University of Tasmania

File(s) under permanent embargo

Shadow zones: dark travel and postcolonial cultures

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-18, 08:02 authored by Robert ClarkeRobert Clarke, Dutton, J, Johnston, A

Travel has always reflected the lighter and darker sides of life, its myriad shades and colours, multiple nuances and intensities. Whether mobility is inspired by leisure, entertainment, or education; necessitated by hunger, thirst, reproduction, or escape; or demanded by political imperatives for conquest, expansion, and power, every journey carries with it the possibility of an engagement with shadow zones. Those who market travel, and those who study it, are certainly aware of the attractions that the darker side of travel holds for metropolitan travellers: 'dark tourism' as a set of practices and object of enquiry is enjoying growing popularity. Yet bell hooks’s statement above reminds us that for much of the world’s population travelling carries with it a different set of risks, and represents a very different kind of relationship to place and history than that experienced by the metropolitan tourist. Understanding the multiplicity of ways in which the experience of travel foregrounds the legacies of the past—and in particular the colonial past—is the work undertaken in that field of scholarship that we refer to here as ‘dark travel’: a field that takes as its object the texts, discourses, institutions, and performances of travel in sites marked by violence and historical trauma.

This article sets out a number of key themes to describe how scholarship in dark travel is emerging—especially scholarship that focuses on colonial and postcolonial contexts—and, in doing so, sets the context for the present volume. We also hope to inform future scholarship. In the first instance we define dark travel as a set of cultural practices pertaining to the experience, and importantly, the discourse of travel in sites that are marked as 'dark' (i.e. traumatizing, disturbing, unsettling) either by dint of their history or their present commodification. At the same time we suggest that it is necessary to conceptualize dark travel not so much as an object of study, but rather as an orientation and disposition towards the disparate field of postcolonial travel. Postcolonial travel is in a sense always already 'shadowed' by the legacies of colonialisms past and present. If we interpret the term ‘dark travel’ in this way then what kinds of ‘orientations and dispositions’ might be said to characterize it? While an obvious concern and engagement with the legacies of colonialism is a starting point, we also consider three main thematics: travel performances; spaces and routes; melancholia, return, and risk. Dark travel in postcolonial cultures invites a focus on the experiences of metropolitan and subaltern travellers through sites marked by the trauma of colonialism and its aftermath. The following sections of this article develop our characterization of these thematics.


Publication title

Postcolonial Studies








School of Humanities



Place of publication


Rights statement

Copyright 2015 Institute of Postcolonial Studies

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Arts not elsewhere classified

Usage metrics

    University Of Tasmania


    Ref. manager