Authenticity, Non-Places and the Neoliberal Self

Authenticity and Identity and their Connection to Places in Neoliberal Times

Seminar Paper, 2017

14 Pages, Grade: 1

Diana Gold (Author)



1. Introduction

2. What is authentic?
2.1. Ethnicity and authenticity in the case of New Orleans

3. The loss of identity and solitude of non-places

4. The Neoliberal Self, Authenticity and Non-Places

5. Conclusion

6. References

1. Introduction:

In our class, we have mostly discussed authenticity in case of gentrification and in touristic terms. Also, we asked for new definition of authenticity. When does something start to be authentic and when does it end? Why is authenticity a very positively connotated word? Why do tourists seek real, authentic places and people (individuals and ethnic groups)? And what do they declare or accept as authentic? Can something be authentic as soon as it gets commodified?

In my work, I would like to answer these questions by drawing on the concepts of authenticity, ethnicity, as well as, the dimensions and the paradoxes of globalization.

In my opinion, authenticity is a term which suggests that something /somebody is/ has “real” culture, history and social life, although authenticity doesn’t have to be something historical (see Zukin 2009: 544p). Therefore, the opposite must be something with no history and no vital social life, no individual, personal or historical relation to the place. I think these are the so called “non-places”. According to Marc Augé these places (Non-Lieux) are producing solitude and are following the capitalistic, rationalist thinking, which leads me to the neoliberal self. Neoliberalism is not only manifested in economic terms, but also in social and cultural ones. That means that the economic changes through neoliberalistic governance, like the retreat from the welfare state, the enhancing of privatization etc. also impact individuals in their social and cultural life. Or, in other words, the macro- and micro structures are entangled and can’t be divided.

My questions regarding the neoliberal-self and authenticity are the following: How does neoliberalism affect the personal identity? How do authenticity, ethnicity and tradition get mobilized for the neoliberal self or for city branding? In this paper, I’m going to start with the explanation of authenticity and its opposite, the non-places, as contrasting concept and finally I will explain the connection of authenticity and anthropological places, as well as, non-places and the neoliberal self.

2. What is authentic ?

“Authenticity is an ambiguous concept: It represents origins in two different senses: On the one hand, an almost mythically primordial rootedness in place and time (Benjamin, 1968 [1936]) and, on the other a capacity for historically new, creative innovation. Though in the second sense, authenticity nearly always applies to the artistry of exceptional individuals, it represents, in the first sense, the life-situation of a group. Authenticity might be used, then as a proxy for Lefebvre’s espace vécu - as both a real set of social practices anchored to existing buildings and land, and a metaphorical framework to establish a vulnerable population’s right to make urban place.” (Zukin 2009: 544).

This quote by Sharon Zukin entails a lot of significant concepts about authenticity, which are important for this paper. Zukin stresses that authenticity doesn’t have to be something historical, but is linked with primordial imaginations of an (ethnic) group. This is somehow a contradiction, but in both cases authenticity can be mobilized for three purposes: Branding a group, as in commodifying their ethnicity for touristic purposes; branding a city, especially in touristic terms; or branding oneself. The last point refers to the neoliberal-self. It is not only artists who work with authenticity; businessmen and –women also have to deal with their own authenticity by branding themselves, which I’m going to further explain later on.

Finally, this quote also entails the concept of Lefebvre’s “lived space”, which can be seen as the opposite of Marc Augé’s “non-places”.

In its neoliberal appearance, authenticity is mostly used for city branding in touristic terms, but also for gentrification debates in cities (see Zukin 2009: 545). Referring to the quote, authenticity can be also used for political claims regarding the populations’ right of space in the city, which is mostly linked to gentrification debates.

In the following chapter, this paper will discuss the concept of authenticity through the case study of New Orleans.

2.1. Ethnicity and authenticity in the case of New Orleans:

For defining authenticity, ethnicity can play an important role.

It is a central tool to create identity in the globalized world, where homogenization through modernity takes place:

“In fact, ethnicity is frequently most important in contexts where groups are culturally close and enter into contact with each other regularly. Anthropology may therefore give an answer to a seeming paradox become less apparent because of increased contact and the general processes of modernization, ethnic identity and self-consciousness become increasingly important. The more similar people become, it seems, the more they are concerned with remaining distinctive.” (Eriksen 2010: 276)

In his statement, Eriksen outlines the importance of self- or group identity through difference. In a sense, authenticity has similar purposes: As Zukin writes in her article about the “crisis of authenticity”, she also points to the loss of identity:

“I’m speaking of our common inability to grasp the shifting meanings of space and time, as well as the search for sources of our own ‘real’ identity.” (Zukin 2009: 545)

By talking about “our common inability to grasp the shifting meanings of space and time”, she refers to the contradictory effects of globalization: For example, the acceleration of Transport and communication is being answered by promoting slowness in a number of ways and global interconnectedness is being answered by emphasizing the local and national values (see Eriksen 2010: 314).

Thus, some people’s longing for authentic places and people can be seen as an answer to the homogenization and standardization effects of globalization. Even political claims of spaces are more successful through the reference to authenticity.

Going back to the mobilization of authenticity and ethnicity for city branding, New Orleans is a very good example:

The touristic management instrumentalizes the city’s and its inhabitant’ ethnic heritage for economical and touristic purposes. Although most of the inhabitants are “African Americans and whites”, the marketing strategies are enhancing the image of a multicultural and multiethnic city, based on the “holy trinity” of food, history and music (see Gothman 2007: 131, 134).

The image of New Orleans is constructed by local organizations and transnational cooperations, which are working together and have launched a public private partnership. This is a contemporary phenomenon all over the world and typically a neoliberal one. For example, “Coca Cola” supports the “Essence Music Festival”, which used to be a smaller African-American Music Festival and now has grown to a three-days-festival with 223.000 visitors due to the advertisements of the company (see Gotham 2007: 129).

The ethnic heritage of the city is based on the ethnicity of the local people. Ethnicity is a kind of ethnic identity, which is not static or bounded by national territories and patriotic identity, but based on ethnic differences of groups or individuals and is a highly performative concept (see Gotham 2007: 126). For marketing purpose, ethnicity get mobilized as a marker for difference and uniqueness through culture goods like music, food and history. In this sense, ethnic and social values are rationalized to meet the touristic market expectations.

“Reflecting Gottdiener (1997, 2000), who analyses the production of theming, tourism marketing campaigns that use ethnic imagery, symbols and themes are strategic and methodological. They are designed to enhance the power and status of tourism marketers as community experts who impart social values and construct ‘good places’ to visit. These marketing campaigns also attempt to silence alternative readings of New Orleans cultural landscape. What the local tourism industry is seeking to promote is an ersatz ethnicity of no offence.” (Gotham 2007: 138)

This quote shows how ethnicity get mobilized and distorted for marketing purposes. Only particular parts of ethnic values are promoted, while others are downgraded. Although the touristic marketing industry tries to sell the brand “New Orleans” as an authentic place, rich of history and culture, the picture they draw is not authentic at all. In fact, it is rather artificial, constructed through certain globally circulating images, aiming to attract tourists (see Gotham 2007: 138).

In touristic terms only the idea of authenticity plays an important role when tourists want to visit “real” places. In the case of New Orleans, authenticity is ensured by emphasizing, that the festivals, food and music bars are made for the local people and not only for tourists (see Gotham 2007: 132).

3. The loss of authenticity of non-places

Authentic places should be rich in history and cultural and social life. In his book “Non-Places: an introduction to supermodernity”, Marc Augé explains that “anthropological places” are very much like the “authentic places”, while non-places are quite the opposite of these:

“These places at least have three characteristics in common. They want to be – people want them to be – places of identity, of relations and of history (…) If a place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity, then a space which cannot be defined as relational, or historical, or concerned with identity will be a non-place.” (Augé 2008: 52, 77)

Augé claims that the “archetype of non-places are the traveler-spaces” (see ibid.: 86). But it is not only spaces of transport and transit that could be defined as non-places, spaces of commerce and leisure can be non–places as well. What they have in common is that they produce solitude through their fleeting character:

“As anthropological places create the organically social, so non-places create solitary contractuality. (…) a world thus surrendered to solitary individuality, to the fleeting, the temporary and ephemeral (…)” (ibid.: 94, 78).

By referring to Augé, Vereno Brugiatelli claims in his paper “For an ethical and integrated way of life: from non-places to places of human interaction” about urban development, that non-places are caused by the “acceleration of circulation of people and goods”. Furthermore, he argues that even buildings with a cultural and historical background can be turned into non-places by becoming a tourist attraction:

“Augé affirms that non-places are a product of supermodernity where the historical and cultural features are exploited purely for profit as curiosities to be admired or as interesting objects simply because tourists can talk about them on their return home. Even when the important architectural projects take into consideration the historical, cultural and territorial context, they gain consensus and value in so far as they become global tourist attractions.” (Brugiatelli 2016: 60)

If we apply this quote on the case study of New Orleans, then the contradiction of claiming authenticity for touristic purposes gets clear. Moreover, Brugiatelli contests the conception of authenticity in touristic terms in claiming that:

“(…) the renovation of ancient monuments and buildings is not carried out with the aim to restore relics from the past but for the purposes of local tourism.” (Brugiatelli 2016: 58)

One key feature of the inconsistency of claiming authenticity for marketing purposes is that it is used for a special purpose and in this sense, it is getting rationalized, while a rationalist version of authenticity can’t be authentic anymore.

In contrast to the non-places, Brugiatelli describes the “anthropological places”:

“These places are spaces in which people come to know themselves and reciprocally acknowledge others as being part of a narrative of human experiences. In addition, they are places of remembrance and hospitality, and also provide a sense of belonging.” (ibid.: 158).

In his paper, Brugiatelli links “non-places” with “Deterritorializzazione” (deterritorialisation) and “anthropological places and places of rich identity” with the concept of “Riterritorializzazione” (reterritorialization) (see Brugiatelli 2016: 58pp). These two concepts are getting more and more important to understand the processes of a globalized world. They are referring to the mobile character of every dimension of globalization. People, money, goods, ideas, etc. are not bounded on territory but at the same time these things are get connected with a certain place. For example, in Eriksen’s discourse of the “dimension of globalization” he refers to “Disembedding” and “Re-embedding”, which are similar concepts. They are explaining the process of detaching ideas, images, values and other aspects of social and cultural life, as well as capital, labor, fashion, etc., from “a spatially fixed context”, while the process of “Re-embedding” is a kind of counterpoise of the process of “Disembedding”, where the values, capital, images, and so forth get connected with the “place” again, which plays an important role in the individual’s building of identity (see Eriksen 2010: 313, 314).

To link non-places with “Deterritorializzazione” allows us to interpret these non-places as detached places with no connection to the social and cultural life of the environment.


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Authenticity, Non-Places and the Neoliberal Self
Authenticity and Identity and their Connection to Places in Neoliberal Times
University of Vienna
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Authenticity, Non-Places, Neoliberal Self
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Diana Gold (Author), 2017, Authenticity, Non-Places and the Neoliberal Self, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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