LIFE AS FICTION

PhD by Kevin Murray

Department of Psychology, University of Melbourne, 1990

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Narrative Psych

Chapters

1. Introduction; 2. Narrative making sense; 3. Life manuals; 4. Life construction groups; 5. Travel space; 6. Travel and personal change; 7. Travel talk in context; 8. Narrative partitioning; References; A. Appendix

6 Travel and personal change

The focus so far in the description of travel talk has been on the features that characterise the differences between life overseas and life back home. The previous section dealt with how informants placed their travel episode in relation to their biographies, particularly their past associations with family and friends; it was the negotiation of the passage into overseas. This section takes that analysis one step further—to examine the impact which travel overseas is perceived to have on one’s later self; this is the description of the passage out from overseas. Here it is possible to ascertain what types of change were seen to result from a travel space which lent itself to activities such as ‘looking’ at life. The construction of travel space as a ‘dream’ suggested the likely uncertainty about whether or not the experience of being overseas would change someone. In this chapter, there is the opportunity to take into account actual statements concerning change. (Of the 72 informants, 51 discussed whether or not travel changed them. Of those, 45 claimed that it had; six denied any change as a result of the travel episode.)

6.1 Descriptions of change

As a negative case, it can be noted that some participants promoted the theory that the self on departure and return are the same. An Arts Ph.D. student claimed that travel only expresses a characteristic that is already present:

The reason that I think it wouldn’t change greatly is that the motive for travelling is there before the person sets off. It says something about them which isn’t going to be changed by travel. In other words it’s the acting out of something rather than the consummation of something. [19: 31m]

Change for this participant requires the introduction of a new trait. Since the desire for travel is considered a significant trait in itself, the actual event of travel is not likely to have a great effect.

A different way of disclaiming change involved an understanding of identity which distinguishes between a basic underlying nature and the picture one has of this oneself. One criterion of change, for example, was that one must alter one’s essential traits rather than simply adjust what one thinks of oneself. Reports of this, however, were relatively rare. In most cases, the effect of travel was to confirm or alter what one thinks of one’s basic nature, without changing that nature itself. A Botany Ph.D. student stated that, despite questions of friends about whether she had changed, her view of travel was simply a confirmation of who she was already:

If anything I think travel experience reinforces in your own mind what you’ve always believed anyway. And so I felt that I hadn’t changed, but people might ask it. [33: 26f]

Though travel might enable one to more fully own what one thinks of oneself, it does not essentially change what that self is. This particular criterion of change is contrasted with other informants (see section 6.1.2) who admitted the same effect of travel, yet claimed that the increased confidence constituted a change in one’s nature. It is clear that the acknowledgement of change involves more than simply what might have happened to the person while overseas: different audiences may have different criteria about what is necessary to qualify as change; e.g., whether one needs to have changed one’s nature or simply what one knows of one’s nature.

A different denial of change referred to the inertia of life back home and its incapacity to accept the changes that may occur overseas. A Medicine student stated that the effect of travel was something which persisted for a short period, but it was cancelled eventually by the recovery of routine in normal life:

I think it changes people in the beginning. I think, after you establish a normal life back here, I think you tend to become the same person that you were before. But in the beginning it’s different. You certainly acquire some individual experience. And you express that a lot. But after a while you just get back into the same routine that you were doing before. [56: 26f]

Here the conditions of one’s environment were seen to outweigh any attempts one might make to change oneself: the inertia of life back home eventually annuls any innovation. While the developments overseas might be challenging, it was possible to be fatalistic about their real effect in normal life.

Lastly, there was a position that acknowledged the possibility of change, but was critical about its authenticity in a number of cases. A Medicine student saw change as dependent upon the recognition of others. According to him, for change to be credible it requires a longer time than a brief overseas trip:

I don’t think in a summer trip you can make those changes without it really being as inconsistent as changing it over a weekend. It’s just that I think you’re hoping your friends won’t notice, that you’ve got some sort of license to come back as an apparently different person. [27: 23m]

Change to one’s nature therefore necessarily involves a large amount of time in which one is separated from one’s familiar environment. What is interesting about this view is the critical role given to the acceptance of this change: i.e., one will not acknowledge another to have changed if his/her stay has been too short. This introduces the suggestion that one has something to gain from acceptance by others of personal change: a simple alteration of one’s nature is not enough, one must be granted the ‘license’ to be different. One of the positions made possible by this understanding is a wariness on behalf of those at home towards illegitimate claims to change by recently returned travellers.

Already, therefore, there is a number of positions which question the possibility of change as a result of travel. These positions relate not merely to the assertion of sameness between the self here before and after travel, but, more importantly, they entail conventions about what counts as legitimate change: e.g., the introduction of a different trait rather than simply one’s discovery of a trait which is already present. Because of this it would be possible for two people who agree on the description of what happened to a person overseas to disagree with each other about whether this was enough to say that the person had changed. A factor to consider here is the significance for individuals returning from travel of others’ statements about their changed nature.

6.1.1 Maturity: ‘I’m grown up now’

Of course, there were many participants who did claim a difference which persisted after travel, particularly a gain in maturity. Many of these drew from the construction of travel space as an ordeal which compels the individual to take control of him or her self. A Medicine student described the effect of this as ‘growing up’:

You have to change, you grow up. There’s also the side of having to get yourself organised, to buy your tickets and have everything done while you’re away. So you’ve got to be a little bit more organised as well. [54: 24m]

Travel, in this case, exerts an inevitable change. Given that one learns to cope with new demands, and that this lesson carries over to life back home, one cannot help but take greater control of one’s affairs.

For other participants, personal change was demonstrated as an individual case. An Arts student noted a change in himself in being able to deal with his personal business while overseas:

I think I must have changed because I’m not very independent, I never have been. I’m used to having a lot of things done for me. And before I left I had to do my own banking and organising and that type of thing. So you have to be in total charge of yourself. I guess it was a maturity and growing experience. I guess I’d changed in that way. [30: 22m]

Change is revealed here as a difference in personal capacities before and after travel. Travel has the same force to compel change as referred to in the previous case, though here the informant gives personal testimony of it. What is absent is the mediation of the subject’s awareness. The evidence for change is the discontinuity involved in the two states: having ‘things done for me’, and being ‘in total charge of yourself’. There is no reference to a increased sense of confidence in dealing with challenging situations.

In this situation, the participant appears powerless to control the change that occurs overseas. However, given the capacity of travel to increase one’s powers of self-reliance, one can decide to set out on an overseas journey for this very reason. An Economics student described deliberately forcing himself to go ahead without assistance in order to develop his independence:

So I decided that I was going to be as independent as I could. And that changed me a lot cos now I am very similar to what I was in Israel, much more independent than what I was before I left. Cos I know now that I’m more confident in my ability to go out and do things for myself. And [I] saw how much I could achieve with nobody else around. I said, ‘Dad I’m going to go to Tiberius for 3 days’, and off I went, and I’d come back and I’d say, ‘See you later I’m going off to Jerusalem’. And it was even an exaggerated independence at the time, like I ‘Bent the stick the other way from what it was before and it’s now straight’. Now I’m independent. [15: 21m]

This participant illustrates the value of this new independence by describing the wonderful sights that he would have missed out on if he had doubted his capacity to travel alone and unaided. But there seems to be an ambiguity in his account of change. His instrumental attitude to self—‘bending the stick the other way’—contrasts with the description of the change ([I] ‘saw how much I could achieve with nobody else around’). Here is an apparent contradiction between the nature and picture criteria of change: on the one hand independence is a capacity that one can engineer in oneself, and on the other hand it is associated with knowledge of this capacity. One way of resolving this contradiction is to propose that the focus of self-discipline in the case of this participant is not the quality of self-reliance directly—travel here does not strengthen independence like a muscle—rather it is the ability to take note of one’s capacities which is being manipulated. This participant takes on travel as an opportunity to shown himself that he can do it. This contrasts with the previous two cases, where recognition by self of one’s capacities is not mentioned.

6.1.2 Belief in self: `Now I know it'

There were many different accounts of change which referred to an alteration in one’s awareness of self rather than a transformation of one’s nature. In one of these, travel was constructed as a test, in which one could demonstrate to oneself the powers one possessed. The change in this case is manifest in the knowledge one has acquired of oneself.

This change can be distinguished from feelings of greater independence. It is not identified as a change in the person, but rather a demonstration before the eyes of the traveller of a quality that is already present. An Arts student found that her parents thought her to be more ‘grown up’ after travel. She claimed that this was not so much a change within herself, but related to a transformation of the way she thinks about herself: from ‘thinking’ to ‘knowing’. She said:

"Well I thought I was before but now I know": that’s the difference I think. Not that I didn’t think that before, but I never had to be independent. And I’d never really had to look after myself. And I’d never been sick on my own. And I’d never really had to find a house all on my own and that sort of thing. It was a good test [17: 22f].

For this student, the travel episode was a test which provided her with information about herself. Her situation was almost identical to case 30 (page 2): being forced to take control of herself. However, she did not acknowledge any change in her capacities in this process. Rather, she cast the experience as a test which demonstrated the presence of a pre-existing capacity for independence.[1]

A different variety of the revelatory function of travel entailed emancipation from more limited ideas of self. An Arts student who travelled with her family commented on the change that had occurred in her mother. She described her mother as having ‘opened up’: ‘She’d always been devoted to the family, and valued the family as much as ever, but I think she became aware of her own potential as an individual as well’ [23: 23f]. The mother in this instance no longer saw herself exclusively in terms of the limits set by the family. The emphasis here is not on the way in which travel can reveal oneself through a test of capacities, but how it removes the obstacles, particularly responsibilities to others, which have prevented one knowing oneself. These two different narratives of self-knowledge were anticipated in the construction of travel space as both testing and liberating (see Section Error! Reference source not found.).

Other capacities mentioned included: bodily strength (‘My limits were much greater [sic] than what I thought before’ [28: 25f]); independence (‘I’ve always felt independent. But, I think: "Believe in yourself"...’ [13: 23m]); and maternal capacities, (‘[Travel] gave me confidence that you can sustain feeling for a child’ [08: 24f]). The reports of greater confidence after travel identified the change in terms of an acquisition of knowledge about oneself in a variety of hitherto untested capacities.

As shown in case 23 (page 3), there was sense of liberation involved in the greater awareness of capacities. Sometimes this was presented in opposition to the knowledge of oneself by others at home. An Arts student referred to this:

The idea of just the contrast of the type of person that people thought you were there, as opposed to here. Maybe there were differences. At times there were. It just keeps making [you] re-evaluate yourself I suppose. [08: 24f]

As with case 27 (page 1), this statement introduces the role of recognition by others: Will others at home agree to adjust their knowledge of the returned traveller? (See Section 6.2.3) In the framework of the current study, this is a critical question. Yet it is still worth noting that some participants represented personal change simply in terms of a transformation of their picture of themselves.

6.1.3 Change of direction: `There's more to life'

A different representation of change related to the increase in motivation reported by the informant. This was not specifically related to a change in one’s inner nature, nor was it an alteration in self-knowledge, instead it was an increase in the motivation to use one’s capacities to achieve certain goals.

One report tied this change to the ability overseas to make a conscious choice about her life. A Biology Ph.D. student pointed to the travel episode as critical in her decision to pursue higher study. According to her: ‘What travelling did was make me really highly motivated to do well. It was a really conscious decision to go back to university. I was really highly motivated’ [39: 28f]. Life here was no longer something ruled by habit: travel had turned it into a series of decisions. For her, the critical point was in Greece, where she found herself lacking agency:

When I was in Greece I wasn’t in control of my own life. I just felt that I was in a situation, and I had no control. I couldn’t get myself out of it. When I came back to Australia I really wanted to run my own life. And I wanted to get myself qualified with a job that I enjoyed. So that I’d be independent. [39: 28f]

This account seems to contain a notion of travel which is opposite to those of the previous section. Rather than demonstrate one’s independence, travel is seen here to throw one into a situation of helplessness. However, within the narrative of change, this experience of loss of agency is seen to prompt oneself to make redressive action and acquire a more independent self. It was within such a narrative that this traveller described her decision to further her education. Such a use of travel would still be consonant with the idea of ‘test’, though it assumes an ability to change one’s inner nature as a result of what travel demonstrates about oneself.

Experience of lack of power while overseas may thus serve as a stimulus that calls to order one’s life back home. Another participant grant travel a similar role in the recognition of powerlessness, however for her this absence of control was located in life back home rather than overseas. A secretary talked about having her previous commitment to a life-long relationship revealed as just one possibility of many. The medical students she travelled with introduced her to other possible lives:

I think travelling made me aware that there’s more to life than just my boyfriend. And there are things that I want to do, that I was prepared to sacrifice and everything in order to save to get married, blah blah blah. Now, I’ve come back, and I’ve had all these things that I really really want to do. It’s made me more selfish I think. [69: 21f]

According to her, the trip overseas involved a ‘break away’ from a life that was drifting towards marriage. This distance allowed her to think about other ways of constructing her life. In the end it presented her with a picture of a life more directed towards her own desires, which she chose to accept rather than a life which seemed to fit into a ready-made mould.

The above case may be partly described as emancipatory: it entails a transfer of authority from one group of ‘conservative’ friends to another group of more ‘radical’ friends. The ‘radical’ friends show up her previous life to be constrained by limited possibilities available to her. A Biology Ph.D. student also spoke of how travel altered her commitments away from establishing a family (‘I could never be happy doing that.’ [33: 26f]), to the ‘special’ ambitions of people she knew around the university. A similar commitment arising from travel was noted by other cases: a nurse [12: 24f] (see pages 8) claimed that travel gave her the confidence to search outside of the family; this was echoed in her friend, an Arts student [13: 23m], who described leaving many of his old friends behind after returning from overseas. Another Arts student [18: 24f] tied this change of friends to two events: going overseas and moving to the ‘other side of the Yarra’.

The emancipation entailed in travel in these instances is tied to the change of membership in social groups back home (see Section Error! Reference source not found.). This new group promises greater possibilities in life. In most cases, a more ‘settled’ group of friends was left in favour of a more mobile ‘university’ group.

However, this was not always the situation. In one case, the more permissive social group did not exist back at home. A freelance editor related his change towards greater selfishness in terms of identification with Americans. His account of the difference is set in terms of his prior expectations and eventual discovery:

I took the traditional Australian attitude of looking down on the loud Americans. [...] Particularly when you see them there or you see then in Europe, when they’re outside their own country they do seem to be loud and obnoxious. But when I met the Americans, they seemed courteous and friendly and I liked the American positive outlook. And I liked the desire to get on and encouragement to have an idea. I thought it was an encouraging environment in America for ideas. Commercial ideas in particular. But other things as well. I guess aspiring to excellence. [49: 31m]

He characterised this change as a ‘turn to the right’; this was something he saw not only as a specific individual change, but also as a quite general cultural change as well. Like those who find in travel unexpected experiences that are special to friendships or family, this participant found an audience to share his altered perceptions of Americans: this audience consisted of the Americans themselves.

In some cases, therefore, travel was talked about as creating an expanded set of possibilities for oneself. Other cases presented the converse situation: on return from overseas one is happier to grant others the possibility of being different.

6.1.4 Tolerance: `Live and let live'

The report of a more relaxed frame of mind after travel appears to be the opposite of the transformation towards a more autonomous self. (Of the 45 claims to have changed, 14 informants described themselves as becoming more tolerant and relaxed towards others.) In this circumstance, the informants talked about lessening the demands that are placed on others. This more relaxed attitude was often related to the experience of being able to take the other’s point of view.[2]

This tolerance contrasts with the reports of a greater awareness of good and evil after travel. In this case, differences are to be allowed rather than brought into conflict. A music student talked about her new ‘live and let live attitude’:

A lot of people expect people to behave how they want them to behave. That’s the usual thing. Now when I see people expecting, for example, people going out with somebody, they want to change that person to their mould of how they want them to behave. Now I’ve got a very live and let live attitude. Tolerate people’s differences. If you can’t handle them ignore them. [37: 26f]

Tolerance of difference was seen before (see Section Error! Reference source not found.) as one of the possible distinguishing marks of the traveller. By contrast, those without the experience of travel have a picture of things which has difficulty accommodating another’s point of view.

One of the dominant themes of accounts of travel within India was the necessity to adjust one’s normal expectations to a totally different form of life. In this process one is taught tolerance towards other cultures. One of these lessons involved finding in oneself negative feelings from which one normally considers oneself immune. The following case identified this feeling as one which demands that others conform to an image of the way things should be. An Arts student evoked a specific episode in India which he used as evidence about this demanding element of his character:

Sometimes it’s very difficult to find someone who speaks English and if you want to know where the 54 bus is going and nobody understands you and they just start talking to you in their language. A couple of times I got so angry, well ‘Why can’t you speak English?’ That was fairly educational I think, it kind of made me think about it. [09: 24m]

In this case, the revelation of a hidden and undesirable trait halted the projection of that trait onto others (e.g., the perception of tourists as narrow-minded): it is possible to see that one could be as narrow as others. This comic episode of being on the other end of one’s moral judgement was often seen as a humanising experience.

The expression of greater tolerance was often realised in the family. The feeling of having a greater understanding of one’s parents was reported by a number of participants. The Arts student who talked about India above reflected on the closeness he felt towards his parents after the distance of travel: ‘It had changed from parents to people, seen as people. So you argue with them, but they’re just people with their viewpoints, and that’s fine’ [13: 23m]. The use of the term ‘people’ here seems to put parents on the same level as those individuals one encounters overseas: one can generalise the voice established for oneself in conversations overseas to those back home with one’s family. This conversation provides region for difference rather than assuming the truth of only one point of view. (A stronger family bond was also related to the opportunity to reproduce the journeys of one’s parents, see Section Error! Reference source not found.).

The general power of travel to expose oneself to difference was indicated by a Biology Ph.D. student who recommended the travel experience to a person she characterised as bigoted. She pointed to an incapacity to accommodate difference:

Yeah there’s a girl that I work with who really annoys me. She’s never travelled and she doesn’t want to travel and she makes that quite clear. She spends a great deal of her time talking about other people. And criticising them for various reasons, because they’re not exactly like her. [39: 28f]

Or, as a Medicine student stated, after having travelled, ‘...you just appreciate life that’s different from your own’ [56: 26f]. While tolerance appears to be a wholly positive change in self, it can be contrasted with the other equally beneficial effect of travel: personal autonomy. The former lessens the dominance of one point of view in order to accommodate alternative perspectives. Yet the latter is about recognising the worth of one’s own point of view as it is cast against what others have to say. How do these two types of change relate? One possible link is to identify the increased faith in one’s point of view with greater powers of tolerance. As a traveller, therefore, one becomes increasingly intolerant of those with narrow conceptions of the world (see Section Error! Reference source not found.). Any such resolution of these two types of change is likely to involve such a compromise.

At a general level, what accommodates both types of personal change is the suspension of one’s commitment to the picture of overseas that applies at home. The change that occurs appears to take two directions: the acquisition of self-reliance, and identification with individuals outside their normal roles. In what way are these forms of change revealed? Self-reliance is made manifest in travel talk in two different frames: one’s inner nature is changed through the ordeal of travelling by oneself; and one claims an adjustment to the picture of oneself through the test of one’s capacities to survive. Though the increase in self-reliance is related to one’s capacity to fulfil certain roles, the other type of personal change is expressed to the discovery of possibilities that are seen to exist outside those roles. In this case one is presented with possibilities that were not part of one’s position in life back home, and nor would one normally allow those different possibilities in others. Here, travel provides a lesson about the possibilities available to oneself and others.

In both types of change, travel overseas is seen to enable one to judge for oneself: one is not left in ignorance of what one can do, nor is one blinkered by the possibilities specific to one’s part of the world. This judgement is sometimes related to one’s membership with a different reference group (or renewed membership of a familiar group)—a group which grants the returned traveller greater powers. It is the further elaboration of this change and the meaning attached to it which is the next focus of the description of travel talk.

6.2 How it changed

Having examined the descriptions of change provided by the informants, the next task is to investigate how they related this change to other forces. So far the two major descriptions of increased self-reliance have dealt with alteration of one’s basic nature and difference in awareness of what one is capable of. The questions to be posed of these descriptions are, respectively: What force has changed one’s basic nature?; and, How is one granted a different awareness of oneself? This section presents quotes which elaborate the descriptions of change by identifying the more general factors associated with the specific outcome of the overseas journey. It contains material that deals with the generalisations about one’s external environment that are drawn from travel experience. Both are offered as descriptions of the evaluative dimension of travel talk.

6.2.1 The power of travel

Some participants found it possible to attribute change to the power of travel at a general level, without any further analysis. For example, an Economics student claimed that it was enough to have travelled per se for one to assume a difference in maturity:

There’s a definite big difference in maturity, just in the way they behave. And I’d say the people that travelled seemed far more [mature] than just older people who’d done it, but I wouldn’t say it changes, just quicker development. [21: 20m]

For this student, if one has travelled one is likely to have an accelerated maturity compared to those who have not.

This evaluation of change suggests a mystery which is attached to the general power of travel to change. As such it is sympathetic to the arrangement of a community that is divided into two groups: those whose knowledge is limited and those who have travelled. For example, a caterer described her frustration in not being able to explain what Greece was like to people who had not been there: ‘At the time I become very impatient with them. And said, ‘If you’d been over there you’d know’. [pause] I can’t put my finger on what that ‘know’ would be’ [06: 28f]. This question of whether or not one’s experience can be shared with others was an important issue for the nurse who went overseas because her close friend had come back changed after a journey to India (see page Error! Bookmark not defined.). She talked about the inaccessibility of her travel experience: because the experience of travel cannot be represented in common language, one has to be personally involved in it in order to share it.

These quotes suggest the importance of evaluation in determining how accessible one’s experience of change is to others. The most obvious limitation involves information that is only understood by those who have been overseas themselves.

6.2.2 Strength within the self

The description of personal change that deals with difference in knowledge about oneself leaves open the question of how this knowledge was gained with any certainty. Why should what happens overseas have anything different to say about oneself than what happens at home?

One answer is that the experience of travel contains challenges that are greater than those likely to be confronted in normal life. Therefore, of course, success in dealing with those enhances confidence in coping with difficulties here. A Medicine student spoke for the power of travel to grant confidence: ‘Because after you’ve travelled around and looked after your passport and all your money and lost things and found things and all the rest of it for five months, by the time you get home there’s not terribly much that would really phase you’ [56: 23f]. Another Medicine student gave this status of test specifically to Europe: ‘I got more confidence in a lot of ways since I’ve come back. I suppose because you think, "O well, if I can survive Europe, not knowing what was going on, I can survive anything"‘ [68: 21f]. Europe in this case provides the testing ground in which one is faced with extremes of hazard. Ability to survive overseas therefore guarantees survival at home.

The differences that emerged in this account of change concerned the perceived causes of one’s success: Does survival demonstrate one’s own personal powers or simply the lack of dangers present in life? An example of the former was an Arts student [17: 22f] who claimed that her travel in Europe demonstrated her capacity to ‘charm’ her way into and out of a variety of situations. This informant attributed her change in awareness to ‘travel’ itself: ‘It [travel] teaches you how capable you can be. And you’re the one who directly suffers if you can’t look after yourself. It’s a test’. In this account, travel provides a hazard that not all will be able to deal with.

A contrasting account is offered by a Medicine student, who related the account of being in a dangerous situation, and having her anxiety allayed. She described being followed by a group of men:

Every ‘u’ turn, every corner we took they followed us and that was really really scary. But we got there in the end, no problem, we found that place. And we just sort of said, well, you know, it just goes to show, unless something really freaky and terrible happens, you can look after yourself, and you will get through in the end. [57: 23f]

Though this student was faced with the potential evidence of her ‘inner’ strength, she ascribed her survival to less personal powers: a general behavioural principle (‘You can look after yourself.’) and trust in life (‘You will get through in the end.’). Such slogans were often referred to as lessons provided by travel that are useful for life afterwards. An Arts student [18: 24f] articulated her experience in terms of a maxim: ‘If I just persist, and persevere, I can go through it’. While this slogan was addressed to self, others were directed at an audience of potentially apprehensive prospective travellers. A Chiropody student expressed the view that even the more dependent types find a capacity to survive overseas: ‘They all eventually find their confidence and they just stay on’ [40: 24f]. The different attributions of change deal partly with the difference in access for the listener to one’s own experience: it either says something particular to the speaker or applies generally to the listener as well.

Whether or not the capacity to survive travel is attributed to personal or general powers, there are at least three assumptions made in these attributions which suggest other possible accounts of change. These three assumptions are: one, that the hazards faced overseas are likely to exceed difficulties in normal life; two, that the power to cope with these hazards remains constant independently of whether one is overseas or here; and three, that one has the authority to demonstrate these powers to oneself. Each of these assumptions has an opposing case: to the first, overseas does not reveal the discipline required of a long term commitment such as a career; to the second, like soldiers in war, one finds extraordinary powers in exceptional circumstances which do not apply to the complex web of problems in normal life; and to the third, one needs an outsider to fairly and objectively provide judgement about whether one had successfully encountered hazards overseas. I have made these three points not to point out the presence of flawed thinking, but to suggest the possibility of other accounts, such as the important role of approval gained from others at home because of one’s travel (see Section 6.2.3). There were a number of informants who incorporated the reactions of others in their accounts of increased autonomy.

6.2.3 Authority from others

The role of recognition in accounts of personal change was not limited to the reactions of friends and family on arrival back home. There were accounts which granted a critical place to the responses of others while overseas, particularly when these responses presented pictures of oneself that were alternative to those which operate at home. One such case involves a secretary (see page 3) who went overseas while still engaged to a boy back home. There was a moment in her travel when she decided not to get married to him. She was in Switzerland when her friends were discussing her plans in front of a Swiss business woman:

They happened to mention that I was getting married in September. She said, ‘Gosh, I’m 26. I can’t even imagine or begin to think about getting married. I’ve got so many things to do.’ And I suddenly thought, ‘Hey yeah’. [69: 21f]

This event reinforced the sense of alternative possibilities provided by the university interests of her friends on the trip. She described herself as being granted the ability to think about what she herself wants to do with her life, rather than what others expect her to do. She attributed the shift in consciousness to the exposure to other similarly self-oriented points of view overseas.

In a more general fashion, an Arts student attributed her career change (i.e., once an insurance broker with ‘no particular goal’ and now a ‘directed’ university student) to her encounter with others overseas. She described the difference between the self others got to ‘know’ and the career she owned to at home:

Probably the response that people had to me, that they will get to know me, and then they’ll find out I’d been an insurance broker, and they would just break out laughing. Well maybe it’s not my style. [28: 25f]

In this case, the traveller has the opportunity to present herself to others as she stands outside her roles. Here the revealing capacity of travel is located in the responses of others to oneself, rather than one’s own witness of those capacities.

A different encounter with another’s point of view concerned approval of what one aims to be rather than opening new possibilities. Here the response of the other reinforces one’s ideal aspirations. A Medicine student talked about gaining the trust of others in his new capacity as a doctor:

I had a high profile image in the community. So by the end everybody knew about Doctor David. That made me feel good in myself in the sense that I felt important. One, that I was competent in what I knew, and that I could practice that in the hospital, and secondly that other people thought I was good too. That was important. [53: 23m]

This student’s comments differ in their emphasis from those accounts which present as the audience for recognition of capacities the self rather than others. They are similar to the projected presence in life construction of an emancipatory group overseas: i.e., a group which reinforces ideals that are not officially recognised back home (e.g., the Brazilian rebels in Alex’s life). How the individuals overseas react to oneself is given special significance because they are seen to have no preconceptions about who one should be. Though Medical students are assigned responsibilities at home purely on the basis of their standing within the hospital hierarchy, regardless of their capacities, when overseas they can often stand outside of this and be free to exercise their skills.

So, taking responsibilities overseas can give such individuals the opportunity to discover their capacities. However, if the problem is lack of recognition at home, how does this experience overseas change that situation? One of the most direct changes to one’s situation at home was being given a greater role in conversations. Having been overseas made it more likely that one would be listened to. A Music student maintained that after travel one becomes ‘more interesting, more knowledgeable, more worldly’ [37: 26f]. A Medicine student talked about the increase in ‘credibility’ that results from travel:

You can know things about the world I think. But if you haven’t experienced them first hand, or experience some of them first hand, I think it most probably tends to affect your credibility as to what you know about it, ...if I’ve been to New Guinea, it’s more likely that if I say something about the land... there’s maybe a boost in credibility for me: 5%, 10%, whatever. [51: 23m]

Having been to a country gives one the right to speak on its behalf when it is brought into the conversation. This code is reflected on more directly by a participant from an older generation:

When the situation arises in a social context in Australia, I can feel more comfortable if I can say, "Yes, I’ve been there", or "When I was Rome...", while someone else is talking about it. "Yes I remember that when I was there." I often wonder whether that’s one of the reasons why I enjoy it [laugh] I suppose everybody likes to be able to say that they’ve been there. [45: 57m]

Here the importance of travel in finding a voice is identified with the condition of being Australian. That travel is an important prerequisite for credibility in Australia is reinforced by a newly graduated freelance publisher, who found that travel had filled a ‘gap’ in his social image. He related this to the peculiarly local necessity of travel to Britain: ‘I guess I think Australians are very travel-orientated. It’s almost an initiation rite to go to England. You need to have travelled. Almost to give validity to your opinions’ [49: 31m]. Another participant who talked about ‘Australians’ and travel thought that the reason ‘they’ left was ‘...so that they can come back with experiences that they can remember and tell their children about. I think there’s a thing about Australians leaving Australia’ [50: 24f]. The general assumption that a travel career grants one voice in conversation can thus be understood in terms of the specific local conditions of interest attached to particular destinations. The relationship between these destinations and the conversations of the group would reward careful analysis (some attempt is made towards this in Chapter Seven).

Besides this gain of generalised credibility, there were five other reflections on change that involved the perception of others. First, many informants noted that the question of change was not a novel one in their travel talk: they had in fact been asked this a number of times on their return from overseas. An Arts student described this question as ‘..the one that people asked the most’ [07: 26f]. This statement indicates that personal change through travel need not be viewed simply as a private experience of difference, but is something that can be placed on the stage of public life, so that on return from overseas whether or not one has changed may become a source of speculation by others. This phenomenon is not surprising given the possible consequences of change for one’s membership of social groups (see page 8).

Second, as well as being asked to provide information about personal change, there were participants who referred to the judgements cast upon themselves by others. An Arts student noted the increased respect she felt from her father after travel. This was particularly in relation to the negation of their normal role relationship: ‘He always used to discuss things, but it was as father-daughter, whereas we became more as friends, talking about things. He’d ask for my advice’ [23: 23f]. A teacher identified ‘close friends’ as noticing the difference in her: ‘Some of them thought I’d been terribly brave. Some of them did comment on how self-confident and relaxed [I was] when I got back’ [38: 30f]. While this did not exclude the power of the travellers themselves to identify change, it could at least provide reinforcement for their views.

Third, as well as having this change discovered within and from without, there were travellers who located it between themselves and another: in the dialogical relation set up by travel. A Medicine student saw change in the developing communication through letters with an ex-girlfriend; he discovered a ‘genuine’ voice that expresses feeling rather than a simple chronicle of events that could have written by anyone:

I wrote quite a few letters to her and she could see the style of my letters changing. They’d changed from some sort of: ‘I’ve been here, I’ve been there, I’ve been there’, to: ‘Today I feel like this and that, I wasn’t too happy about what happened to me yesterday, which was, because, the reason I wasn’t so happy was’—talking about my feelings on that particular day, which seemed a bit more genuine [27: 23m]

The friend corroborates the change in voice as demonstrated in the space of travel correspondence. Of course, this may be a rhetorical strategy that is employed by the traveller: it gives credibility to a claim of greater authority by referring to an opinion outside of oneself. However, both possibilities assume the importance of showing oneself to another, which differs from those travellers who speak only from their own witness.

Fourth, granting the role of recognition to others necessarily entails the possibility that one’s sense of personal change after travel will be denied. There was a number of instances where the traveller’s sense of change was disputed by others on return. In the case of a nurse, the absence of recognition of her change back home was understood in relation to the special status attached to being a traveller:

I felt different and I found it very difficult to just pick up where I left off. I wanted to go on, I wanted to share that fact that I had, well, I felt I had changed in that time...But then at the same time I felt a bit awkward, because I remember when [a close friend] came back last time thinking, ‘Well I’ve been stuck at home and done nothing and he’s been out there travelling and [...I] wouldn’t begin to understand.’ And I didn’t want that same thing to happen to the people back here, because I didn’t feel that I’d done anything that was any better than anyone here. [12: 24f]

There are two propositions in this statement. First, it is assumed that travel involves experiences that are beyond the knowledge of people whose life has been limited to Australia; and second, that talking about them is taking a superior position towards others: travellers are an elite. Rather than put herself in that position, this traveller presents the group as one with problems that require an empathetic understanding. Having travelled grants one this understanding, just as having been an alcoholic helps one empathise with their problems. Such a picture is a counter to the elitist claim, though it still serves to both define the group and weaken the right of outsiders to make claims about it.

This implicit understanding of the elitist nature of travelling is brought out in a different way by reports of alterations to one’s social network at home on the basis of who corroborates one’s perceived change of character: those who deny one’s change are no longer counted as friends. One Arts student said that most people had noticed her greater ‘self-reliance’, though, ‘Some of my old friends don’t really understand me any more. Even my oldest friend, that I’ve known since I was two’ [28: 25f]. Though it was never explicitly referred to as a ‘betrayal’, this account suggested a judgement brought upon friends who were unable to accept the changes consequent to travel. Another perspective to this phenomenon is suggested in the claim of a Medicine student [43: 23m] that before he left friends had conveyed to him their fear that he would change while overseas and no longer require their friendship.

This loss of friends was sometimes viewed not negatively, but as an inevitable change which travel served to hasten. An Arts student [13: 23m] claimed his new friends accepted the change in him, whereas he ignored the old friends from school who could not understand. In terms of groups, travel might be seen to resemble that phase of musical chairs when the music is playing: one is granted the freedom to choose which group to belong to. Though, when the music stops and one returns there is still the possibility that the travel experience finds no audience.

Indeed, there were accounts of a defeated sense of difference. This Arts student talked about an initial period of change:

I came back really enthusiastic with these ideas and thoughts but, um, I think, I don’t know, they weren’t really tangible anyway and eventually I just sort of assumed that I had a very similar role within the network of my friends and family that I had before. [09: 24m]

Initial enthusiasm eventually gives way to a defeated sense of continuity: in this case an unchanged passive relationship to others. For his own reasons, this traveller did not choose to pursue a new ground of friends who would reflect the new sense of possibility.

The failure of others to acknowledge change was sometimes attributed to the dramatic management of return. A freelance editor saw the lack of recognition of his change as due to the absence of any physical alteration:

Most thought I hadn’t changed. Or at least that had been their initial reaction. I think I have changed. But certainly physically I haven’t changed much. I don’t seem to look very different [49: 31m].

A mirror reflection of this concern comes from the case of a Medicine student [27: 23m], who felt that arriving home with a new haircut might be seen by some as an illegitimate claim to have changed. What these cases demonstrate is the amount of consideration professed by some informants on how others make sense, not only of one’s change, but one’s claim to have changed.

In the fifth and final type of reflection on other’s perceptions, it is worth noting the statement of one participant which identified the change of travel with the loss of this dependence on others for recognition. A Science student spoke of not needing a ‘witness’ any more:

I think that’s somehow like we change. I guess when you’re young and you want someone to know everything about what you do. You have to share it with someone otherwise, it’s almost like a witness. I think to come back from travelling you don’t need that any more. You need it less. [36: 23f]

Her unease with the possible contradiction involved in telling the interviewer about no longer needing to share her experiences is suggested by the absence of the first person pronoun when she identifies the agency subject to this change: ‘...you don’t need that anymore’. Nevertheless, her statement provides an alternative picture to the one which attributes change to the recognition of others.

In the talk concerned with the forces behind change one of the major differences concerned the figure who is cast in the role of acknowledging its occurrence. This difference applied particularly to the recognition of one’s capacities while overseas. These attributions varied in their allowance of autonomy. Some informants claimed their survival overseas was due to a trait particular to themselves, while others attributed this to a picture of the world in which all are likely to be secure. While these informants did not necessarily involve others in the recognition of their change, others granted a critical role to the acknowledgement by other groups of one’s change: this sometimes became a hazard that required a shift in group membership on return from overseas, occasionally it even involved an identification with an anonymous group of people whose common tie is the experience of travel. In some cases this recognition was treated more pragmatically and the conversational credit one gains from owning up to travel was identified as the reason for increased confidence. There were informants also who included encounters with others overseas in their account of change; they talked particularly of how they were perceived by others who did not have preconceptions about who they were. In this case participants discovered at least one group to whom they could present a new capacity.

There was, therefore, a significant part of travel talk which concerned changes in what others think of oneself, as evidenced particularly in the place one is given in conversations. It is not surprising that much travel talk was also concerned with exercising that place: talking about the world and offering advice on travel. In the next section, I will present a summary of this talk. Given the emphasis on conversation as the region of personal change, it is importance to understand the points that can be made which enable one to exercise this capacity to comment on the world.

6.3 Reflections on difference

In this section, quotes are presented that provide a range of the points expressed and an attempt is made to identify what is happening in them. The generalisations about the world entailed reflections on the differences encountered overseas. These reflections amounted to views about the constitution of difference, particularly regarding the differences between present and past, and between those who inhabit separate places. These reflections most frequently employed the categories: ‘people’, ‘world’, and ‘history’. These will be examined separately.

6.3.1 People

As discussed in Chapter One, making sense of ‘people’ is the basic object of inquiry in the field of social cognition. In this field, it is assumed that making sense occurs privately, in the form of an ever-present accumulation of data and its consequent processing. In travel talk, however, informants engage in a public discourse about ‘people’. Looked at from this perspective, it is less an intrapersonal ‘cognitive’ logic which subsumes the sense made of others, and more the conversational moment in which these statements are uttered. In order to understand what the category of ‘people’ refers to, it is necessary to begin with a description of the moments in which it is employed.

6.3.1.1 Meeting the people

One of the uses of ‘people’ was to mark a particular practice of travel which involved conversations with strangers. This was contrasted with forms of travel which kept to tourist routes and involved little interaction with locals.

One consequence of this reference to ‘people’ was to reinforce the unique experience that travellers have in being there. A group that consisted of two Medicine students and a legal secretary spoke at length about the significance of dialogue with foreigners:

-Through talking to them [people] you learn so much about the way of life. More so from talking to people than reading about it. [...] Cos you hear from their experiences what it’s really like [68: 21f]

-I think myself, that you can go overseas, and go from tourist attraction to tourist attraction, and have a quick look at everything. But you don’t really take it in unless you get to know some of the people in each country. [68: 21f]

-It’s like going to slide show and seeing the Eiffel Tower, and seeing the leaning tower of Pisa, and just sort of looking at it all, it doesn’t mean anything. The fact that we got to know the people. Or if you’d associated it with the people that you’d met there, it means a lot more. [68: 21f]

-Yeah. [69: 21f]

-And you can find a bit more about it too. Like a guide book can tell you so much, but there’s always little local things thrown in, little.. Just something that makes it more interesting, or you remember. [70: 20m]

This group appears to devalue the tourist experience in favour of a form of travel which infiltrates the foreign world: finding out what the people who live there think and say. ‘Getting to know the people’ facilitates a greater individual appropriation of the journey: it ‘means’ more, ‘you remember’, and ‘take it in’. ‘People’ here indicates a level below the surface of travel on which one might more readily inscribe one’s own journey: one has something to say that is different to general opinion. The category ‘people’ thus provides a setting in which the individuality of the traveller is more clearly announced.

‘Meeting the people’ generally involved confronting prior assumptions of overseas. One moves away from the publicly shared knowledge of the world to a more privately acquired understanding. This process was not only talked about in relation to tourism: it was sometimes given a moral significance. The following extract from the talk of an Arts student contrasts stereotyped preconceptions with his own experience in becoming acquainted with the inhabitants:

It’s fine to mix with people in Melbourne with whom you know of different cultures but you’re still seeing them in your circumstance and you can relate them to things you understand, but when you see people where they’re at home and you’re the outsider, you really learn a lot more about them as being different people and I think you find that people all over the place are generally friendly... I didn’t know what to expect meeting Arabs for the first time, but they’re just as lovely as any people I’ve ever met. [...] And so when I met them, that broadens your mind and I can speak about parts of that world now at least with some knowledge of what’s going on [...] I think anyone who gets the opportunity to travel ought to travel. [20: 25m]

The informant appears to be contrasting two pictures of overseas: one constructed from home and the other gained by having been overseas. The suspicion of others (e.g., Jews for Arabs) felt by those living here is based on narrow group interests. By contrast, a picture of others based on the experience of meeting the people overseas reveals an underlying friendliness of ‘people’, one that warrants trust, and is seen to be a more ‘correct’ picture, which everyone should accept through the experience of travel.

In certain cases, therefore, ‘meeting the people’ entailed the creation of trust and a perspective beyond a particular group interest. There were, however, opposite evaluations made about ‘people’. Sometimes travel was demonstrated to reinforce a wariness towards ‘people’. A nurse spoke of the maturing function of travel in terms of how it helps one lose naiveté about ‘people’:

There’s always people looking for tourists to con. You’ve got to be able to pick the genuine people from the cons, from the manipulators. So it teaches you a lot about people. Sometimes you get hurt in the process, but it teaches you to be more careful next time. [48: 28m]

Though he did not extend his verdict of swindler to all people, nonetheless the effect is to advise caution towards strangers, at least until one has earned through extensive travel experience the ability to judge appearances.

In travel talk, therefore, the phrase ‘meeting the people’ may be seen to entail a journey which goes beyond surface expectations of others and allows the traveller to individually own the experience of travel. Such a journey allows one to arrive at a verdict about human nature which reinforces attitudes of either trust or caution towards strangers. Generally, ‘meeting the people’ necessitates relinquishing the racial prejudices that operate at home.

6.3.1.2 Reading people

Apart from the general apprehension of ‘people’ beyond the surface of prior expectations, there were more specific accounts of how the inner nature of ‘people’ can be read into one’s encounters with strangers. This ability to ‘read’ ‘people’ goes beyond the simple fact of having met them, and involves an ability to interpret their behaviour.

The outcome of reading people is not only advice about the best attitude towards strangers, but also the construction of a psychology by which one can account for differences and establish similarities between people. For example, this informant, a teacher, presented her reading of ‘people’ as based on a psychology of underlying self-interest:

No matter how generous you are, everybody really is concerned for themselves. I think it’s really natural, cos the world does revolve around you, cause that’s the only thing you really know. [24: 36f]

Overt generosity hides a covert selfishness. Rather than see this as morally bad, though, the informant provided a view of the limits of human nature which placed this narrowness as beyond the choice of any individual. The attitude presented here might be a wariness of others tempered by a tolerance of their self-interest.

This construction shares with many others the assumption that a common ground of ‘people’ is a set of basic fears and desires. According to an Arts student, these underlie the surface variety of ‘people’: ‘People have the same fears but they express them differently and have different solutions to get above them’ [31: 23m]. A nurse extended this to cover the different political systems ‘people’ were under. In extending the argument about the equality of ‘human beings’ she claimed that, despite their ideological differences, these governments were ‘...all seeking the same thing’ [12: 24f]. What brings ‘people’ together thus seems to be a common objective; what makes them different is the means towards this objective. Here, the psychology being offered suggests a patience towards difference, supported by a hope that a common interest will eventually be identified.

There were exceptions to these universalist psychologies. One picture limited sameness to a particular section of ‘people’: farmers. A Chiropody student claimed that one of the goals in her travel was to identify the basic characteristics of farmers across the world. In her judgement: ‘All farmers throughout the world are the same’ [40: 24f]. However, this sameness was not based on common interests, but rather it was grounded on a shared reliance on nature for subsistence: the universality of the elements generated an affinity of character.

Another exception entailed a more conditional reading of ‘people’: ‘people’ can be either good or bad depending on the circumstances. A caterer spoke of her impressions in dealing with ‘people’ overseas:

And they’re funny, if they feel comfortable with you they’ll pretty well do anything for you, but if they don’t, they won’t do a thing, they’ll just ignore you. [06: 28f]

In this statement, ‘people’ appear to be ‘funny’ because they do not have one unified nature. However, there is a logic underlying this fickleness: if strangers trust you, they themselves will be trustworthy. The ‘funny’ nature of people therefore does not deny the possibility of action: by making ‘people’ feel ‘comfortable’ one can engineer their assistance.

The different ways in which travellers talked about making sense of ‘people’ seem to perform two actions: making manifest the individual nature of the journey and providing advice about how to approach strangers. The social cognition model does not take into account the ways in which making sense can be useful in this sense. The conversational setting is understood here as one where conditions of entry demand that potential contributors need to establish their individual voice and to offer something which might be of use to the listener.

Thus far, travel talk includes claims to speak on behalf of the ‘people’: to demonstrate one’s contact with them and provide useful information about them. A more abstract representation of ‘people’ presented a discovery of their ‘power’.

6.3.1.3 Power of people

As well as the traveller making sense of ‘people’, there were references to the converse situation: the incidents of ‘people’ making sense of the traveller. Some informants pointed to the intervention of the general term ‘people’ as marking a difference in their lives.

At one level there was the expression of gratitude to the ‘people’ encountered overseas. A Medicine student spoke of returning home with the revelation of sameness gained from ‘people’:

You come back with the feeling that you’ve learnt so much from people...people do exist on the other side of the world, and they do speak different languages, and they are educated differently or whatever, but they’re just the same. [32: 24f]

Travel is an education for which ‘people’ are the teachers. By virtue of ‘people’ being open to the traveller, she claimed to be able to witness the underlying common nature they share. In another appreciation of ‘people’, a Medicine student described his dependence on them in a strange hospital: ‘People were very friendly’ [59: 27m]. His experience advised that others could be turned to for assistance when one is in the situation of not knowing how to go on.

As well as the trust rewarded by the friendliness of ‘people’, there were accounts of travel which claimed the inevitability of dealing with them. A Medicine student provided an almost confessional account of his insulation from ‘people’ prior to his overseas journey:

I was very easily satisfied with just being a student in Australia and living over in Fitzroy and having everything comfortable. [...] I suddenly realised that if you’re going to get on, you’ve got to be able to talk to people. You’ve got to be prepared to get out, to see what they do, and start to travel and find out what else is out there in the world. [54: 24m]

One makes progress in life only through ‘people’: if one retreats from the world and avoids ‘people’ one will not get anywhere. Travel here is presented as a means for gaining the contact with ‘people’ that is necessary to advancement.

A similar point is made by a nurse who reported feeling more ‘centred’ and confident after being overseas. When asked the reason for this, she replied:

By contact with other people more than anything. People from all different walks of life and different ideas and watching how they respond to situations and seeing how they respond to you. [...] all I saw was the few friends that I had here, the close ones. [...] You fit in and you take each other for granted and I hadn’t really pushed myself or tested myself in any way beforehand. And there [overseas...] you’re taken on face value often, and there’s no back up - "Oh we’ve known you for so long, so we know it’s a bad day for you." You’re just there. You see what comes. [12: 24f]

In this statement ‘people’ are seen as judges of one’s real present self, in contrast to the forgiving nature of friends. This traveller attributed her more directed life to the interactions with strangers: they provided her with a screen on which she could project her real self.

The category ‘people’ thus fills a number of roles in travel talk. ‘Meeting the people’ provides authentication of one’s individual appropriation of overseas, in contrast to stereotypical pictures available at home. The inherent similarity of ‘people’ is set against the dominant characterisations of national differences that are experienced by tourists. ‘Reading people’ presents general schematisations of similarity and difference which are helpful in dealing with strangers. The psychological construction here is structurally identical to the nineteenth century notion of ‘function’, as claimed by Cuvier (see Foucault, 1970)[3], where difference proliferates on the surface, masking a similarity of function (e.g., breathing) within. Differences between people are explained as alternative means to the same end. And the ‘power of people’ presents an agency which is granted the capacity to pass judgement on one’s self. Through travel one can bring oneself before ‘people’ in order to find out who one is; alternatively, one can hide from the world and avoid this kind of surrender.

These roles for ‘people’ suggest that it carries more weight in travel talk than in the actual experience of being overseas. In each case, it is possible to grant this term a function which is independent of its representational capacity: it individuates the traveller; it advises a psychology for meeting strangers; and it indicates the authority which legitimises knowledge gained while overseas. By contrast, the object or force represented by ‘people’ would be almost impossible to identify: what is it that transforms the individual encounters one has with strangers overseas into the generalised process of ‘meeting the people’? I would suggest that the answer lies in the way it is talked about at home. Like the use of the ‘fiction’ reference (see Section Error! Reference source not found.), ‘people’ lays out the space in which returned travellers can make claims about the conversational credibility and interest of their experience.

6.3.2 World

The second term to be considered from travel talk is ‘world’. The meaning of ‘world’ is less evident than it would be for ‘people’: ‘people’ are found in the ‘world’. One might assume that ‘world’ refers to a framing concept that links the separate spaces which intersect the traveller’s trajectory. Like the category ‘people’, the analysis begins with its use in a conversational context.

6.3.2.1 Seeing the world

Like ‘meeting the people’, ‘seeing the world’ provides a ground from which the speaker can cast judgement. Rather than a picture of the trustworthiness of human nature, though, ‘world’ is more often related to an evaluation of the worth of life at home.

One of the common constructions of ‘world’ involved a parenting style relationship: a larger, more complex, older world on the outside of a smaller, more innocent and younger Australia. The particular passage of the individual traveller from home to the ‘world’ was sometimes presented as an inevitable exposure of childish egocentricity. A Medicine student talked about this discovery in terms of the awareness of how cosseted life was at home. He was addressing the question of whether travel is important for everyone:

You know you come back to Australia and you really appreciate these other cultures so much more. Just that feeling that the world is not Australia. That the world’s not Melbourne. There’s so much more going on. India: that’s a good experience to see how lucky we are, how affluent we are, and yet how... it sounds so corny, it’s a great culture even though they are really poor. Yeah, I think it’s essential. [52: 23f]

One can believe that the world is what can be seen at home, or one can travel the world and experience differences that give one a sense of what one’s own place is like. For this traveller, seeing the world is the basis for her evaluation of home: we are luckier but not necessary better than other countries. The point for her is the importance of knowing how lucky one is.

This element of concern may be seen as advice directed towards listeners about how they should get on living in Australia. A Science Ph.D. student explained that staying in USA had prompted her to think that Australians should care more about what they have: ‘We really ought to be aware of what we’ve got and look after it’ [26: 30f]. This imperative to gain awareness was reinforced by the message: what is taken for granted here is easily lost outside. The failure to recognise this was identified by this Arts student as a national trait:

I suppose one thing that is an Australian characteristic is ‘She’ll be right’ type thing—not particularly organising, and not being particularly competitive and particularly ambitious. [07: 26f]

The voice claimed by the informants in this type of statement is that of a guardian: ‘Watch out!’ Having encountered the trials of the ‘world’, the traveller is in the position to admonish ‘Australia’ for not managing itself so that it could survive them.

As with most positions in travel talk, there were opposite points of view presented. A teacher spoke from the experience of seeing political chaos in Africa. She agreed that Australia’s position was as ‘..a real backwater in world politics’ [38: 30f]. Nevertheless, she said that, ‘... having seen what civil wars and revolutions can do’, Australia’s innocence was preferable to political turmoil. Though the picture is the same as the one above—a harsh world and a protected ‘Australia’—the resulting advice is the opposite: to reinforce the boundaries between here and there rather than open Australia to the world.

Other positive evaluations of Australia referred to recognition of an emotional resonance to familiar elements unique to living in Australia: the sense of space, smell of eucalyptus, city gardens, blue hills, etc. Here the significance of taken for granted elements is made present by the experience of their absence overseas. Apart from these idiosyncratic recognitions, there was no talk about the historical destiny of Australia.

6.3.2.2 Power of the world

‘World’ can be used as a source of evaluations about one’s place at home. It thus organises differences between nations. But there is also a difference within each nation according to whether or not one possesses experience of this ‘world’. One of the expressions of this difference was the ignorant and dissatisfied attitude of those who stay at home. A Medicine student said:

I think it’s important to see how the rest of the world is. If all the people were forced to travel and to see what it was like, they’d be more happy to be here. They’d realise that it’s a really nice place to live in. [60: 32m]

If others travelled they would see what I saw and they would appreciate the value of where they live. This proposition puts travellers in the position of those who know and can therefore evaluate a national state of affairs. Knowledge of the ‘world’ authorises one to make statements such as: ‘Don’t complain, it could be much worse.’

As well as the universal relevance of ‘world’, some travellers claimed a specific individual meaning for their passage. For example, a Science student spoke of how his horizons had been ‘broadened’ after travel, and his exposure to the ‘world’ had made the news of overseas that comes home more meaningful:

My eyes now are focused on much more than just Australia. I like to read about what’s happening, I skim at least the world news sections of the papers just to see what’s happening. I’m interested in overseas news. [I take a...] one world concept than just Australia and a whole lot of different nations around the world. In a sense a patriotism not for Australia but for the world. [30: 22m]

The ‘world’ does not simply help one evaluate one’s own place, but opens one to the concerns of other nations as well. Though still living in Australia, this informant’s horizon has changed from what he could see to what he reads about in the newspapers. Like the other statements, he testified to the world as a space where events ‘happen’. Though rather than use this to identify the good fortune which exempts Australia from this danger, he finds in it grounds for claiming an active concern for the ‘world’.

‘World’, therefore, may be seen as a framing concept that contains differences by which one’s own place might be evaluated. Those who have passed through the ‘world’ are granted the right to pass judgement on their place. Generally, travellers in this study evaluated Australia as being a safe country in a dangerous world. They differed about where the focus of their concern lay: Australia or the world. Compared to ‘people’, ‘world’ is a category that deals with collective identity rather than relations between strangers. While ‘people’ was often framed in a psychology of basic common desires, ‘world’ worked in the opposite direction towards transcendence of subjective need. The practical use of ‘people’ involved the problematics of how to approach strangers—‘world’ related to the question of where to live.

6.3.3 History

Given the liminal status of travel that has been established in travel talk (see Section Error! Reference source not found.), one might expect the use of the category ‘history’ to denote a conflation of past and present. To bring it into relation with the other two terms, ‘people’ and ‘world’, though, one needs to identify the question it regards.

6.3.3.1 Sense of history

In some ways, ‘history’ functioned in the same manner as ‘world’. It was presented as a means of questioning where one exists by both providing a transcendental picture and offering a different account of where one came from. In contrast to ‘people’ it did not suggest going ‘behind the scenes’. An Arts student spoke of an initial motivation to go to Israel based on his ‘personal history’. This was replaced by curiosity about ‘the history of the culture’: ‘It didn’t concern me where I lived in, it more concerned me the house that the first President of Israel lived in’ [15: 21m]. He referred here to two histories: the specific personal biography and the general collective story. The common element was the practice of habitation and the difference concerned whether it was personally or collectively significant.

Collective significance was also indicated in the phrase ‘sense of history’. This phrase usually denoted a phenomenon that was new to the traveller. For instance, an Agriculture student described what he felt was important about being with relatives in Ireland, compared to his family’s home in country Victoria:

There was a sense of belonging, a sense of history. Like I was related to everyone in this particular region, and this particular area that I spent most time in. And my family had lived there for hundreds of years. So the sense of community was also a sense of belonging. You were much more closely associated. Where the town my parents come from there is a sense of community [but] there isn’t the sense of belonging: it’s very transient. You’ve got people who haven’t lived there for more than two generations. [02: 21m]

Overseas people are not strangers to each other, whereas at home the connections between people and place are weaker. The participant managed this difference by assigning Ireland the status of his ‘spiritual’ home, and claiming Australia as the place where his career lies. ‘History’ here marks Ireland as a place of sameness between people, contrasted with the competitive nature of life at home.

One of the elements in the above case involved ‘history’ as a device for framing one’s account of travel overseas within the terms set by one’s family. What is a marginal form of life in the public culture here is granted collective significance overseas. This then becomes part of one’s individuality back in the home culture. This ‘sense of history’ is a means of taking something seriously which is considered unimportant at home. Such a process did not only occur in direct reference to family. A Biology Ph.D. student described how actually being inside churches overseas helped make sense of what had before appeared to be ‘ridiculous’ elements of the Catholic religion, such as the interior design of churches. The ground for this sense was ‘history’:

And then I began to realise, that a lot of the belamy crap [...] has actually got an historical relevance, and I can only look at the crap, but in actual fact, it is historically, there was a point to [it] historically. [33: 26f]

Europe reveals the hidden reason behind the unexplained traditions that had formed life back at home.

Here are two uses for a ‘sense of history’: a division within self of collective and individual goals; and an ability to account for the origins of institutions that form one’s life at home. One use informs a discontinuity between overseas and home, whereas the other asserts a historical link. The latter is the second use of ‘history’.

6.3.3.2 The link with history

Another traveller who combined an interest in collective history with her own specific project of making personal contact with relatives chose to structure her English trip by interweaving a tour of the historical architecture with a study of family graveyards. She described standing in Westminster Abbey: ‘...this really shabby little stone building, and saying, "Gee, it’s been here for a thousand years"‘ [38: 30f]. English history provided a more encompassing frame to her own search for family history—something that was demonstrated when the two histories intersected in wars and epidemics.

At a more abstract level, one traveller conflated the powers of history and family and talked about paternal structure of the family as a metaphor for her experience of history during her visit to the Acropolis:

That is the beginning, if we want to call it the Acropolis we’ll just use that. It’s like the father and we’re just the part of the family. If that hadn’t have happened, if the Greeks hadn’t been there, we probably wouldn’t be here or we would be living differently or I could be different, I could be Jewish, or Polish. [06: 28f]

History is a source event for the world, just as one’s father is a source event for oneself. This traveller continued her account to link the human project present throughout history with her own vocational activities. Here history reinforces rather than disconnects one’s life at home.

6.3.3.3 Reading history

There was a third use of history which did not entail the question of how life here and overseas were linked. ‘History’ is presented here as a space within which ‘people’ are represented. A teacher talked about the continuity of misbehaviour in contemporary youth and figures she had seen on an ancient Egyptian tomb: ‘Human nature has not changed: people are people’ [41: 60f]. Her son spoke more generally for the information gained from ‘history’ about similarities and differences that make up ‘people’. In explaining why he spent so much of his time looking at museums and art galleries, he described his thoughts on examining a relic:

‘Gee I know what those things are! That would have been in a temple and that would have been here and that would have meant this and this to people.’ And the same in China and anywhere we go. It’s the history. By looking at the history you get a feel of what people were like then and what were the issues for them. It makes life now have more sense to me. You look at why people fought wars a thousand years ago and it puts into perspective why people fight wars nowadays. [48: 28m]

History offers the promise that a diversity of human behaviour will be rendered meaningful, as though it is the expression an actor on the stage of world events. It provides a scene of difficulty by which to measure human capacities. The ‘world’ reveals the diversity of ‘people’, ‘history’ shows their limits and strengths.

Travel talk has revealed three uses for ‘history’: it marks a compartment of self in which one engages with a ideal community of shared interest; it grants one the capacity to tell the story that claims overseas as the origin of the forms of life at home; and it enables one to read into artifacts overseas the spirit that unites the experience of societies and individuals across time.

This examination of the ‘grand concepts’ of travel talk—people, world and history—provides examples of how a conversational authority about overseas is exercised. Freed from direct reference to personal change, such references may be seen as indirect demonstrations of the power of travel. What role have such terms played in travel talk?

6.3.4 People, world and history

Table 6.i Difference and Individual Voice in Three Grand Concepts of Travel

CONCEPT      DIFFERENCE            INDIVIDUAL VOICE

People              Strangers                      Beyond the stereotypes

World              Points of view               Knowing one’s place

History             Past                              Universal spirit

Table 6 presents the ‘grand concepts’ of travel talk in terms of the differences they cover and the particular types of voice they warrant in the conversation. In each of these three terms, travel talk has been concerned with bridging differences. The issue of ‘people’ is expressed largely in terms of the degrees of trust advised in approaching strangers. Sometimes this involves seeing behind the surface appearance presented by foreigner. It also can entail a theory of an underlying common nature: primarily a functionalist picture based on universal ends. ‘World’ relates to the space traversed in the encounter with strangers. Seeing the world is associated with understanding ‘people’ and transcending an egocentric concern for where home is: one confronts a point of view different from one’s own. This provides the context for thinking about where one should live. ‘History’ is related to the practice of reading into sites evidence of how life was conducted in the past. As such, it provides an archive into which one could read theories of human nature, as well as entertain the idea of a sense that underlies superficially strange phenomena.

A general conversational function of talk about ‘people’, ‘world’, and ‘history’ was to distinguish between individuals. These terms traversed a boundary that separated those with travel knowledge from those without. ‘Seeing the world’ grants one the capacity to appreciate one’s place—the untravelled live without knowing where they are. Gaining a ‘sense of history’ resembled the pilgrimage experience of gaining contact with a universal spirit—those at home live unconnected with the common human fate. In the case of ‘meeting the people’, this difference occurred within those who travel. Tourists consume a homogenized and stereotyped picture of the world—those who ‘meet the people’ come back with individual experiences that contradict this picture. One general use of these three terms is therefore to distinguish one’s place in a conversation from the common voice of others. More specifically, one can speak on behalf of ‘people’ as they are revealed to resist prejudices of others, one can awaken others to the ‘world’ and their place in it, and one can remind others of where they come from and the expectations this entails.

In this way, the ‘general concepts’ may be seen to provide credibility to one’s individual contribution to a conversation. Yet this use does not fully account for the travellers’ statements. It was evident that these statements did reinforce certain positions about the nature of things, especially the proposition that beneath ‘superficial’ differences people are the same in their needs. Travel may be thus seen to grant entry into a field of propositions that form arguments in which one can locate one’s own experience of being overseas. These arguments relate eventually to practical issues: how open one should be; where one should live; what one works for, etc. Being able to contribute to these arguments may be seen as the point to much travel talk which makes possible the exchange between listener and audience.

6.4 Summary

The travel talk presented in this chapter has important implications for an understanding of how one makes sense of personal change in a region outside the laboratory. In these two chapters there has been a wide variety of material presented. As promised earlier, I will now present a summary of the main points and provide links with points made in previous chapters.

6.4.1 Travel and personal change

There were two types of personal change spoken of by informants. The first concerned an increased capacity to go about on one’s own. This capacity entailed not only survival in an environment which lacked familiar supports, but also the authority to hold an opinion about oneself and the world. The second type of personal change involved the ability to go about with others, particularly to tolerate views that are different to one’s own: travel allowed one to see beyond one’s preconceptions and expected roles.

Table 6.ii Two Types of Personal Change in Travel Talk

STATE            CHANGE                    PROJECT

Different           Confident, independentSocial identity

Same                Relaxed, tolerant           Personal identity


2 relates these two types of change to the general state of oneself in relation to others as implied in the projects of social and personal identity discussed by Harré (1983) and found in the process of life construction (see Chapter Four). Social identity involves gaining a place for oneself in a community from which one can actively engage with others: one can claim a role which enables one to speak for oneself in conversation with others. And personal identity refers to a unique characterisation of self beyond defined roles: ‘people’ are distinguished from their official social place. These two projects provide the ground by which a life may be constructed: the individual acquisition of agency lays the ground for the personal use of that agency.

Harré proposes that an individual’s identity is granted by the modes of conversation that operate in a community. Therefore, the acquisition of agency entails finding an active place for oneself in this conversation. The development of autonomy can be understood as the attainment of powers to speak for oneself, primarily grounded in the acquisition of language. The travel talk presented in this chapter serves as a demonstration of Harré’s model. Speaking for oneself was talked about on two levels: a personal knowledge about oneself (‘now I know’) and license to enter the conversation (‘now people listen’). How was this capacity to speak granted?

One of the ways which informants accounted for their increased autonomy was in talk of the discovery overseas of a group which is able to embrace elements of one’s identity which are treated as ‘different’ at home. The construction of a travel space which positions the traveller in the marginal forms of life—in dreams, fiction, family—is seen to grant centre stage to an element of one’s experience which is not part of official public life (e.g., the interest in medieval legends of knights). Harré claims that personal being is constructed in a process of ‘metaphorical transformation’, in which private experience finds a public language. Though Harré discusses this process in the abstract, examination of travel talk leads one to hypothesise the possibility that such transformations in identity are negotiated spatially in a community: i.e., there are locations where what one takes as private and different about one’s life can be granted a voice in the conversation of public life. This possibility is reinforced in examination of the life constructions where the course of a character’s life was often guided by the recognition through travel of an identity which is marginal at home, often seen as a ‘loner’. Here what one normally takes as different is treated as the same: people overseas ‘live’ in works of art and history which are marginal to life at home. Overseas is the place from which one can speak for oneself here. More generally, speech on behalf of ‘people’, ‘world’, and ‘history’ satisfies what Gergen (1989) calls warranting conventions—the codes by which conversational powers are distributed in a community. This points to the existence of conversational groups for whom overseas experience is a source of personal credit to be expended not only in travel talk but also in speech about the things in general.

This was one way in which social identity was constructed through travel; what about personal identity? Here the unanticipated ‘difference’ discovered overseas concerns the revelation of a ‘sameness’ that resists the easy stereotyping which is used at home. This surprise was related to the accounts of greater tolerance of others after travel, and the recognition that people have a life outside of their prescribed roles. In life construction, characters acknowledged their dependence on others within a pendulated narrative; this narrative concerned their confrontation with someone opposite to themselves, in whom they could recognise a sameness; e.g., Nicola’s acknowledgement that it was only by circumstance that she was not living as one of the African peasants for whom she build houses.

In travel talk, there was a point that was parallel to the discovery of intolerance for others: one sees in oneself the intolerance one had previously projected onto others. There is, however, a greater range of accounts which dealt with a confrontation while overseas with the unexpected point of view of another person. Reports of greater tolerance of others came from incidents where informants described an encounter with a foreigner of whom certain expectations about that person and oneself were shown to be false. The change here concerned not so much finding a place for oneself, but being able to engage with others outside of pre-established conventions. In these cases, the traveller is shown to confront what is the same from a background which anticipates difference.

In talk about travel, therefore, the complementary constructions of social and personal identity seem to presume a cultural space that can give expression to a form of life which is marginalised in normal life: either one’s own difference is made the same as other’s, or other’s difference is shown to belong to the same. Such a cultural space is obviously granted a certain role in changing one’s perception of the order of things. This role was given particular emphasis in travel talk.

6.4.2 The demonstrative capacities of travel

It was suggested at the conclusion of the previous chapter that travel performed the function of a laboratory in revealing oneself. After examining the material from travel talk, it is possible to be more precise about this analogy.

As a scientific endeavour the understanding of making sense evokes similarities and differences in the travel talk material. The scientific laboratory and travel space are both means by which individual can stand apart from the rest of the community. The isolation of the travel space from the influence of the roles and stereotypes that govern behaviour in normal life resembles the condition of the experimental laboratory in psychology, where subjects are examined outside of the opinions and preconceptions they have of themselves: the experimental subjects are rarely asked what they believe they think. Similarly, the information which is gleaned from travel space involves a separation into those who are limited by their narrow self-serving perceptions of the world, and those who travel. This division is analogous to the separation in social cognition experiments between the subjects whose perception of the world is biased in favour of their previous beliefs (e.g., Markus & Zajonc, 1985) and scientists who are aware of the information ignored by the subjects.

However, while hypothesis testing characterises the dominant methodology in psychology experiments, this is paralleled by only one of the ways travel reveals personal capacities. The extreme hazard perceived to apply in finding one’s way around overseas without support was seen to provide oneself with a test in which one could succeed or fail. The outcome of this test could then be evaluated as the effect of particular personal powers. While this mode of revealing makes real what was previously thought possible, it does not account for the discovery of new possibilities. Travel was also presented as an education. The lessons to be taught in this case included the relative security offered by life overseas, the degree of trust one should have in strangers, and the limits of one’s previous point of view. Though the metaphor of scientist serves to point to the presence of travel as an authorised space for constructing pictures of oneself and others, it tells only half the story about how this is done.

A more extended range of similarities is offered by the travel paradigms presented in Chapter Five. The testing capacity of travel is analogous to the paradigm of vision quest. The space of vision quest is parallel to normal life: it provides an ordeal in which the capacities of the individual are tested without supports, during which particular fateful traits of the individual are revealed. The educative capacity of travel shares elements with the paradigms of pilgrimage and adventure. Like pilgrimage, travel here entailed making a link between oneself and historical sources—whether world, family or personal history—while at the same time affirming a basic common link between people outside the hierarchical standing in the community. At the same time, one’s experience overseas provided conversational capital, taking the form of an individual point of view cast against dominant opinion. Such a mode of revealing is similar to the world revealed through adventure, where the hero returns from unknown territories.

In general terms, the paradigm of vision quest seems to perform the function of constructing a social identity: expressing in a public symbolic language one’s unique characteristics. Correspondingly, travel as pilgrimage serves to reveal one’s personal identity: a common spirit that exists beyond the structural relationship between individuals. One element that is understated in this picture of travel talk is the actual recognition granted by others. Informants sometimes talked about their change in terms of the picture they had of themselves; what about the picture others had of them? Bakhtin’s (1981) description of the chronotopes in the Western literature works on the difference between heroes whose adventures enable them to use the knowledge they gain of themselves, and heroes who confront trials only to demonstrate to others, the listeners and the gods, what their strengths are. In most cases of travel talk, the former situation applied. The understanding of personal change which is closest to the Bakhtin’s adventure time chronotope of ordeal was the report of change in one’s nature as a response to the exigencies of travel. This particularly concerned the increased ability to look after one’s own affairs. This was the type of change which seemed to rely least on the subjects’ own awareness of themselves. Bourdieu’s (1977) concept of hysteresis most closely corresponds to this change. This term refers to the change in nature which occurs in the confrontation with particular ordeals: one’s character becomes ‘forged’ in rites of passage. Bourdieu understands this transformation as essential in the formation of habitus. In travel talk it represents only one version of personal change.

What is clear from the variety of demonstrative capacities in travel talk is that it is not enough simply to isolate a space such as travel as a source of credibility, one must also attend to the ways in which what happens there is generalised to normal life. ‘Narrative partitioning’ is the term used to describe this process of differentiation and linkage. One contingency in travel talk which demonstrates the role of narrative partitioning is whether the sense of history gained while overseas is something which asserts a discontinuity between life here and there or a common thread that links both past and present forms of life. This is studied more intensively in the following chapter. The attention to conversational groups there draws on the important role they were granted in travel talk.

6.4.3 The conversational group

A significant role was granted to reference groups, to which one’s experiences overseas were seen to be directed. A typical use of the family reference group was in the description of experiences which enabled the informants actively to evaluate their membership. One such experience involved an encounter with the family’s historical origins. This was presented as an opportunity to evaluate the family’s current status in Australia against the possibility of it having remained in its original setting. What was different about one’s family—the narratives related to its particular existence—could now be acknowledged as belonging to the order of experience: it made sense.

The family was often referred to also as audience for demonstration of personal change. This was evident in the recognition by one’s parents of an increased maturity and the ability to engage with one’s parents as an equal rather than as their child. Though similar reactions were talked about with respect to friends, it is important to acknowledge that the account of overseas journey often entailed a change in one’s reference group. This was often related to an inability of one’s previous reference group to recognise travel as a legitimate space to change. Informants’ accounts often referred to their involvement in a group of people whose main tie was the common experience of travel. This group was sometimes seen to possess an openness to difference which distinguished them from others. The elements of travel talk which concerned the inadequacy of second-order representations and the phenomenon of the ‘travel bug’ may be seen to reinforce this division.

Thus, as well as the power to demonstrate one’s identity, travel space also entails possible changes in the group who recognises this identity.

6.4.4 An unanswered question

The connection between the personal change related to the travel experience and the group to whom that change is presented is obviously important. The presentation of talk thus far has been concerned almost exclusively with reports from the travellers themselves. Given the role granted to the authorization of these accounts by others, it is essential to provide some account of the perception by the other of personal change due to travel. To do this, it is necessary to go deeper into particular cases and explore the specific conversational contexts in which their travel talk occurs.

6.5 Notes



[1]. The testing function of travel never resulted in the report of a failure. No one referred to the absence of the ability to cope with stress. Of course, these cases are unlikely to remain actively engaged in travel talk. However, there were a number of qualifications made in interviews concerning the flaws which travel served to demonstrate. A teacher asserted that while travel does not change individuals, it ‘develops’ facets of personality. It also ‘showed that I had a specific weakness’ (vulnerability to illness) [22: 36f]. One could hypothesise that such confessions served to reinforce the power of travel as a test rather than simply an opportunity for one’s identity to suit one’s interests.

[2]. One of the surprising aspects of this change towards relaxation, was that it often coincided with a change towards greater direction in life. For example, the freelance editor who ‘turned to the right’ (see page 4) found also that he could now ‘sit back and enjoy things and let life just be and let me enjoy it’ [49: 31m]. This was opposed to what he characterised as an overconcern with ‘long-term benefits’. While this hedonistic attitude might seem at odds with a greater motivation to achieve for oneself, both changes do fit within an outlook that is more self-sufficient, and relies less on traditional patterns of thinking.

[3]. Foucault describes Cuvier’s general picture: ‘the differences proliferate on the surface, but deeper down they fade, merge, and mingle, as they approach the great, mysterious, invisible focal unity, from which the multiple seems to derive, as though by ceaseless dispersion’ [1970, p.267].

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