"Those Who Might, One Day, Themselves Face Annihilation": Dark Tourism and Chernobyl



Birns, Sarah

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This thesis utilizes Chernobyl, site of the world’s largest nuclear disaster, as a case study through which to parse the phenomenon of dark tourism, “travel to sites associated with death, suffering and the seemingly macabre” (Stone 2006:146). In light of the COVID-19 pandemic precluding in-person travel, the author conducted virtual ethnographic fieldwork through distributing questionnaires and conducting interviews with participants who had visited---either on an official guided tour or illegally---to build on secondary research on dark tourism and further nuance the visitor experience at Chernobyl. In the body of work, the author explores scholarly conceptions of dark tourism; motivations to visit Chernobyl; the influence of mass media on visitors using the theoretical frameworks of hauntology and hyperreality; legends and narratives about Chernobyl pre- and post-disaster; visitor and tour guide ‘performance’; and the ethics and future of Chernobyl as a site of dark tourism. This thesis is unique within the realm of scholarship on Chernobyl by virtue of its predominantly folkloristic and ethnographic lens, as well as its focus on illegal visitors known as Stalkers, about whom very little academic writing has been published and who are necessary for a cohesive understanding of what it means to be a visitor to Chernobyl.



Dark tourism, Chernobyl, Tourism studies, Disaster narratives, Staged authenticity