Dialectical Anthropology

, Volume 34, Issue 3, pp 395–417 | Cite as

Traveller or tourist? Jack Kerouac and the commodification of culture

  • Roger BillEmail author


Jack Kerouac, the author of On The Road, was a central figure of the Beat Generation, a generation which rebelled against middle-class conformity in post–World War II America. Kerouac described himself as “a religious wanderer” (Kerouac 2006: 2), but an examination of his texts and life suggest his travels may also be understood as tourism. Viewed through the prism of tourism, this study will argue, for example, that MacCannell’s notion of the tourist’s quest for reality and authenticity (MacCannell 1989: 3) provides some insight into why Kerouac wrote that just south of Macon, Georgia, he and his travelling companion Neal Cassady stopped and got out of the car, “and suddenly both of us were stoned with joy to realize that in the darkness all around us was fragrant green grass and the smell of fresh manure and warm waters” (Kerouac 1957: 115). As Kerouac rebelled against being, as one of his protagonists in The Dharma Bums put it, “imprisoned in a system of work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume” (Kerouac 2006: 73) he travelled across America on a rapidly improving network of highways, turning “mobility into a retreat” (Holladay and Holton 2009: 42). Kerouac alternately identified himself as a hobo (Kerouac 1973: 181) and “not a real hobo” (Kerouac 1973: 173), but this article asks whether Kerouac’s travels were those of the last in a line of wanderers rebelling against conformity and modernization or a precursor of mobile mass tourism in America.


Culture Tourism Authenticity Leisure Kerouac 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Memorial University of NewfoundlandSt. John’sCanada

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