Guest Post Just Governance Linnaeus University Sweden Tourism

Just Governance: The Pathway to Destination Social Sustainability

Guest post by Marianna Strzelecka, Associate Professor at Linnaeus University, Sweden.

In this short entry, I argue how the concept of a “Just Destination” must embrace resident empowerment in destination governance and see it as a condition for social sustainability.

What is “Just Governance”?

Just governance brings citizens and institutions closer and engages them in processes and structures that build societies (Bramwell & Lane, 2011). It considers “ethical principles that aim towards justice and the good of the place, the people and things in it, and the good of those who visit it” (Jamal, 2019). Ensuring just practices toward the residents and their natural and cultural goods requires addressing tangible environmental, ecological, economic, and social/social-political impacts and intangibles such as human–cultural and environmental relationships within the destination.

In sustainable destinations, justice must be the leading principle guiding tourism and the first principle for evaluating the effectiveness of tourism governance. In this regard, I propose that just destinations consider three-justice domains: distribution, recognition, and representation (Fraser, 2008).  

  1. A just distribution occurs “to everyone’s advantage and at the same time position of authority and responsibility must be accessible to all” (Rawls, 1999, p.53). Figueroa (2006) rightly notes that the most common usage of just distribution pertains to…something missing here?. Distribution issues underlying tourism governance may include equitable distribution of tourism-related risks, benefits, and costs and access to information, knowledge, or economic limitations. However, destination governance that only targets allocation fails to consider ‘who’ gets to be represented in decision-making or who gets to define what ‘justice’ means (Fraser, 2000).
  2. Recognition tends to be seen as a remedy to distribution issues. Fraser (2008) considered recognition a precondition to a membership in a political community, whereas Young (1990), urged that recognition “requires explicitly acknowledging and attending to group differences” (p.3). Participatory procedures may reinforce recognition in local governance as they create opportunities for different actors to come together to recognize each other’s interests and perspectives in tourism development.
  3. Representation can be seen as an essential step to mitigate conflicts in tourism destinations as it draws attention to the idea that the outcome of tourism decision-making must equally represent residents’ views and ambitions (Fraser, 2008). In this context, destination governance concerned with local or regional wellbeing must improve celebrate social differences and foster participants’ self-development and self-determination.
Just Destinations must embrace resident empowerment in destination governance and see it as a condition for social sustainability, argues Marianna Strzelecka (Photo source: Westmed)

Resident empowerment as a key to a Just Destination?

Fraser’s critical approach to justice is based on the principle of participatory parity, where systematic social inequalities are eliminated. This can be done through direct participation (Figueroa, 2006; Whyte, 2010). Such norm of direct participation requires that “all agents who may benefit or be harmed by the outcomes of institutional proceedings and social transitions have the opportunity to veto or formally accept the risks” (Whyte, 2010, p.77). However, the sole policy focus on participatory procedures overlooks local power struggles and structural inequalities. Participatory procedures are unlikely to produce just outcomes when some stakeholders dominate others regarding human, financial, or structural resources (Fung and Wright, 2001). Residents must both, be willing to participate and have the capacity to do so.

Resident empowerment is the key to effective destination governance (Beaumont and Dredge, 2010) and crucial to “people, organizations, and communities to gain mastery over their affairs” (Rappaport, 1987, p. 122). The political domain of resident empowerment is probably one that is most discussed. Its essence lies in that individuals or groups enhance their competency for tourism governance and are thus able to influence the governance process (Strzelecka & Wicks, 2015). The core idea of political empowerment for a destination’s social sustainability, is to shift power to people and communities to engage in the governance.

The three-justice domains as a means to empower residents

The transformative capacity of empowerment lies in its three-component structure. The intrapersonal component refers to the manner in which individuals think about themselves and includes concepts of self-efficacy and perceived competence (Zimmerman & Zahniser, 1991). The interactional component addresses individuals’ ability to “develop a critical understanding of the forces that shape their environment and knowledge of the resources required and methods to access those resources to produce social change.” (Speer, 2000, p.52) Empowering processes engage residents in learning about opportunities to influence the aspects of their environment and increase their ability to influence the decision-making process (Christens, 2012).

Distribution recognition and representation facilitate processes transforming local reality by reinforcing the centrality of residents (Bartholo et al., 2008, p. 104). However, while empowerment appears to be the core concept in political justice governance, it has not been previously theorized in relation to the three-justice domains. Frankly, empowerment is a fluid phenomenon, it may increase or decrease over time, and it may fluctuate at different points in time. This fluctuation over time, of course, implicates a reciprocal relationship between resident empowerment and justice in tourism governance where the justness of tourism governance could ebb and flow over time, too resulting in empowerment being a continual process where there is no resting or ‘having arrived’ at just tourism governance. Essentially, empowerment can be seen as a precondition for and an outcome of just government. For instance, just governance can empower residents with the capacity to initiate social change. In return, this social change modifies the form that empowerment will take.

Marianna Strzelecka, Associate Professor, Linnaeus University

Considering resident empowerment as a kind of precondition to resident participation in tourism planning and policymaking means that the empowering method must acknowledge and attend to existing local circumstances. Individual and group local identities, experiences, knowledge will contribute to residents’ self-efficacy or perceived control and motivate them to engage in destination governance. The above mechanism reinforces the resident’s perception of a more equal distribution of power to influence decision-making (Fraser, 2008). Residents who feel empowered are also more likely to see opportunities for representing their perspective on destination development. The representation domain of justice consists of two reciprocal forces. On the one hand, knowledgeable residents who feel encouraged and motivated will seek to represent their perspective in tourism planning and development. On the other hand, policymaking mechanisms for policy justice such as participatory procedure will enable those motivated residents to pursue their views and ambitions.

An equal distribution of resources, greater mutual recognition, and more inclusive processes enable the empowerment of local groups by facilitating direct participation and increasing their effectiveness. Empowered residents gain a sense of sociopolitical control in their particular situations. The sense of control among residents defines the extent to which they are motivated and see themselves as capable of using social and political resources (Zimmerman and Zahniser, 1991). In reference to recognition, representation, and distribution, empowerment is more than participation, “it includes the processes that lead people to perceive themselves as able and entitled to make decisions” (Rowlands, 1997, p.14). It reinforces recognition, representation, and distribution efforts in the destination governance and thus remains a precondition for the social sustainability of tourism destinations.


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