Economy, ritual and history in a Balinese tourist town
This work began in reflection upon the form of tourism in Ubud: in which rapid economic change and profound cultural conservatism appear combined in unlikely symbiotic relationship. It became, in the field, a set of parallel enquiries into tourism, economics, politics, ritual, spatial organisation and history linking Ubud with wider local, regional and global processes.
My provisional argument goes something like this. The economic development associated with tourism has resulted in Ubud not in a wholesale replacement of the forms of traditional culture with those of international capitalist culture but instead with conservation, development and intensification of aspects of traditional culture. Tourism is in fact built upon the marketing of an image of traditional culture consisting primarily of the performing and plastic arts and an aesthetic of village life combining agricultural production and ritual activity.
In practice tourism has transformed the economic foundations of this way of life from dependence upon agricultural production to dependence upon a whole new sector providing goods and services to tourists. This transformation has had varied effects upon the components of the marketing image. One the one hand it has made possible profitable commoditisation of traditional arts but on the other it has marginalised the agricultural sector in a number of ways. The relationship between tourism and ritual activity is less direct. While people have resisted direct commodification of ritual, they recognise its role as a tourist attraction. Ritual practices and the temples in which they take place have however been the subject of massive redevelopment. While the forms of these are traditional, their content is linked to tourism in more complex ways.
This process has not been ad-hoc but has been the subject of de-facto management by various parties including the traditional aristocracy, foreign expatriates, government and an emerging middle class. This management has been enabled and limited by access of the various parties to key resources including English language, land, cultural knowledge, investment capital and government contacts.
This thesis does not report on all of this but represents in effect a report upon work in progress, providing a broad overview and the first stage of what is now seen as an ongoing research project. It is presented as a series of linked sections designed to be read at three levels: 1. as stand-alone contributions to various sub-fields of Bali studies, 2. as a set of relationships between these sections which contribute to the argument outlined above and 3. as the outline of a larger research project linking Ubud into processes of wider geographical compass and historical depth.
It begins with description of contemporary Ubud, the transformation of its economy and a brief history of tourism. The relationship between ritual and economy is discussed both in general terms and ethnographic detail to provide insight into the context of cultural ideas in which tourist development has taken place. The spatial organisation of ritual reveals patterns of cultural order and political influence requiring historical analysis which in turn focuses attention on the role of the traditional aristocracy and changing patterns of control over land and labour as key factors in understanding the contemporary situation.
Keywords: anthropology, Bali, economy, history, Indonesia, ritual, tourism