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Tourist Representations and Public Space Regulation

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This article illustrates the ways in which visual representations construct the meanings of norms governing the spaces we commonly inhabit. I argue that norms regulating public spaces such as streets, parks, plazas, and beaches arise within the process of conceiving tourist representations of space that benefit hegemonic groups in society. My argument is empirically grounded on evidence from a case study on public space regulation in Acapulco, Mexico. By means of a semiotic analysis of tourist materials such as maps and postcards, I show that images related to tourism represent urban space in a way that includes some elements and excludes others. By doing so, they portray a very specific image of the city and its public spaces. Because representations of space are performed upon the entire society, the imagery reproduced by tourist materials is part of the expectations that surround social actors’ actions. This is one of the mechanisms through which the tourism industry influences the regulation of public spaces.

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  1. 1.

    Scholars such as Bhattacharyya [2] and Tegelberg [26] studied the influential communicative function of tourist guidebooks, but with a different focus and scope.

  2. 2.

    This can be exemplified by Nicholas Blomley’s studies about hegemonic normative views framing the regulation of circulation in Canadian cities [47] or Don Mitchell’s early writings on homelessness, political activism and public space regulation in the United States [1922].

  3. 3.

    There are some examples of scholars working in other fields who use the concept of ideological norm. For instance, McRobbie [18] refers to “[…] daily endorsement (not to say enjoyment) of heterosexuality as an ideological norm in the world of the mass-produced text and image […]” and Ferner et al. [9] argue that “anti-unionism is a deeply embedded core ideological norm within the US business system”.

  4. 4.

    Interview with a local authority, my translation.

  5. 5.

    The table does not mention the Papagayo River, actually a rural attraction, and the Masks House, which was closed recently. Sometimes the ruins of the Fortín Álvarez are described by locals as a historical attraction, but tourist materials completely ignore it.

  6. 6.

    Interview with a local authority, my translation.

  7. 7.

    Interview with a local authority, my translation.

  8. 8.

    Interview with a local authority, my translation.

  9. 9.

    Interview with a local authority, my translation.

  10. 10.

    Interview with a local authority, my translation.

  11. 11.

    Guerrero’s criminal code [Código Penal del Estado de Guerrero], State of Guerrero, 1986, revised in 2008; and Street Vending Ordinance [Reglamento para Ejercicio del Comercio Ambulante y en Puestos Fijos y Semifijos en Vía Pública], Muncipality of Acapulco, 1990.

  12. 12.

    Arts. 111 and 203, Policing and Governance Ordinance [Bando de Polícia y Gobierno], Municipality of Acapulco, 2002, my translation.

  13. 13.

    Art. 204, Policing and Governance Ordinance [Bando de Polícia y Gobierno], Municipality of Acapulco, 2002, my translation.


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    Tg1. “Lonely Planet Mexico Travel Guide”. 12. ed. Publisher: Lonely Planet Publications. Year: 2010. Place: Victoria; London. Pages: 952.

  30. 30.

    Tg2. “Guerrero: Guía para Descubrir los Encantos del Estado”. Publisher: Editorial Océano de México S.A. Year: 2009. Place: México, D.F. Pages: 168.

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    Tg3. “Guerrero: Map and Information about Mexico. Acapulco, Taxco, Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo”. Publisher: Mexico Tourism Board. Year: 2007. Place: México, D.F. Pages: 14.

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    Tw1. “Acapulco: El sítio oficial de Acapulco”. Available in: Accessed in: 2011.06.14.

  33. 33.

    Tw2. “Acapulco Travel Guide—Wikitravel”. Available in: Accessed in: 2011.06.14.

  34. 34.

    Tm1. “Acapulco Mapa del Puerto”. Scale not informed. Elabored for Hotel El Presidente.

  35. 35.

    Tm2. S/n. Scale not informed. Publisher: Gobierno Municipal de Acapulco/Gobierno del Estado de Guerrero.

  36. 36.

    Tm3. “Acapulco”. Scale not informed. Publisher: FIDETUR Acapulco.

  37. 37.

    Tp1. “Vista aérea de la zona hotelera”. 0725. Karten Collection. Publisher: Karten de Mexico S.A.

  38. 38.

    Tp2. “La Costera”. BlueLine Collection. ACA 160. Publisher: Capaco S.A.

  39. 39.

    Tp3. “Maravillosas playas de Acapulco”. ACA 203. BlueLine Collection. Publisher: Capaco S.A.

  40. 40.

    Tp4. “Entardecer en Acapulco”. ACA 283. BlueLine Collection. Publisher: Capaco S.A.

  41. 41.

    Tp5. “Vista panoramica de Caleta”. ACA 201. BlueLine Collection. Publisher: Capaco S.A.

  42. 42.

    Tp6. “Acapulco Night Clubs”. 070706. Karten Collection. Publisher: Karten de Mexico S.A.

  43. 43.

    Tp7. “Vistas del Centro: el Fuerte de San Diego, la catedral, el muelle y la bandera”. ACA 217. BlueLine Collection. Publisher: Capaco S.A.

  44. 44.

    Tp8. “Vista aérea del hermoso Hotel Princess”. GRA 298. Post Art Collection. Publisher: Post Art de México S.A.

  45. 45.

    Tp9. “La Quebrada”. ACA 244. BlueLine Collection. Publisher: Capaco S.A.

  46. 46.

    Tp10. “Vista aérea de la hermosa Bahía de Acapulco”. GRA 289. Post Art Collection. Publisher: Post Art de México S.A.

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I would like to thank my colleagues at the University of Milan, Italy and Lund University, Sweden, in particular Karsten Åström and Letizia Mancini, for their comments on earlier drafts of this article, and also Antonio Azuela for his support during the fieldwork in Mexico. This publication is part of my doctoral research work, thanks to scholarships provided by the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research and Swedish Institute.

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Correspondence to Lucas P. Konzen.

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Konzen, L.P. Tourist Representations and Public Space Regulation. Int J Semiot Law 27, 135–160 (2014).

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  • Public space regulation
  • Tourist cities
  • Representations of space
  • Visual semiotics
  • Norms