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Ecomuseum philosophy and practice have been adopted worldwide for a variety of different purposes, including the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, to enable tourism and economic regeneration in rural areas, and to foster a sense of local pride by representing and promoting cultural identity. Ecomuseum philosophy and theory suggests that this postmodern museological phenomenon should ensure the sustainable use of cultural and natural resources, and sustain the communities that are responsible for them. Some communities appear to benefit from ecomuseological interventions by simply being more aware of their place, their past, and local achievements, but for most of them the rewards come from establishing strong links between ecomuseums and regeneration agendas through enhanced tourist numbers. Most ecomuseums encourage the exploration of places and their local culture, and so have strong links to ecotourism and cultural tourism. However, what makes ecomuseums special is that the selection of cultural and natural features that are promoted as tourist sites is decided by local communities, and not imposed by outside authority. Consequently, ecomuseums demonstrate facets of cultural heritage that are important to local people. It is therefore important to redefine the nature of cultural tourism when contemplating ecomuseum approaches—it is not high culture, but the material culture and intangible heritage that signify the special nature of places, cultural touchstones defined and selected by local people. This democratic vision for cultural tourism that is central to ecomuseum philosophy is critically examined here. An overview of ecomuseum development is given to provide context for a discussion of links between ecomuseums, sustainability, cultural tourism, and democracy. Selected ecomuseums from France, Canada, and Japan are described and an assessment of their democratic processes made. It is evident that the ill-defined or ``plastic'' nature of ecomuseum philosophy and practice can be viewed as both a strength and a weakness. Its flexibility means that it can be molded to suit most situations, with the result that the processes and outcomes may or may not directly involve local people. The ecomuseum philosophy, as originally proposed, had a democratic vision, but it is clear that these ideals can only be achieved if the local community is identified as the major stakeholder.
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Keywords: Communities; Cultural tourism; Democracy; Ecomuseums; Ecotourism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Newcastle

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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  • Tourism, Culture & Communication is international in its scope and will place no restrictions upon the range of cultural identities covered, other than the need to relate to tourism and hospitality. The Journal seeks to provide interdisciplinary perspectives in areas of interest that may branch away from traditionally recognized national and indigenous cultures, for example, cultural attitudes toward the management of tourists with disabilities, gender aspects of tourism, sport tourism, or age-specific tourism.
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