maya cosmopolitans

While my field site is a rural village, I employ theoretical frameworks found in urban studies, namely cosmopolitanism.  In an article currently under review, I argue that cosmopolitanism is both a tactic and a strategy that residents use to perform tourism.  Knowledge of what tourists, volunteers, and funding agencies expect to see in a Maya village is leveraged into identity as an essential strategy, while the ability to move fluidly between the dichotomous extremes of traditional and modern is a crucial tactic required for successful negotiation with funders, NGOs, and other non-local social actors. 

These questions are explored in the broader context of tourism as a social and economic force in the community in my manuscript On Being Maya and Getting By, which was recently submitted to the University Press of Colorado.


Most scholars stand on one side or the other when it comes to the costs and benefits of tourism. ON BEING MAYA AND GETTING BY moves beyond this by delving into a discussion of how a local, indigenous population must negotiate and manage this force regardless of our assertions about its pros and cons. Tourism has arrived: ON BEING MAYA AND GETTING BY is one destination’s story of what happened next.

What this book provides that has been missing from the literature is a detailed case study of a community-based development project from its inception and from the multiple perspectives of participants, dissidents, and those who maintain an indifferent attitude to the development of tourism in this community. This is a rare gem in the literature on tourism development.

Instead of being a fixed spectrum upon which tourists, archaeologists, ethnographers, and others place and re-place Mayas depending on their progress toward modernity, ON BEING MAYA AND GETTING BY positions the folk-urban continuum itself as the fluid component. Ethnographers in Mesoamerica are famously concerned with duality, with the folk-urban dichotomy being but one example. In the context of tourism studies, the front stage/back stage contrast is incorporated into the dichotomous nature of our work as well. The fluidity of a continuum recognized to be a sliding scale of sorts elicits a different identity—as in identifier—depending on both the placement and the agent doing the placing. When a Yucatec Maya man is charged with organizing a traditional Maya rain ceremony, in the act of reaching down and replacing his rubber flip-flops with rope sandals he is sliding the continuum beneath his feet and setting it to “folk.” When the funding agency asks him to coordinate a group retreat, he picks up his day planner and his cell phone and turns the continuum up to “urban.”