Helene Snee

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[Cross-posted from New Books in Critical TheoryHelene Snee, a researcher at the University of Manchester, has written an excellent new book that should be essential reading for anyone interested in the modern world. The book uses the example of the ‘gap year’, an important moment in young people’s lives, to deconstruct issues of class, cosmopolitanism and identity. Like many other aspects of contemporary life, common assumptions about travel (as opposed to tourism) or the individual experience (as opposed to patterns in social life) are taken apart in the book. The book reflects broader debates around class in British society that have been influenced by French theorist Pierre Bourdieu, such as the recent Great British Class Survey. The book situates itself in the tradition that seeks to unsettle the assumptions about taken for granted ideas about what is good judgement or good taste, asking why one form of, largely, middle class self development is privileged over others.

A Cosmopolitan Journey? Difference, Distinction and Identity Work in Gap Year Travel (Ashgate, 2014) is not just a contribution to critical theory. In order to understand the lives of the gap year individuals, Snee uses online blogs as evidence for the way that the ‘gappers’ tell stories that are about the places they have come from (rather than travelled to), about having ‘authentic’ (& potentially middle class) experiences during their travels and about being self-developing individuals. Crucially the book shows how even the word ‘travelling’ draws boundaries with ‘tourism’ to show how power and class dominance function to make it seem as if not everyone has the good taste to take a gap year’, rather than the choice of a gap year being part of a much broader social structure.

Snee’s combination of travel and tourism as a topic, using predominantly young people’s experiences as an example, along with the way the text speaks directly to sociological debates between thinkers such as Bourdieu and Giddens, mark A Cosmopolitan Journey out as essential reading for a very wide audience.

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