Doctoral Dissertation: Authenticity as a compromise – a critical realist perspective on Sámi tourism labels


M.A. Cecilia de Bernardi’s doctoral dissertation investigates the concept of authenticity in the context of Sámi tourism to propose possible ways of using authenticity as a protective and promotional tool. Either focusing on what is authentic/not authentic or on how anything can be authentic as long as the tourist experiences it that way has contributed to the exploitation of Sámi culture for tourism purposes. Labels, guidelines, or certifications, meant here as a series of bottom-up agreed-upon principles, can support ethical treatment and the promotion of Sámi culture(s) in tourism.

One of the main findings from the conducted research is that authenticity in tourism scholarship has developed from a concept with objective characteristics focusing on the authenticity versus inauthenticity of experiences to an overly subjective term. The latter implies that authenticity can only be judged by a person’s experience. When anything can be considered authentic as long as the tourist or the producer thinks it is, then the risk is that the issues experienced by the Sámi with how Sámi culture(s) is included in tourism products will not be solved.

As testified by the creation of certifications such as the Sámi Duodji for handicraft products or the tourism guidelines of the Finnish Sámi Parliament as well as the Swedish Sámi label Sápmi Experience, there is a will to guide companies, producers and tourists alike in how Sámi culture(s) can be conveyed without resorting to common Othering or Exoticizing stereotypes.

The importance of a more participatory approach and a common denominator

Furthermore, marketing materials are often in the hands of big national and regional tourism organisations, which have the task of presenting a whole country or a whole area with pictures and text.

– This is not a simple thing to do and a more participatory approach would ensure that the information given to the public is both correct, nuanced and interesting, explains de Bernardi.

The analysis of marketing materials and tourism enterprises from the viewpoint of Sámi entrepreneurs as well as other organisations operating in the Nordic countries points at a desire to show important aspects of Sámi culture(s), which are very diversified, but also linked to each other by a common denominator.

– One of the main conclusions is that this common denominator is something that is very important for the protection of Sámi culture in the context of tourism, but which also has wider applicability, describes de Bernardi.

In this context, authenticity is then conceptualised as a compromise. Authenticity partly encapsulates this common ground between different ways of expressing authenticity in Sámi tourism, but also all of the subjective contexts in which tourism products are created. An example is the involvement of the reindeer in tourism products and marketing or its total exclusion. Both cases have been observed as part of Sámi tourism and both are authentic. On the other hand, the interviewed entrepreneurs also expressed that there are indeed products that are considered ‘fake’, which is why labels, certifications or guidelines are seen as a potential positive contributor to the issue.

De Bernardi’s research provides valuable information for further research by the Sámi community and also for the implementation of supporting tools for tourism and other purposes.

Information on the defense

M.A. Cecilia de Bernardi will be defending her dissertation, Authenticity as a compromise: a critical realist perspective on Sámi tourism labels, with the permission of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Lapland on 28 August 2020 at 12 noon. The opponent is Professor Jarkko Saarinen, University of Oulu. The custos is Senior Lecturer Monika Lüthje, Multidimensional Tourism Institute, University of Lapland.

The public defence will take place online at: https://connect.eoppimispalvelut.fi/vaitos/

Information on the doctoral candidate

Cecilia de Bernardi has completed a Master of Arts in History from Linköping University, Sweden. She is also affiliated to the Centre for Tourism and Leisure Research (CeTLeR) at Dalarna University in Sweden, where she works as a PhD Candidate. Her studies in history, culture and tourism has brought her to study both Finnish as well as Sámi culture. This interest is the initial interest in studying Sámi tourism.

Cecilia de Bernardi has always had a deep interest for the history and the cultures of the Nordic countries, and being Italian, she is an external actor not only to the Sámi community, but also to the Nordic ones. During the process of writing this dissertation she has realised how important it is that research is carried out by members of the Sámi community or in very close cooperation with them. This has partly been possible through the close voluntary cooperation with the EU-funded project ARCTISEN, which did not provide funding to the research presented in this dissertation.

Additional information

Cecilia de Bernardi

Information on the publication

 Cecilia de Bernardi: Authenticity as a compromise: a critical realist perspective on Sámi tourism labels. Acta Universitatis Lapponiensis 281. University of Lapland, Rovaniemi 2020. Only published electronically: ISBN 978-952-337-213-9. ISSN 1796-6310.

Permanent link: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-337-213-9