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Dark Tourism, Penal Landscapes, and Criminological Inquiry

Summary and Keywords

Dark tourism researchers who examine sites of death, suffering, and despair have generated a significant amount of research over the past two decades. Different ways of conducting dark tourism research are emerging. These include studies oriented toward making sense of the supply and demand for such excursions, and research that explores how cultural meanings are negotiated at these destinations. There are also critiques of the wide-ranging application of the dark tourism concept, which has led some scholars to argue that it is analytically imprecise. New directions for future dark tourism research have also been proposed, including a call to shift away from discipline-centered analyses. Engaging with these developments, we suggest that the future direction of dark tourism research should involve grounding such studies in the concerns and insights offered in specific social science disciplines, including criminology and criminal justice studies among others, to add focus and precision to cross-disciplinary debates. To do so we draw from the emergence and development of penal tourism research, which examines how cultural representations of penality shape and are shaped by the practice of punishment in given societies. Since penal tourism research tends to focus on prison museums, we propose future directions for the study of this phenomenon rooted in criminological concerns for understanding how penal meaning making, including definitions of acts that are criminalized and what constitutes (in)justice, takes place in other sites of punishment memorialization including police and courthouse museums. Other future research directions include studying sites that memorialize corporate and state harms.

Keywords: dark tourism, penal tourism, criminology, criminal justice, museums


Tourism is important to study because it is one of the ways that people make sense of themselves and their world (Edensor, 2001). One increasingly popular tourism practice across the globe is visiting locations of past atrocities and human suffering, including war and punishment sites. Individuals and groups often take tours of such sites for leisure or educational purposes where they may encounter video, audio, or other sensory-amplification devices designed to intensify the tourist experience in a way that generates a sense of authenticity. For instance, “museum cyberguides and curators will take their virtual tourists on real time tours of active detention camps, killing fields, death rows, and execution chambers” (Miles, 2002, p. 1177). Such visits are referred to in literatures spanning the humanities and social sciences as “dark tourism.”

Dark tourism is a now an area of study with a substantial presence in tourism studies. It is also making inroads in numerous disciplines too, including geography (Koleth, 2014), psychology (Lee, 2015), and cultural studies (Ravi, 2014). The dark tourism phenomenon is important to study for the same reasons that tourism is generally. As Tinson, Saren, and Roth (2015) demonstrate, dark tourism experiences can shape a sense of regional and national identity. White and Frew (2015) suggest dark tourism encounters can create a feeling of place and belonging.

While some scholars are seeking to expand the disciplinary boundaries of dark tourism, Stone (2006) has suggested dark tourism literature has become too eclectic and analytically imprecise. More recently, Stone (2013a) argues that, while more research is being branded as dark tourism scholarship, this work may not fit within existing typologies. However, this could reveal that dark tourism typologies have some significant limits requiring the development of other conceptual devices to make sense of the cultural work that takes place in sites of suffering transformed for memorialization and other tourism purposes.

The purpose of this article is to review contributions to and critiques of dark tourism literature, and to discuss its import and limits as it relates to studies of the intersection between culture and penality. Penality refers to the assembly of institutions and actors that met out punishment as part of the “criminal justice” process that criminalizes and sanctions certain social conflicts and harms (Hulsman, 1986). Engaging with works exploring meanings of (in)justice observed within decommissioned prisons that have been transformed into museums and tourist destinations, we assess the significance, but also the limits, of thinking about meaning making at these sites of punishment memorialization using the conceptual tools offered by dark tourism scholarship. In reflecting upon the link between dark tourism and criminological work, we explore how the idea of penal tourism advanced by Welch (2015) and others can expand our understanding of penal meaning making in spaces of interest to criminologists, criminal justice, and historical scholars beyond the prison like policing and courthouse museums.

Conceptualizing Dark Tourism

Stone’s (2013a, p. 308) review of dark tourism scholarship notes that studies of “death commodification” increased during the 1990s and 2000s. He suggests these works underwent a branding with the emergence of the dark tourism term, especially following the publication of an article by Foley and Lennon (1996) and the emergence of Seaton’s (1996) term thanatourism (i.e., tourism entailing visits to sites associated with death). While we do not have the space to review the use of the term thanatourism, which would require its own paper, we focus on the different interpretations and use of the dark tourism concept.

Generally, the dark tourism concept relies upon an economic interpretation that uses terms such as supply and demand, and a cultural interpretation that focuses on meaning making and semiotic dimensions of tourism sites. An example of the former is Isaac and Cakmak’s (2014) examination of the motivations of visitors to death and work camps in Northern Europe. They argue that the camps were not primary destinations for visitors. Instead, they observe that most tourists were simply in the area or region of the camps and decided to stop in. Thus, it is not necessarily the notoriety of an individual dark tourism site that explains its popularity, but rather its inclusion in a local tourism network or proximity to other tourist destinations. This supply and demand framework is useful for examining the economic aspects of dark tourism practices and would appeal particularly to social scientists that privilege quantitative methods and data. Interestingly, Biran and Hyde (2013) point out that little dark tourism research is quantitative in orientation, which is one reason why this economic typology is less frequently used. Along these lines, Kim and Butler (2015) argue that future research should examine more closely the impact of dark tourism on local government and economics. They claim dark tourism may be unethical in many cases, insofar as it fosters stereotypes about an area, while also failing to generate positive government and economic outcomes for local communities.

Dark tourism literature remains mostly qualitative in orientation. The more qualitative, cultural-dark to-lite spectrum created by Stone (2006), is meant to capture the whole range of potential dark tourism experiences. In the work of Stone and others, the term dark is designed to connote depth of experience and also the level of morbidity found in particular sites. An experience such as mourning is at the darker end of the spectrum since the activity is morbid, pre-planned, and purposeful, involving deep engagement, which may be potentially spiritual. On the lighter side are events where participation is passive and less intense. On the darker side are sites perceived to be more authentic. On the lighter side are sites perceived as contrived. On the darker side, the political relevance of sites is high. On the lighter side, the political relevance of sites is low. Darker sites are characterized by more of an education orientation, while lighter sites are characterized by more of an entertainment orientation. Similarly, Miles (2002) differentiated between dark, darker, and darkest tourism.

Stone (2006) meant for the dark tourism concept to be applied to destinations as wide-ranging as haunted houses, former prisons, gravesites, past battlefields, death camps, and locales of genocide. Along these lines, Raine (2013) uses the spectrum to refer to burial grounds and gravesites. Rofe (2013) explores what he calls rural dystopias such as Snowtown in Australia, the site of one of the country’s most infamous serial killings. Similarly, Heidelberg (2015) examines ghost tourism at sites such as Amityville as a form of dark tourism. She also explores the impact on the local community and government. Stone (2013b) also uses the idea of dark tourism to refer to the visits people make to Chernobyl. Although the Chernobyl dead zone is not currently a well-developed tourist network, Stone traces recent developments that allow tourists a seemingly safe encounter with a post-apocalyptic world. Stone and Sharpley (2013) introduce the term dark leisure to conceive of the forms of deviance, rule breaking, and taboo in dark tourism settings.

Using the dark to lite spectrum, J. Brown (2013) investigates the gift shops that operate at dark tourism sites, including concentration camps and slavery museums. She suggests the types of souvenirs made available to visitors and their morbidity matter for whether a site falls on the lite or dark side of the spectrum. Miles (2014) examines battlefields as dark tourism sites and suggests the commodification of these sites “lightens” them to a considerable degree.

Of course, there are some contributions that try to combine the economic or the cultural approach to conceptualizing dark tourism such as Sharpley’s (2005) black, pale, and grey tourism demand and supply chain typology. Similarly, Stone’s (2006) elaboration of dark tourism suppliers attempted to integrate these terminologies. From lightest to darkest, Stone (2006) differentiated between dark fun factories, dark exhibitions, dark dungeons, dark resting places, dark shrines, dark conflict sites, and genocide camps. In addition, there are some contributions that do not draw from either the economic or the cultural approach to conceptualizing dark tourism. For example, Miller and Gonzalez (2013) focus on the legal and ethical implications of travelling and (assisted) death tourism. They examine how the “right to die” is sold and even sometimes marketed as a vacation. Buda and McIntosh (2013) use psychoanalytic theory to supplement dark tourism studies. They subject what they call the dark tourist profile to psychoanalysis to suggest dark tourists may be risk seekers. Dann and Seaton (2001), as well as Seaton (1999), explore war and slavery without significant reference to dark tourism as a concept, instead referring to other theoretical ideas from sociology and anthropology. Similarly, Blom (2000) referred to morbid tourism rather than dark tourism in a study of how sites of sudden and violent deaths, such as that of Princess Diana, are memorialized.

There have also been several critiques of the dark tourism concept. Bowman and Pezzullo (2009) argue the dark aspect of the dark tourism term is analytically vague because it is not clear what the notion of dark really means. With any sort of spectrum, whether it is dark to lite or dark to darkest, analytical precision is a concern with the dark tourism concept. As noted at the beginning of this section, Stone’s (2006) article in Tourism, along with Stone and Sharpley’s (2008) article in Annals of Tourism Research, have arguably made the most important contributions to this end. However, some dark tourism studies, including one of the earliest and most popular articles in the field by Lennon and Foley (1999), uses the concept of dark tourism only in a descriptive sense, not an analytical one. Much of the troubles and critiques in dark tourism research emerge from attempts to create an analytical understanding of dark tourism. What is important to underscore here is that a descriptive understanding of dark tourism (which simply describes an area of study) is more feasible and persuasive than an analytical understanding of dark tourism (with a fixed, pre-determined typology). Examining tours to the Chernobyl dead zone, Yankovska and Hannam (2014) argue it is important to focus on visitor experiences without blind loyalty to any theoretical perspective. This is because, as Tinson, Saren, and Roth (2015) demonstrate, visitors to dark tourism sites are not necessarily preoccupied with the macabre, but instead simply happen to be in the area or region and drop by to fill their day, or they are instead interested in culture and education generally rather than death-and-dying-related tourism specifically. In other words, as Isaac and Cakmak (2014) point out, for scholars to call something dark tourism they need to understand visitor motivations. These motivations may also differ by age, race, class, and gender (Kerr & Price, 2015), yet dark tourism literature has not explored these variations very deeply.

All of these issues raise the question of how to move forward with dark tourism research. Seaton (in Busby, 2012) has argued that the term dark in dark tourism literature should not be thought of as a single concept, as it may have multiple meanings. Yet this does not necessarily help settle some of the debates about analytical clarity in dark tourism studies. Because pockets of dark tourism scholarship have emerged in different disciplines, including criminology and criminal justice studies, Stone (2011) has argued that this literature should move beyond disciplinary boundaries. Arguing that disciplines are too rigid and rule oriented, preventing integration and innovation, he envisions a post-disciplinary field in which “scholars are liberated from the intellectual manacles enforced by ostensible disciplinary gatekeepers” (Stone, 2011, p. 7). This clarion call is issued at a time when emerging scholars, including those who have recently completed their doctorates are still, for better or for worse, judged on their disciplinary training and pedigree, notably in hiring, publishing, and promotion. Central to these evaluations are assessments pertaining to the rigor of academic works within a discipline according to theoretical and methodological tools that are attributed value (Leahey & Moody, 2014). Thus, when reflecting about future directions of dark tourism research, it is unlikely that the post-disciplinarity prescribed by Stone will have the space to grow or be the only or the most prominent way of engaging the field. Moreover, disciplines are home to well-honed lines of inquiry and insights shaping research agendas. Thus, dark tourism work can also be advanced in productive ways when rooted in disciplines and cross-disciplinary discussions. In the next section, we elaborate on what such disciplinary grounding in dark tourism research can look like within the context of criminology and criminal justice studies.

Dark Tourism, Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies

Given the concerns noted above about the overbroad and analytically difficult nature of the dark tourism concept, there are many potential advantages to honing in and trying to develop the idea of penal tourism. As mentioned, the dark tourism concept is applied to a considerable number of sites. As a consequence, the concept does not provide the analytical tools needed to flesh-out discipline-specific concerns and implications of different types of darker sites tourists frequent. For instance, while dark tourism scholarship directs researchers to explore the actors and processes involved in the creation of sites, curation processes, and marketing, as well as whether tourists attend certain events or visit specific sites because of their fascination with the macabre (Isaac & Cakmak, 2014), it does not necessarily prompt specific reflection on these aspects of tourism and their intersections with penality. With few exceptions (e.g., Wilson, 2008), it does not provide the conceptual tools that criminological and criminal justice researchers bring to bear that aims to make sense of the cultural work these penal tourism sites perform in terms of reinforcing or challenging common understandings of “crime” and punishment that are part of the ideas that sustain the existence of the penal system (Brown, 2009).

Often under the interdisciplinary field of prison tourism (see Ferguson & Madill, forthcoming), most penal tourism research has focused on well-known decommissioned prisons such as Alcatraz in the United States, Robben Island in South Africa, and The Clink in Britain, all of which attract many visitors (Buntman, 2003; Hutton, 1997; Ross, 2012; Shackley, 2001; Shearing & Kempa, 2004; Strange & Kempa, 2003; Welch, 2012, 2013, 2015). Studied to a lesser extent are smaller penal heritage sites such as decommissioned lock-ups and jails, with less notoriety than defunct penitentiaries and prisons (Barton & Brown, 2015; Morin, 2013), including most sites of this kind in Canada (Walby & Piché, 2015a).

These museums, big and small, famous or relatively unknown, are significant for several reasons. Museums influence, and are influenced by, public memory and culture (Bennett, 1995; Douglas, 2013; Gordon, 2008; Muller, Busby, & Woolford, 2015). Memories are formed and forged within museums, which informs how beliefs and norms are conceived of in the present and future, influencing views of self and others (Bennett, 1997, p. 186). Visits to museums and other tourism activities are opportunities for meaning making, as well as the imposition of significance on historical objects and events (Caton & Santos, 2007; Cheung, 2003; Harrison, 2001; Hein, 2000; Leary & Sholes, 2000). Penal tourism research, which tends to focus on the negotiation of meanings of punishment at prison museums, is a form of memorialization scholarship that interrogates the role of “criminal justice” in given societies (Welch, 2015). These penal heritage museums are one among many types of dark tourism destinations (Dalton, 2015; Lennon & Foley, 2000; Wilson, 2004, 2008) where visitors frequent sites of death, pain, and tragedy.

Cultural work such as curation and representation that frames penality in the past shapes how we understand punishment today (Turner & Peters, 2015).These sites can buttress punitiveness when they promote social distance between “penal spectators”—the tourists, complicit in the operations of actual prisons and jails—and prisoners by depicting the criminalized as a threat to others (Brown, 2009, p. 8). This can also occur when penal policies and practices are said to be more humane today than in the past (Walby & Piché, 2011). Yet these museums may also raise questions about punishment and bridge this social distance by shifting the focus toward the brutality faced by the criminalized and privileging their voices (Fiander, Chen, Piché, & Walby, 2016).

Penal history museums are venues where representations of those in conflict with the law and those employed to uphold it inform public understandings of “criminal justice.” It is argued that such museums may distort the past (Bruggeman, 2012; Draper, 2015; McAlister, 2013; Otele, 2012). With prison museums, the focus on infamous prisoners and violent stories related to incarceration risks generalizing the idea that all prisoners are dangerous, which legitimizes punitive ideologies and the reliance on imprisonment (Wilson, 2004). While this focus is meant to make the experience appear more entertaining for visitors, the emphasis on the sensational rather than the mundane reinforces misconceptions about prisoners, transforming the incarcerated into a “dangerous class” and reproducing their “othered” status (Brown, 2009). Wilson (2011) likewise shows how prisoner narratives are often excluded from museum tours. Welch (2013, p. 494) contends that the positioning of relics in sites such as The Clink in London mean “penal spectators get a virtual look at suffering while simultaneously keeping them at a safe distance.” Thus, tours of decommissioned sites of confinement turned museums may distract “tourists from the plight of actual prisoners who suffered there” (Mendenhall, 2010, p. 3). As such, depictions of law, justice and punishment tend to offer reductionist accounts of penal practices (Carrabine, 2011; Mason, 2006; Myers, 2012).

In the penal tourism literature that draws on insights from dark tourism work and various academic disciplines, there are generally four lines of inquiry. The most prominent related to criminological concerns is to understand how and what meanings of penality are conveyed in these sites, and as is noted above, whether they challenge or reinforce punitive ways of thinking about and responding to criminalized conflicts and harms. For instance, in our study of these aspects of the penal meaning making process in 45 of Canada’s prison tourism sites (Walby & Piché, 2015a), using semi-structured interviews, observations and document research, our research team’s thematic analysis found that, with few exceptions (see Fiander et al., 2016), key ideas negotiated within these settings include (a), that prisons and the personnel who run them are required for the protection of society from prisoners, who are often portrayed as dangerous (Chen, Fiander, Walby, & Piché, forthcoming), and (b), that Canadian penal policies and practices have become more progressive through a focus on shifts in penality with little to no discussion of their continuities over time (Walby & Piché, 2011). Taken together, these representations sustain the notion that confinement and punishment are necessary and humane.

As museums are curated and marketed in diverse ways (Edensor, 2001), impacting the meanings conveyed and interpreted by visitors at these sites, a second line of inquiry in penal tourism research inspired by concerns in dark tourism literature looks into the curation (e.g., Walby & Piché, 2015b), tour guide (e.g., Ferguson, Walby, & Piché, 2015a), and marketing work (e.g., Luscombe, Walby, & Piché, 2015) involved in staged encounters with law, justice, and punishment in these museums. Here the activities of historians, curators, administrators, and other paid and unpaid staff at the sites are interrogated to excavate their backstage and frontstage roles (MacCannell, 1973) in constructing cultural depictions of penality (e.g., Wilson, 2004).

Given that visitors to dark and penal tourism sites are not passive recipients of content they encounter (Wilson, 2005), it is key to comprehend how they interpret meanings communicated in penal tourism sites. Thus, some dark tourism inspired studies have investigated interpretations of depictions of penality at prison museums by examining comment cards (Dewar & Frederickson, 2003), administering questionnaires and/or conducting interviews with tourists (Smith, 2012; Wilson, 2008), and observing visitors while on-site (Naidu, 2013). Text posted about fieldwork sites on online tourism platforms such as TripAdvisor has also been studied as depictions of penality articulated by penal history museum visitors themselves (Ferguson, Piché, & Walby, 2015b). To date, most studies of this kind have found that, while encounters with representations of penality may occasionally inspire sympathy toward the plight of prisoners, these destinations tend to reinforce punitive views, whereby the desire to reintroduce past austere punishment practices depicted in museums are among the dominant opinions expressed by visitors.

To understand how and what meanings are conveyed to visitors at penal tourism sites, researchers have also examined the actors and processes involved in their creation. By studying the original purposes behind site creation and how these histories shape their design, messaging, operations, and marketing practices, one can come to make sense of the role historical societies (e.g., Walby & Piché, 2015c) and penal system authorities (e.g., Kleuskens, Piché, Walby, & Chen, 2016) play in the reproduction of penality.

While dark tourism scholarship directs the focus of those interested in studying sites of human suffering by emphasizing the processes involved in such cultural encounters, criminology and criminal justice studies centres the analysis on how the meanings negotiated therein are connected to processes of criminalization and punishment. However, as is discussed in the conclusion, there are other ways in which such disciplines can make fruitful contributions to expand the horizons of penal tourism, along with the broader field of dark tourism.

The Future of Tourism Research in Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies

Although there exists a growing body of scholarship that examines meanings of “crime” and punishment in tourism sites in criminology and criminal justice studies, as well as depictions of the discipline itself within historical spaces of this kind (e.g., Regener, 2003), the cultural work of penality in memorialization sites dedicated to police and courthouses that play an integral role in the penal process is largely neglected. At a time when criminologists and criminal justice scholars are becoming increasingly concerned with corporate and state harms (Cohen, 2001; Coleman, Sim, Tombs, & Whyte, 2009; Hillyard, Pantazis, Tombs, & Gordon, 2004; Tombs & White, 2015), there is also little academic work directed at understanding how these harms of the powerful are represented in museums. We suggest that such penal tourism and dark tourism sites can offer new insights into what constitutes a criminalized harm, along with how we can conceptualize and respond to them outside a punitive framework.

While the prison has come to represent the primary site of state legitimated suffering (Brown, 2009), it is only one among many institutions within the penal system involved in the deprivation of liberty and the infliction of pain (Hulsman, 1986). Among them are public police agencies, whose powers include the use of force and/or detention that when exercised often result in death (Pedicelli, 1998). There are also courthouses where lawyers for the accused and the state are pitted against one another in an adversarial and alienating approach that steals conflicts from those directly impacted. This process defines conflicts away through the individualizing language of law that steers resolutions toward punitive sanctions for those deemed culpable for transgressions (Christie, 1977). In this light, some have argued that the retributive approach fails to account for the views (Hulsman, 1986) and needs (Morris, 2000; Zehr, 1990) of those affected by criminalized conflicts, which results in their continued suffering in the name of “justice” (Hulsman & Bernat de Celis, 1982).

With an expanded view of “criminal justice” sites characterized by the circulation of pain, scholars interested in penal tourism can move beyond the prison to understand how punishment is memorialized in heritage sites, such as decommissioned police stations and courthouses transformed into museums or operational facilities that feature tours or museum collections accessible to the public. To date, scholarship that could fit within penal tourism that looks beyond imprisonment has explored depictions of police work in museums. Nettlebeck and Foster (2013) examine policing heritage sites that include museum exhibits on the role the Mounted Police played in the colonial settlement of Indigenous territories now called Canada. Buffington (2012, p. 158) contrasts cultural meanings found in three police museums in Mexico and argues that the “troubled and belated ‘birth’ of the modern police museum in Mexico offers unique insight into the institutional uses of history as a means for fostering collective identities and social cohesion.” Caimari (2012) provides a reading of the exhibits in the Argentine Federal Police Museum, which originated in 1899 as a pedagogical tool for police. It opened to the public in 1932—two years after a military coup—as a part of a campaign meant to improve relations between police and citizens. Comaroff and Comaroff (2004, p. 822) examine the South African Police Museum. Under Apartheid, the upper floor of the museum had been a headquarters of the “special police,” who held and tortured detainees. They conclude that dramatic enactments of criminalization and punishment are vital to producing social order. Through an analysis of representations at the Los Angeles Police Historical Society and the International Police Museum, McNair (2012) finds that depictions of police in American culture are celebratory and depoliticized. Drawing on Foucault’s concept of the “carceral,” McNair theorizes the museum’s development as an authoritative cultural institution (McNair, 2012, p. 18).

Although there is less literature on courthouse museums, decommissioned courts that have been transformed into heritage and cultural sites also communicate elements of penal power. The original architecture in decommissioned courthouses and courtrooms, like those operating at present (see Craig, 2016), projects a sense of hierarchy and status. The forms of accusation, verdict, and sentencing that took place in decommissioned courts remain fundamental to the penal process today. Though there is a literature on museum representations of law (Douglas, 2015), former courthouses need to be a focus of future studies, since such sites raise questions about representations of “criminal justice” and human suffering (Savelsberg & King, 2005).

There is a large volume of heritage sites of this kind. For instance, Carceral Cultures research team members Matthew Ferguson and Devon Madill have identified over 50 police museums, more than a dozen courthouse museums, as well as a number of museums that focus on policing, courts and/or prisons in Canada alone. Yet, there is little written about them and their role in meaning making concerning law and (in)justice that would be of concern to criminologists and criminal justice scholars.

Beyond expanding the horizons of penal tourism scholarship, we also suggest that the term carceral tourism might be a more inclusive focus in criminology and criminal justice studies, compared to say penal tourism or prison tourism. Prison tourism points researchers to decommissioned sites of confinement related to the penal system (e.g., lock-ups, jails, prisons, and penitentiaries) or the maintenance of authoritarian regimes (e.g., war camps) and the memorialization of them (e.g., Hodgkinson, 2013). Not to be overlooked is how the phenomenon of prison tourism sometimes extends to operational “criminal justice” sites (e.g., Kennedy, 2016) or government institutions that deprive human beings of their liberty and suspend their rights (see Welch, 2009, pp. 5–6), albeit on a considerably lesser scale. Penal tourism points researchers to a greater number of sites associated with the “criminal justice” system and heritage sites that represent them, including police and courthouse museums. However, carceral tourism would allow researchers to include tourism and museum sites that are not limited to prisons or the penal system per se. This might include attention to the memorialization of practices that extend control and punishment beyond the realm of the state, including private penality, corporate control, vigilante justice, and lynching.

Since its emergence in the late 1800s, the discipline of criminology has traditionally focused on the causes and consequences of what it and state agencies call “crime,” informing the development of repressive state policies and practices in an official effort to control those in conflict with the law (Cohen, 1988; Ferrell, Hayward, & Young, 2008; Taylor, Walton, & Young, 1973). In recent decades, there has been a small, but steady production of scholarship concerned with challenging state definitions of “crime” and (in)justice. Some of this work examines structural harms arising from capitalist production and consumption, notably political violence by powerful elites (e.g., Cohen, 2001), as well as human (e.g., Bittle & Snider, 2006) and environmental plundering (e.g., South & Brisman, 2013) by corporate actors. Both developments point to the need for disciplinary grounding, in this case in criminology and criminal justice studies, to push the boundaries of what scholarship concerning dark tourism explores.

On occasion, the routine violence inherent in capitalism is made visible or disappears because of tourist sites where this damage is remembered and/or forgotten. If dark tourism scholars are concerned with sites of human suffering and death, and criminological researchers are interested in examining how sites of memorialization and popular culture inform cultural meanings of “crime” and (in)justice, there is another blindspot for dark tourism and criminological researchers to examine—museums where the harms of capitalism that are not criminalized are depicted. One example is the Museum of Industry exhibit entitled “Coal and Grit” (see The Tragedy of Westray, The Nova Scotia Museum of Industry), which commemorates the death of 11 workers at the Westray coal mine (see Bittle, 2013) and the coal industry itself in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. Such sites are fertile ground for dark tourism and criminological scholars to explore the cultural underpinnings that reproduce a global economic order responsible for targeting, controlling, and killing the poor and the working class systematically. The inclusion of such sites would stretch the limits of Stone’s (2006) typology of dark tourism suppliers noted above.

With some overlapping concerns, unique insights, and many sites of human suffering left to be explored, it is a crucial time to examine the intersections of dark tourism with criminology and criminal justice studies. By grounding empirical research in disciplinary concerns, criminologists and criminal justice scholars, along with others, can make important contributions to understanding how common sense around what constitutes “crime” and responses to criminalized conflicts and harms are negotiated in tourism sites.

Further Reading

One of the most important contributions to dark tourism literature is Lennon and Foley’s (2000) Dark Tourism: The Attraction of Death and Disaster. Beyond the sheer number of citations it received, the book demonstrates the traction of the dark tourism idea in tourism studies and shows the empirical range of dark tourism scholarship. The 1996 article by Foley and Lennon on JFK and dark tourism in the International Journal of Heritage Studies could be singled out as the first major contribution to this field of study. The 2006 article by Stone in Tourism has probably done the most to attempt to establish an analytical understanding of dark tourism, although the 2008 article by Stone and Sharpley in Annals of Tourism Research also makes an important contribution to this end. Finally, Bowman and Pezzullo provide one of the first sustained critiques of the dark tourism concept in their 2009 article appearing in Tourism Studies. The forthcoming Handbook of Dark Tourism Studies, edited by Philip Stone, will also be a seminal text to be engaged with by scholars interested in the commodification and memorialization of human suffering. Key books of relevance to criminology and criminal justice scholars that focus on dark and penal tourism include Jacqueline Wilson’s 2008 Prison: Cultural Memory and Dark Tourism, Michael Welch’s 2015 Escape to Prison: Penal Tourism and the Pull of Punishment, and Derek Dalton’s 2015 Dark Tourism and Crime. In conceptualizing the relationship between culture and punishment through an examination of penal tourism, it is suggested that scholars engage with Philip Smith’s 2008 Punishment and Culture and Michelle Brown’s 2009 The Culture of Punishment: Prison, Society, and Spectacle, along with the forthcoming Handbook of Prison Tourism, edited by Jacqueline Z. Wilson, Sarah Hodgkinson, Justin Piché and Kevin Walby, Palgrave 2016.


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