The Geopolitics of Tourism: Mobility, territory, and protest in Taiwan and China


Ian Rowen

PhD defended at: 




This dissertation analyzes outbound tourism from the People’s Republic of China to Taiwan to unpack the geopolitics of the state and the everyday, to theorize the mutual constitution of the tourist and the nation-state, and to explore the role of tourism in new forms of protest and resistance, including the 2014 Taiwan Sunflower and Hong Kong Umbrella Movements. It presents a theoretical argument that tourism should be viewed as a technology of state territorialization; that is, as a mode of social and spatial ordering that produces tourists and state territory as effects of power. Based on ethnographies of tourism practices and spaces of resistance conducted between 2012 and 2015 and supported by ethnographic content analysis, this dissertation explores the engagement of PRC tourists with Taiwanese hosts, political representations of Taiwan and China, the territorializing effects of tourism, the production of multiple sensations of stateness, and the ways that tourism is aggravating contradictions between the different territorialization programs of China and Taiwan. It demonstrates that tourism mobilities are entangled with shifting forms of sovereignty, territoriality, and bordering. This dissertation argues that embodied, everyday practices such as tourism cannot be divorced from state-scale geopolitics and that future research should pay closer attention to its unpredictable political instrumentalities and chaotic effects. In dialogue with both mobilities research and borders studies, it sheds light not only on the vivid particularities of the region but on the cultural politics and geopolitics of tourism in general.