Book Review: “Justice and Ethics in Tourism”

What is “good”, what is “just”? Whether you wish to call it sustainable, responsible, ethical, thoughtful, or the like, the discussion on “good” tourism seems to have settled down to a general consensus based on principles such as responsibility and sustainability.

Against this backdrop, the text book “Justice and Ethics in Tourism”, published in early 2019, fills a gap. The author, Tazim Jamal, professor at A&M University of Texas, USA, presents an in-depth analysis of theoretical concepts of justice developed by different authors which may serve to take the critical debate around tourism forward. Using selected case studies from different parts of the world, she shows tangible applications of justice and ethics in tourism. The approach she chooses is an empathetic one, actively engaging the readers, calling on them to care and to take up ideas for further reflection.

Justice and ethics, the main themes of the book, are not separated, nor are they dealt with in a legalistic sense. The author rather presents different, generally not contradictory, but rather complementary concepts of what is to be understood as “justice”, systematising the different dimensions.

Starting with questions of distributive justice with regard to social goods – liberty and opportunity, income and wealth, and the bases of self-respect – the author broadens the perspective to include the full participation and inclusion of everyone in a society’s major institutions. The capability approach is about the opportunities people have to develop and exercise their capacities and realise their choices, especially when they face structural injustices, such historical racism and colonialism.

She then turns the focus to matters of social justice and various forms of discrimination, oppression, or stigmatisation of individuals or certain groups. In the next step, she broadens the understanding to encompass relational levels, seeing human beings as embedded in relationships with their physical, social and spiritual world.

Equal rights are not enough

Local context is also taken as a starting point to question the idea of development itself as “an externally imposed western paradigm of modernization”, rather than a culturally sensitive approach to address inequalities and needs.

Accordingly, the term participation is qualified as “participation that meaningfully represents and considers everyone’s social circumstances and cultural terms” This also applies to climate and environmental justice and in the context of governance, policy and planning, to which the book has dedicated own chapters.

The author rightfully points out the important task of better understanding the socio-political landscape in which tourism plays out, and where other diverse worldviews deserve fair consideration. In practice, efforts in this regard may easily fail due to language barriers or lack of attention, leading to a biased understanding.

The book itself is an example of such challenges, as we can see from its not fully informed references to the NGO arena, mentioning English speaking NGOs like Tourism Concern, but showing a lack of awareness of the long history of advocates of justice who spoke and speak other languages (e.g. French, Dutch). This includes groups in the Global South that were increasingly affected by tourism in as early as the 1970s and 80s and raised ethical concerns. In Germany too, Justice and ethics related reflections and activities on tourism date back to the 1970s and 80s, predating the – English – academic discussion in the field.

Taking responsibility

Especially against the backdrop of this long history does “Justice and Ethics in Tourism“ have special value. The book strongly suggests paying even more attention to justice and ethics as guidance for “good” tourism. A justice-oriented focus may open up new avenues to better understand, highlight and address a variety of challenges related to tourism.

As the author notes, the prospects for more social equity and the right to living wages, healthy environments and fair distribution of societal resources have received added stimulus with the rise of new social movements, social media and increasing access to the Internet worldwide. Social media like Facebook and Twitter have helped to generate activism and solidarity, sharing vital and timely information, stimulating online petitions and street demonstrations.

These new possibilities play a role in putting the notion of global citizenship and responsibility for justice into practise – on the basis of an ethic of care for the other and care about places and spaces – locally and globally.