006, p. 157) They are conceivably darker than those sites that represent the Holocaust, like the US Holocaust Museum in Washington and also the Memorial in Berlin.[4] (Stone, 2006, p. 151) After some background information about the three memorials, the outcomes of the studies which dealt so far with the tourist behaviour at these sites will be presented. The purpose is not to examine what kind of behaviour is appropriate or not - this would be another context (Edensor, 1998, p. 203) - but how the tourist practices are influencing the role of the place.

Background information

In the middle of the city and close to the famous Brandenburg Gate they located a place of remembrance – The Memorial of the murdered Jews in Berlin. Since it was opened in 2005, the huge area, which consists of more than 2500 concrete slabs, is open day and night for all types of visitors. The architecture of openness and abstractness aims to give the visitor enough space to confront with the sensible topic on his own way.


[1] Yolocaust is a neologism of the abbreviation “Yolo” (you only live once) and Holocaust.

[2] The campaign gained a lot of attention in the social media channels in January 2017. On his website the half-german, half-israelian satirist uploaded the selfies which he provided with new backgrounds of murdered or imprisoned jews. As a response to the shocking pictures, almost all affected tourists apologized and deleted their pictures afterwards.

[3] Over 800 individual places in 108 different countries can be referred to dark tourism (overview:

[4] As they refer to different categories of dark tourism, it could be argued that the selected sites are not directly comparable. Nevertheless they will be observed equally, as they serve for the same main purpose.

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The Influence of Tourist Performances at Dark Tourism Sites. The Selfie-Phenomenon at Holocaust Memorials
Katholische Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
452 KB
holocaust, dark tourism, yolocaust
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Eva Lill (Autor), 2017, The Influence of Tourist Performances at Dark Tourism Sites. The Selfie-Phenomenon at Holocaust Memorials, München, GRIN Verlag,


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