Complexity in leisure and tourism research: challenges and directions in the era of interconnectedness

Session in The 26th Nordic Symposium of Tourism and Hospitality Research

Complexity theory, and its counterpart chaos theory, have received recognition and embracement from tourism and leisure scholars to address the reality and the challenges of an evolving and interconnected world. It is becoming increasingly evident that the world is interconnected in the social, economic and environmental sphere albeit with few contributions on how it affects system’s value creation and innovation.

The migration crisis has revealed the conflict between a borderless thinking in a borded world. Global environmental challenges and the introduction of the idea of Anthropocene further point to the direction of an increasingly complex and interconnected world. Operating with conventional, reductionist logic in today’s connected complex context might limit our understanding of essential concepts and might also limit our effectiveness in addressing the problems of today. What is thus the new understanding that complexity approaches could bring in tourism?

Research in complexity in tourism and leisure has examined the planning and management of destinations, the management of organisations, destination networks, nature-based tourism, the nature of tourism and leisure experiences, among others. A wide variety of concepts, such as resilience, complex adaptive systems, co-management, collaborative learning, networks, emergence; and methods, varying from quantitative to qualitative ones, have been used in relevant research so far.

Nevertheless, they all share some fundamental common ground in examining tourism system as a complex and evolving one. They emphasise collective processes, initial conditions and path-dependence characterising chaotic systems; dynamic processes rather than an end-state; feedback loops; adaptability and resilience in turbulent environments; interactions rather than entities; uncertainty and limited knowledge.

Nevertheless, there is still way to go before concepts and methods are dialectically reworked to form a common theory for every living system. The aim of this session is to bring together discourses from diverse fields to the nexus of research in complexity.

This session invites contributions from tourism, leisure, geography, political economy, regional studies, management and organisational studies, among other, to contribute to the nexus of research in complexity to answer the following questions: where are we standing now and what are the prospects for the future regarding complexity research? Can complexity approaches in tourism and leisure make us more effective in facing the challenges of tomorrow? What are the directions for research in the field? What is the contribution to the development and management of destinations and organisations?  What is the potential contribution to designing for innovation and emerging processes?

This special session invites papers that attempt to address the following areas in relation to complexity:

  • What is the role of inter- and post-disciplinary methods
  • Management of destinations
  • Planning and policy making
  • Organisational management
  • Learning destinations and organisations
  • Resilience in tourism destinations
  • Nature-based tourism management
  • Creativity and innovation in destinations and organisations
  • Complex innovation networks
  • Design and Imagineering
  • Design for emergence
  • Sustainability

Ioanna Farsari
Dalarna University, Sweden (contact person)

Diane Nijs
NHTV Breda, the Netherlands

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