Tom Selwyn took a first class degree in social anthropology at the London School of Economics. Having completed his PhD at SOAS under Adrian Mayer on the Indian caste system, he taught anthropology at the LSE before joining the Sociology and Anthropology Department at Tel-Aviv. At Tel-Aviv he researched aspects of Israeli nationalism as expressed in Hebrew language teaching, ideas and practices towards the Israeli landscape, the work of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, and Israeli backpacking tours in South Asia.

Selwyn returned to London in 1986 to take up a post at the Sociology Department of Surrey University at Roehampton. It was here that he founded the first Masters course in the UK on the Anthropology of Tourism, and was co-founder of the NGO Tourism Concern. The Masters course was the vehicle for his co-operation with, and work for, the European Commission. This led to his critical engagement with two MED-CAMPUS programmes, concerned mainly with tourism-related cultural industries in the Mediterranean region, including Albania, Malta, Alexandria, Bethlehem, Cyprus, and Marseille.

Selwyn moved from Surrey to a professorial position in the Anthropology of Tourism at London Metropolitan University in 1997, and Tourism Concern moved with him.

The period at London Met saw the development of his work for the EC, directing two TEMPUS programmes, one in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the other in Palestine, in the fields of pilgrimage, tourism, and the cultural industries. This work required the writing of policy reports for governments and international agencies, and was particularly significant with regard to the building of capacity at universities in Sarajevo, Banja-Luka and Bethlehem in the field of the anthropology of tourism. Both projects produced highly trained and capable professionals who are now filling various influential positions in the countries and regions concerned. In this sense Selwyn played a substantial role in taking British based social anthropology in general, and the emerging social anthropology of tourism in particular, beyond the borders of the UK: a kind of applied anthropology of higher education. In addition, Professor Selwyn - through the Tempus programme in Bosnia-Herzegovina – has contributed to peace-building, strengthening the economy and European integration.

Professor Selwyn has also been a co-director of the MED-VOICES programme, a large project involving 13 Mediterranean cities and research institutions producing a large amount of anthropological research: 14 documentary films, over 30 exhibitions, several academic conferences, and numerous academic publications.

Alongside his work for the EC, Selwyn had maintained a schedule of publication in the anthropology of tourism, that has complemented and reflected his pioneering and innovatory work in developing the subject in Europe.  Of his published work,The Tourist Image (1996) has become a classic in the field, and for on expert his 2007 article on 'The Political Economy of Enchantment' is the best overview of the state of the art that we have.

Lucy Mair, in whose memory this award is given, wrote about many aspects of what she reluctantly called 'applied' anthropology, latterly coming round to the view that this was an unhappy description, as it separated the applied from the fundamental research when the two were intrinsically connected. Though she did not, to my knowledge at least, write about tourism impacts, I think she would have seen in Tom Selwyn's work an excellent demonstration of her basic philosophy.

Summarising, Professor Selwyn's work has been significant to British social anthropology for three reasons.  Firstly, he has made a seminal contribution to the development of the sub-field of the anthropology of tourism in the last two decades, and the subject is now taught in most UK anthropology departments in some form or another. Secondly, he has led the way in the engagement of social anthropology with the European Commission in the relation between tourism/cultural industries and post-conflict development/economic transition. It is the third, the bringing together of the anthropology of tourism and the using of tourism as a development tool in post-conflict economies and societies, for which we appropriately celebrate his work through this award, contributing significantly to social and cultural well-being, and the interplay between the academic and policy related areas. Tom Selwyn has worked to establish the anthropology of tourism as an academic subject and as an instrument to further cultural and social development and employment in the Mediterranean and Middle East. It is a great pleasure to award him the 2009 Lucy Mair Medal.


Text written by: Professor Roy Ellen, President of the RAI