In November 2013 The Department of Tourism and Hospitality Management hosted Professor Alison Phipps, OBE, from Glasgow University, Scotland, where she is Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies; and Co-Convener of Glasgow Refugee Asylum and Migration Network, as a Distinguished Visiting Professor. In 2012, for her external contributions, Professor Phipps was awarded an OBE for services to Education, and Intercultural and Interreligious Relations. Having Professor Phipps a guest at the University of Waikato Management School was both a privilege and an honour and those who were lucky to spend time with Alison were in awe of her achievements and down-to-earth giving nature.
During Alison’s visit she gave numerous seminars and lectures connected to thinking with the deep, philosophical and theological roots of hospitality, and its ontological resonances in her own context.Part of Alison’s visit was to conduct collaborative research with Prof Alison McIntosh, and Dr Cheryl Cockburn-Wootten from Waikato Management School in the research project: Practicing Hospitality: Intimacy, Conflict, Method. Professor McIntosh recently defined ‘critical hospitality’ as a concept inclusive of vulnerable populations in a special issue of the journal Hospitality & Society on ‘Critical Hospitality & Work’ (McIntosh & Harris 2012). Aligned with this, Dr Cockburn-Wootten’s existing data on New Zealand community social workers was re-examined to explore the role of advocacy, vulnerability and social work as a form of hospitality. These advocacy practices involve the social worker moving between the public institution and the private realm of their client’s home. In addition, both the community social worker and their clients are viewed as marginalized groups.
In short, this project brought together critical scholars in the fields of hospitality, tourism studies and management and intercultural communication, not to gather more data, but to take time to examine extant data from Palestine, New Zealand, Sudan and Scotland, produced in contexts of violence, vulnerability, persecution and marginalisation, for patterns and contributions which challenge the dominant discourse of hospitality management and practice, and allow for a sharing of effective practice in advocacy.
The Project Rationale
Hospitality is the bedrock of the management of tourism and travel. Hospitality has a long established conceptual career within the context of Management Studies serving the hospitality industry. In this context its application is largely functional and empirical studies focus on improving the experiences of the hospitality experienced by guests, or on developing new training routines for those engaged in ‘hospitality delivery’. As such, the focus of hospitality studies to date has largely considered elite populations with income, such as tourists or business travelers, to enable the consumption of a wide range of hospitality experiences. Consequently, existing research has helped to tailor and to quantify that focus. However,the dominance of the focus on elite forms of travel has meant that the deeper historical and cultural aspects of hospitality practices have been omitted from hospitality management and tourism theories.
At the other end of this spectrum, the team came to this work as critical scholars, concerned for the rights of hosts, as much as guests, and working beyond a literature that divides the world into mere binary notions of tourists and non-tourists, hosts and guests, service providers and customers, producers and consumers (Alneng 2002). Consequently, there is a theoretical and methodological impasse in the field of hospitality studies. There is compelling support for the urgent need for comparative critical research to contribute to new perspectives of hospitality practices. This served as the rationale for the featured research project.
The Research Project
The project considered the theory, methods and practices of hospitality by drawing together three distinct sets of empirical ethnographic data which had never before been considered comparatively for their theoretical and methodological innovation. It was based on the insight gained from the work of Scott’s Hidden Transcripts which clearly showed how groups in contexts of domination and marginality had far clearer understandings of practices and structures than those in dominant and elite in large institutions. Scott’s research argues that, within tourism and hospitality studies, the practices of understandings of vulnerable and marginal groups with regard to hospitality can throw new light on the concept of hospitality and extend its theoretical research. All this accords with some of the conceptual work on hospitality by traditional theorists such as Derrida, Ricoeur and Levinas which Professor Phipps has reviewed and applied extensively to her work in advocacy, through her auto- ethnographic research on hospitality practices with asylum seekers and refugees in Scotland, Sudan and Palestine, and through her capstone postgraduate course, Critical Perspectives on Insecurities & Vulnerabilities; distinctive contributions that brought new and important expertise to the project.
A reflection from Prof Alison Phipps.
My colleagues were full of surprise and even some joviality at the thought of me spending a month as a guest in Aotearoa New Zealand. Friends and families thought the appellation ‘Distinguished’ which went with the invitation and the funded scheme was most amusing and before I’d even left I was in that liminal phase of joviality as a ‘body in transition’, asked if I’d be sporting side burns, or a grey beard, and elbow patches. The word ‘Distinguished’ in popular imagination is clearly highly gendered. The usual sets of comments ‘Oh, that’ll just be a holiday then’ came my way, not as accusations but as the common assumptions about academic life and any form of academic travel. Well, maybe it was a ‘holi-day’ of sorts. Tourism literature is full of reflections on the tourist inversion – older folk seeking rejuvenation, people in noisy lines of work seeking silence, those on low income seeking a bit of luxury – and certainly my time with you as WMS Tourism and Hospitality Management colleagues was an inversion. I went from winter to spring, from north to south, from relentless busyness to days where I could read, write, think in peace up on level 4, which I have not known for some time. I also left behind much that has been of great difficulty personally as I’ve struggled with the secondary and post trauma of severe racist attacks.
In my role in Glasgow I usually have to supply an electronic or physical signature about 5 times a week for various purposes, in work. In WMS I never once signed my name. Another world is indeed possible and this is one of the stories I have brought back home with me, changed by seeing other ways of ‘managing’ things academic.
And maybe the time to meet entirely new people as well as catching up with old friends at weekends was also something of a holi-day. I certainly was immensely privileged to spend a weekend with the Tuhoe in Te Urewera and doing the Tongario Crossing with colleagues from AUT, or vising colleagues from Victoria down in Wellington – unforgettable moments, sunsets, laughter, intense conversations about the things of life that matter and matter deeply. That, was in the off hours. In the on hours, the work with Alison McIntosh and Cheryl Cockburn-Wootten was intellectually stimulating and the openness to ideas and intense, serious and purposeful conversations which took place between us as colleagues were what for me, at least, ‘distinguished’ the visit in that full sense of the word. As they caught something of an understanding of ways the network I am part of in Glasgow had managed to work with hospitality to the most vulnerable of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, the visit become its own koru and the visit become something of an adventure into many unknowns: Waikato Migrant Resource Centre hosted a Ketso workshop and suddenly it felt as though a whole new world was opening out, then again with Wellington Migrant Centre, and then again in Auckland with Transforming Cities. In between times I gave a series of seminars and lectures connected to thinking with the deep, philosophical and theological roots of hospitality, and its ontological resonances in my own context.
I think – people tell me – that sometimes I work at rather an intense pace. Certainly a pace developed through my time with WMS, but not so much so that I didn’t also feel the kindlings of colleagueships and friendships of the kind that a longer trip such as this one, affords. In hospitality is both the host and the guest. At times I was both but mostly, as one who runs her home as something of a house of hospitality, I was practising being a guest. And this too was an inversion. There was simplicity to the domestic ways the motel cared for me as a longer term resident; there was the lovely indulgence of meals and coffees where new conversations and friendships and professional projects began. Early morning there were times of silence which were truly for myself and in the evenings I could use a gym without juggling many domestic commitments and attend to the body, as well as to the soul. For these times I am profoundly grateful and for the opportunity for healing and restoration they allowed as part of the rhythm of the work.
I may not have felt at all ‘distinguished’ in the ways we had joked about before I left, but the welcome, introduction, the Maaori greeting and honour given me by Ash in my first seminar quietened that rather childlike humour and stripped me back to being equal, not distinguished in any pompous way, and then with flowers and a flow of warmth, distinguished me as a human being amongst strangers and made me at home. The pineapple lumps and thoughtful wee gifts which staff and students dropped in to my office, and the generous loaning of gloves and hats for tramping all showed me how academic hospitality can bring all manner of surprises and possibilities.
The journey is always elliptical and 5 weeks later I am not the same person I was. I am changed by the people I have met, the conversations and imaginings and the readings I have done in a different office, with another view of the world – carved with spirits. Hospitality – both its thinking and speaking in seminars and lectures and in conversations and quiet offices – and in practice, on Victoria Street and up in the gardens, and as I travelled the North Island – has changed in depth and content for me. For the time this represented, and the chance to reflect more personally on this rather than just through the many bullet points on the list Alison and I drew up of what we’d actually accomplished together in that time – I am truly grateful.
Thank you to you all.
*This article was originally published by Waikato Management School