Culture, tourism and sustainability
: an ethnographic study of rural community development in Jamaica

  • Ernest Taylor

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This novel ethnographic study investigates the role of culture and tourism in the sustainable development of rural communities in Jamaica. It focuses on two distinctive Jamaican groups, the Charles Town Maroon and the Seaford Town German descendants. The objectives of the study are to examine the meanings culture holds for local people in relation to identity, sense of place and community development; assess the extent to which they capitalise on their intangible and tangible culture in pursuit of sustainable rural community tourism and make recommendations for local people and policymakers.

    The basis for the research is the economic and social crisis facing rural communities in Jamaica due to the demise of their traditional agriculture base. This has been precipitated by international trade liberalisation rules, which removed the preferential access of Jamaican produce to European Union countries. With small-scale Jamaican sugar and banana farmers unable to compete with major producers from the United States of America and South America, rural communities have been left devastated. For many, farming is now an unreliable source of income. More than half of local farmers are in serious economic and social difficulties and 80 per cent of the 1.1 million people living below the poverty line in Jamaica, live in the countryside.

    With few alternative livelihood strategies, many rural inhabitants are attempting to exploit their culture resources by way of rural community tourism. This coincides with research, which shows an increasing desire by tourists to capture diverse and ordinary social experiences in destinations such as Jamaica. They want authentic contact with host communities away from resorts. However, with tourism on the island predicated on the sand, sun and sea all-inclusive resort model and poor rural infrastructure, local people face tough challenges to exploit their culture resources.

    The study is conducted in the real world setting of rural Jamaica and is underpinned by an integrated conceptual framework developed from ideas taken from different literatures and preliminary fieldwork. The framework is applied to the findings of the study to analyse the different development paths taken by Charles Town and Seaford Town. It argues that Ray’s (1998) culture economy approach helps to capture this, but the complex and contested nature of ideas relating to development, identity, sense of place, community and culture commoditisation mean it does not do so holistically. However, a more comprehensive picture of the development paths of the two communities emerges by integrating notions of the culture economy with ideas relating to cultural connectedness and plurality of commoditisation. The concepts reflect a sense of ‘rootedness’ in place (vertical linkages) and same-level locally bounded relationships (horizontal linkages). Plurality of commoditisation refers to the differentiated and diversified tactics being deployed by locals to meet tourists’ demands for actual interactions and co-creative experiences with them.

    The research approach consists of a constructivist paradigm, relativist ontology, subjectivist epistemology, ethnographic methodology and qualitative methods. The focus is, therefore, not only on who, why, what, when, and how, but also on meanings, human action, identity, sense of place, interactions, emotions and behaviour. Thick detailed descriptions are used to capture the articulations of local people and the circumstances in which they occur.

    The study finds that the role of culture and tourism in the sustainable development of rural communities in Jamaica marks the transition from a primarily agriculture mode of production to one that places greater emphasis on the use of local culture resources. However, while it is clear that communities such as Charles Town and Seaford Town are rich in culture resources, the extent to which they capitalise on them are somewhat limited. The reasons are socio-economic, historical and deep-seated. Adopting the modified culture economy approach, proposed in this study, could increase understanding of the challenges faced by locals and offer a way forward. This is because the framework is holistic in that it considers the socio-economic, cultural and emotional dimensions of rural communities.
    Date of Award2016
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorMoya Kneafsey (Supervisor), Marcella Daye (Supervisor) & Hazel Barrett (Supervisor)


    • culture economy
    • tourism
    • sustainability
    • Jamaica
    • Maroons
    • Germans

    Cite this