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Pilgrim guides and pilgrims in productive complicity: Making the invisible visible in West Java

Journal article
Authors Jörgen Hellman
Published in Tourist Studies
Volume 19
Issue 1
Pages 43-61
ISSN 1468-7976
Publication year 2019
Published at School of Global Studies, Social Anthropology
Pages 43-61
Language en
Keywords ancestors, anthropology, pilgrimage, pilgrim guides, West Java
Subject categories Social Anthropology


There is a growing interest in the anthropology of pilgrimage. However, as Mesaritou et al. have pointed out, the role of pilgrim guides is often peculiarly absent in the literature. The ethnography in this article builds on several pilgrimages together with a local pilgrim guide in West Java. Using this case as an example, the aim is to spur a general interest in how knowledge and authority are constructed when it comes to sites lesser known to the tourist industry (knowledge which may preexist at places that later develop as tourist sites). A key analytical question raised in this article is how guides achieve legitimacy when there exist no authoritative texts or accumulated knowledge about the site. To understand this, I introduce the analytical concept of ‘productive complicity’. The concept is used to describe how an intersubjective understanding about representations of a transcendental reality is developed at the pilgrim site. Being engaged in productive complicity enables pilgrims and their leader to collaborate in ‘reading’ the signs of transcendental presence, to reach agreement that their expectations of the pilgrimage have been fulfilled and to reinforce the legitimacy and authority of the pilgrim guide. The concept of productive complicity is easily transferred to other situations and could be used by scholars to bring out new perspectives on how pilgrim guides as well as tourist guides establish their authority.

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