The politics of authentication in a UNESCO World Heritage Site: Luang Prabang, Laos

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5 Scopus citations


This article examines the construction of authenticity through vernacular architecture at the World Heritage Site of Luang Prabang, Laos. Our findings suggest that the rhetoric of authenticity is part of the larger matrix of knowledge and power that enables UNESCO to impose its world-views on non-Western countries and to create facts on the ground that meet the expectations of western tourists. Based on long-term ethnography, including extended conversations with Laotian residents and interviews with dozens of UNESCO’s experts and tourists, we demonstrate how UNESCO’s structures and practices of preservation render the organization's profound involvement in the construction and regulation of tradition unseen and unknown by the tourists. Through the continued presence of residents in their heritagized houses, but subject to severe UNESCO restrictions on building and renovation, UNESCO has become not only the authority behind ‘cold’ authenticity, but the moving force behind ‘hot’ authenticity as well.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)404-420
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Tourism and Cultural Change
Issue number4
StatePublished - 3 Jul 2020


  • Authenticity
  • Laos
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • heritage
  • post-colonialism
  • tourist experiences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Cultural Studies
  • Transportation
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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