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African tourism thesis earns Chancellor’s Medal for PhD graduand


Sharlene King
13 September 2013
A tourism doctoral student from Zimbabwe will be recognised with Southern Cross University’s top PhD academic excellence award at the graduation ceremony tomorrow (Saturday September 14) in Lismore, with her thesis winning accolades from internationally distinguished tourism scholars for its unique contribution to the study of African tourism.

Muchazondida (Mucha) Mkono will receive the Chancellor’s Medal from the Chancellor The Hon John Dowd AO QC. The Chancellor’s Medal is only awarded in cases of clear and outstanding scholarship to students who have completed a Doctor of Philosophy in which they have demonstrated academic excellence, and have achieved an outstanding and significant contribution to their field of knowledge.

“It feels fantastic to win the Chancellor’s Medal,” said Mucha, whose research was entitled ‘Contested Authenticity in Zimbabwean Tourist Entertainment’.

“I am grateful to my supervisors Associate Professor Kevin Markwell and Dr Erica Wilson in the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management.”

Mucha’s thesis explored the concept of cultural authenticity within the context of ‘eatertainment’ - adding aspects of indigenous culture to food service - at Victoria Falls in her home country of Zimbabwe. She spent months of painstaking fieldwork at ‘eatertainment’ attractions observing, talking with, interviewing, and sharing the experience of tourists - both Western and African - and with the performers to gain a nuanced, critical understanding of the experiences of tourists and to examine whether the idea of authenticity was as valid for African tourists as it was for Westerners.

Mucha said she found there were substantial differences between African and Western tourists’ conceptions of authenticity and its meaning to them as tourists.

“Authenticity appeared to be more important to Western tourists than to Indigenous African tourists. Indigenous African tourists viewed the local cultural performances as primarily serving an entertainment purpose, rather than as a form of cultural representation.

“Further, while Western tourists were more prone to viewing their hosts in terms of difference rather than similarity, Indigenous African tourists’ behaviours and attitudes were mediated by the longstanding African value of Ubuntu, which focuses on ‘oneness’ and approaching each other on the basis of our common humanity, rather than difference.”

Professor Markwell praised his student.

“Mucha’s thesis was theoretically sophisticated, innovative and world class,” he said. “By considering Indigenous Africans as tourists, and not simply objects of tourism as much previous work has tended to do, her research gave ‘voice’ to an African perspective on a key theoretical concept in the sociology of tourism, authenticity, and explored whether such a concept was indeed culturally applicable to an African context.”

The internationally distinguished tourism scholars who examined Mucha’s thesis said it ‘makes an important and highly original analysis of the relationship between the world views of African tourists and eatertainers’ and that Mucha ‘produced a brilliant exposition of authenticity and experience, advancing the field especially by doing justice to the voice, being and existence of Zimbabwean perspectives’.

Remarkably, Mucha completed her PhD in just two years and one month (most students take at least three years), while publishing 11 referred journal articles at the same time.

“That work rate of published papers would be outstanding for many senior academics at professorial level, let alone a PhD student,” said Professor Markwell.

“Several of those papers were published in the leading tourism studies journal Annals of Tourism Research, which is highly prestigious and difficult to publish in.”

Mucha relocated to Lismore in 2011 to commence her doctoral scholarship at the Southern Cross University. She will commence a post-doctoral fellowship next year at the University of Queensland investigating the phenomenon of slum tourism, a type of tourism that involves visiting the impoverished areas of developing nations.

“It is a complex topic with lots of grey areas,” said Mucha, who will focus her research on South Africa.

Mucha will join around 180 graduating students, known as graduands, in the University street procession and graduation ceremony to mark the transition from study to working life.

The day of celebration will commence with the ringing of the bells at St Andrew’s Anglican Church (10 Zadoc Street, Lismore) from 9.30am. This will be followed by the procession of graduands and academics through the Lismore CBD, which starts at 10am from the Browns Creek/Clyde Campbell Car Park in Molesworth Street, before proceeding along Woodlark and Keen Streets and ending at the corner of Magellan and Keen Streets. Family, friends and members of the public are welcome to line the streets to show their support for the graduands.

The graduation ceremony will be held in the Trinity Sport Hall at Trinity Catholic College in Dawson Street starting at 11am. This is a ticketed event only.

Giving the occasional address is Sue Higginson LLB (Hons) (SCU), principal solicitor at the Environmental Defenders Office New South Wales (EDO NSW), a dynamic specialist legal centre that operates at the cutting edge of public interest environmental law in Australia. Sue graduated from Southern Cross University with a Bachelor of Laws with First Class Honours in 2005, and was also awarded the University Medal. She was the 2012 School of Law and Justice Alumnus of the Year.

Students are eligible to graduate from all of the University’s Schools, Colleges and Special Research Centres: Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples; School of Arts and Social Sciences; School of Education; School of Environment, Science and Engineering; School of Health and Human Sciences; School of Law and Justice; School of Tourism and Hospitality Management; Southern Cross Business School; Southern Cross Plant Science; and Southern Cross GeoScience.
Photo: Muchazondida (Mucha) Mkono.