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Culture as commodity in rural communities

by Catherine Moore

Najmeh Hassanli.Rural communities in Iran and rural Indigenous groups in Australia could benefit from research conducted by UniSA Three Minute Thesis competition People’s Choice winner Najmeh Hassanli.

Hassanli believes her research about regional development being sustained through cultural exchange, can benefit rural communities in Iran and extend further to rural Indigenous groups within Australia.

Her thesis titled Development of local tourist accommodation industry in Iran, to be released next year, discusses how bottom-up development approaches can be implemented when culture is used as a resource for economic sustainability.

“There are basically two different views towards commoditisation of cultures,” Hassanli says.

“Based on the destructive view of commoditisation, the value of culture and heritage is transformed into commercial value, thus becoming meaningless for the local people and less authentic for tourists.

“Against this view, culture is portrayed as dynamic, where interaction between tourists and locals changes or adds new meaning to the culture, thus helping to preserve and sustain the culture rather than destroy it.”

Hassanli’s research is developing a framework for local tourist accommodation start-ups to help them structure their businesses while maintaining their culture.

“These operators use their home as a place of earning income. They have incorporated elements of their local culture in hosting tourists. This includes the use of local architecture, cuisine, music and handicrafts,” she says.

“The operators live close to nature in the countryside and away from the common bureaucracy and administrative structure of the country, restoring and preserving the values related to cultural heritage, handicrafts and tourism.”

Hassanli believes this framework – which is based on how business operators interact with each other, other locals, capital, the market and the government – supports community identity and sustainability.

The School of Management student hopes her framework can also be used by other communities interested in setting up their own culturally sensitive regional development.

“Recently I experienced Australian Indigenous culture as a tourist myself, with Aboriginal Cultural Tours. I met the tour owner/operator Quenten Agius and believe my research may bring some benefit to such enterprises in gaining economic benefits while maintaining their culture through tourism and enterprise development,” Hassanli says.

“I think the main constraint in implementing bottom-up frameworks may be that governments may not give local people a say in political decision making, especially in developing countries. There should be more education on the benefits of such approaches both to governments and local communities.”

Hassanli, who currently holds a UniSA Postgraduate Award scholarship, came third in the University’s Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition, as well as taking out the People’s Choice award for her presentation on regional development through cultural exchange. She says her 3MT experience has been a rewarding part of her postgraduate studies.

“It has been an incredible experience for me and I’m really grateful to the staff at the Division of Business especially School of Management and my colleagues at the Postgraduate Scholars’ Association, especially the chair Azmiri Mian, for their support and encouragement.”