Dark Tourism and the Modern Prison

Alana Barton, Alyson Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review


It has been suggested that ‘as long as people have been able to travel, they have been drawn…towards sites, attractions or events that are linked in one way or another with death, suffering, violence or disaster’. This phenomenon has become known, both within academia and the media, as ‘dark tourism’. According to Seaton ‘dark tourism’ is part of a broader ‘thanatoptic’ tradition (ie. a meditation or reflection on the topic of death), hence the term is frequently used interchangeably with that of ‘thanatourism’. Thus, ‘dark’ tourism is travel that is driven by a demand for ‘actual or symbolic encounters with death’. In Stone’s typology, seven categories (or ‘shades’) of ‘dark’ tourist sites are presented. These categories range from those at the ‘lightest’ end of the spectrum, which are normally purpose built attractions, focused purely on entertainment (e.g. The London Dungeon or the Dracula Theme Park in Romania) to the ‘darkest’ sites, which are actual locations of genocide and massacre (e.g. Auschwitz-Birkenau or the ‘killing fields’ of Cambodia), the purpose of which is primarily education and remembrance. In the middle of this typology, and thus representing a combination of education and entertainment, are what Stone refers to as those sites that ‘present bygone penal and justice codes to the present day consumer’ , primarily former prisons. This paper will examine the prison as a site of ‘dark tourism’ and, using Stone’s definition, will analyse the ways in which, and the reasons why, former prisons have become popular tourist destinations. However, and further, we expand on Stone’s classification and, using Dartmoor prison as a case study, explore the operational prison as a (previously un-analysed) tourist site. The paper will examine how ‘prison tourism’ can facilitate the construction of dominant narratives around the politics of punishment that leave little space for critical scrutiny or challenge.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-49
JournalPrison Service Journal
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012


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