The aims of this work are twofold: firstly, it makes an attempt at the determination of the ontological and epistemological foundations of Tourism Studies; secondly, it offers a description of the organisational-institutional conditions which have been shaping studies in this field (also in the historical context). It was assumed that the accomplishment of such aims should contribute to the improvement of the conditions in which empirical studies are carried out in order to gain knowledge about the complex tourist reality in all its different manifestations. As a consequence, it should help gain better knowledge about tourism, bringing us closer to the truth about it. The sine qua non for the attainment of such a desirable state of affairs are solid methodological foundations serving as the basis for Tourism Studies. For this reason, the work starts with a presentation of the problem of tourist reality as an entity which can constitute a complex subject of study. Subsequently, a discussion is presented concerning the possibility of acquiring knowledge about the phenomenon of tourism as previously defined. The entire argumentation is carried out in relation to the main ontological and epistemological standpoints identified in the contemporary social sciences, namely realism and relativism. Finally, serving as the synthesis of the investigation, a proposal of a methodological approach is put forward which attempts at overcoming the dichotomy between the objectivistic realism and the subjectivisticic relativism of knowledge. In this work, it is called the realistic-humanistic approach.
Notably, when presenting argumentation within the confines of the mutually opposing positions of realism and relativism, reference is made also to two competing directions in the light of which the development of science (including social sciences) is contemporarily interpreted. The first one is related to the concept of cumulative knowledge, in which this development is seen as targeted (teleological), i.e. it assumes that scholars are constantly getting closer to the universal (objective) truth and its course can be seen as linear with time as the independent variable. The chief proponent of this direction was Popper (1959, 2006), backed up by representatives of the entire (neo-)positivist tradition, up to modernism. In social studies, including Tourism Studies, the realistic approach was developed mainly in the form of critical realism in its various realisations (Botterill 2014, Pernecky 2014).
Relativism, on the other hand, is related to the paradigmatic view formulated by Kuhn (1962, 2009). It assumes that science develops in a non-continuous fashion and the functioning of subsequent paradigms (scientific schemes) is separated by the occurrence of so-called scientific revolution periods, as a result of which new schemes, incompatible with the previous ones, are established. In this way, the knowledge gained within individual paradigms acquires features of relativism. The proponents of this view often question the targeted course of the development of science understood as the pursuit of truth. This approach inspired the relativistic views of postmodernists and supporters of non-classical sociology of knowledge, in particular in its most extreme variations (e.g. the strong programme of sociology of knowledge of the Edinburgh school). In its extreme emanation, it took the form of scientific anarchism of Feyerband (1975, 1981). It must be noted that epistemological relativism founded on the paradigmatic view, in particular in the form of moderate social constructionism, has gained recognition also among researchers of tourism (cf. Tribe 2006, Liburd 2016).
At the same time, in spite of some similarities between the opposing methodological positions presented in this work and the opposition between linear cumulationism and paradigmatic anti-cumulationism, there is also a very significant difference to note. It refers primarily to the temporal scope, which in the studies of the development of science has always played a significant role as the independent variable (definitely more so in the cumulative view). This temporal perspective did not play such an important role in the analysis of realism and relativism, at least to the extent covered in this work. The same applies to the proposed realistic-humanistic attempt at their reconciliation. For it has been the author’s intention to treat them more like ontological-epistemological anchors, the assumptions behind which remain valid in the entire process of science development, and not only in the assessment of the extent to which we can reach the truth and to which the subsequent paradigms represent progress in the development of science (if any). Instead, the discussion focuses more on the acceptance of a methodological position chosen from among the opposing alternatives – realism and relativism; and when neither is deemed acceptable, a solution can be sought in the original realistic-humanistic view proposed in this work.
In metaphysical terms, it assumes the existence of a (social; tourist) reality which constitutes a certain complex whole and which can be investigated in various ways, enabling the pursuit of the universal truth about it. At the same time, the model accepts that the process of knowledge-gaining can be individualistic and subjective, employing instruments developed within various traditions from which individual researchers originate. Given this context, it appears that the proposed realistic-humanistic approach manages to overcome the foundational ontological-epistemological opposition between realism (objectivism) and relativism (subjectivism) of knowledge acquisition. In accordance with the author’s intention, it constitutes a perspective on knowledge in the light of which the results of investigations carried out by individual researchers (even if they are subjective) will cumulatively extend the knowledge about the truly existing and penetrable world of tourism, bringing us closer to the truth about it.
To supplement the discussion about the ontological and epistemological foundations of Tourism Studies, in the second part of the work, the author addresses the problem of their development and current organisational determinants, paying extra attention to issues of historical evolution of Tourism Studies and taking into consideration the achievements of the schools and research traditions which were dominant in the past (German, French and Italian language). The products of the conducted analysis seem to support the claim that the globalisation of Tourism Studies, manifested in the dominant role of the broadly understood Anglo-American tradition (also in terms of the language used), poses a serious threat to the acquisition of the fullest attainable knowledge about the tourism phenomenon. As a consequence, in research practice and associated academic communication, the impressive achievements of other schools, also those with long traditions, have been completely marginalised. One powerful example of this can be the history of the development of the Polish Tourism Studies, as presented in this work, the achievements of which are virtually unknown outside the country of their origin.
Last but not least, somewhat on the margin of the main discussion, another very important problem is touched upon, which factually impacts the process of the creation of knowledge about tourism. Due to its significance, it will only get a brief mention here, concluded with the postulate to further studies in this direction, in particular in relation to tourism. This pressing issue concerns the relations between the (broadly understood) power and knowledge (science). It has been addressed from completely different ideological standpoints by such authors as Foucault (1961, 1971, 1980), Zybertowicz (1995), Szklarska (2015), and as far as tourism studies in particular are concerned, by Butowski, Kaczmarek, Kowalczyk-Anioł, Szafrańska (2019). What is worth stressing is the final conclusion of these efforts, which points to the dangers resulting from the acceptance of relativistic views, in particular in their extreme constructionist form. For if we subscribe to them and accept that the truth is not objective but rather a social-cultural convention, we will also have to accept the possibility that it could be imposed by more powerful groups upon weaker ones. Paradoxically, then, the approval of the views proclaiming the acceptability and equal treatment of different positions and discourses and, consequently, relativized truths paired with the rejection of the anchor of realism can lead in practice to the hegemony of some trends or groups.
It appears that in the case of social sciences (including Tourism Studies), which are definitely more prone to the influence of such mechanisms, we are already dealing with such a situation, as evidenced, for example, by the current hegemony of one, postmodernist ideology (with its roots in neo-Marxism), which seems to have dominated social sciences globally (or, at least, in the West). It is especially visible in the dominant position of the leftist-liberal academic tradition (among others in the majority of American and Western European universities), supported politically by liberal democracy, which eagerly refers to the relativistic view of the world. Obviously, this exerts an impact on the field of Tourism Studies, where it can be observed that the dominant position is held by mainstream researchers who in majority represent views aligned with the afore-described broader tendencies in social sciences. It should be stressed that this process is furthered at the expense of other academic traditions, which have been pushed almost completely to the margin. Somewhat surprisingly, this is also noticed by a number of mainstream scholars, including ones who occupy the most prestigious positions in the international academic community (Dann 2011, Dann, Liebman, Parinello 2009, Gibson 2008, Hall, Williams, Lew 2004, Viken 2013). The paradox lies in the fact that in spite of the verbal identification of the problem, they continue to enjoy the position of gate keepers (Hall 2004) or power-brokers (McCarcher 2002) of knowledge about tourism.
One final observation. It seems rather obvious that the methodological problems presented in this book are to a large extent universal and exceed by far the confines of Tourism Studies. The proposal of the solution should be treated in the same way. This applies first and foremost to the realistic-humanistic approach concept, the ontological-epistemological assumptions of which can be successfully extended beyond the scope of Tourism Studies. The same is true of the conclusions, presented also in the form of claims, some of which go beyond the problems of Tourism Studies. They contain the author’s thoughts related mainly to the current methodological dilemmas which researchers of social phenomena and processes, including tourism, are facing. In this sense, the author used Tourism Studies as a vehicle to present his views on the nature of social reality in general and the possibility of gaining knowledge about it.