In 2005 I completed my undergraduate degree in Sociology with First Class Honours at the University of Peradeniya in Sri Lanka and subsequently, in 2008 a Master’s Degree in Sociology with Merit at the University of Worcester, UK. In 2015, I was awarded the School of Sociology and Social Policy full fee bursary to follow the MA in Social Research at University of Leeds, which I completed with Distinction. During the course of the MA I applied and was successful in obtaining a place and funding (through the Leeds Anniversary Research Scholarship-LARS) to undertake my PhD research at the same school and university.
During my professional career as a Sri Lankan travel and business writer I journeyed extensively around the country observing, writing and interacting with diverse groups of people; representing through words its culture, people and places. Later, also as a business writer in Leeds I wrote about many independent local business establishments, generating in the process interviews and discussions with various figures in the business world.
What motivated me to undertake PhD study?
My background in sociology induced me to question and ponder widely during my professional endeavours as a travel/business writer, encouraging me to return to academic research in search of answers. My experience as a travel writer in particular triggered various questions and broader sociological insights that in turn inspired me to explore and understand further the construction, perpetuation and/or challenge/transformation of tourism representation surrounding Sri Lanka. The PhD would provide me with the perfect opportunity to unpack some of the intricate social relations and realities underlying tourism representations of Sri Lanka.
What makes me passionate about my subject?
Most our day-to-day actions revolve around stories, where we constantly delve in and out of imaginings, both ours as well as others. This awareness that the travel stories and countless representations we create and share help shape others’ notions about places and hence the world, makes me particularly passionate about understanding tourism’s myriad imaginaries and its powerful role as a worldmaking agency.
What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?
Upon completion of the PhD I hope to gather experience as an academic through involvement in both teaching and social research.
Impelled by a retrospective understanding of the critical role played as a travel writer endorsing/marketing a particular preferred, ideological, socio-cultural ‘construct’ of Sri Lanka to a predominantly Western readership, my research project endeavours to examine the worldmaking agency of travel writers and the associated social Insinuations. It contributes to existing knowledge on tourism as worldmaking in an understudied postcolonial context of Sri Lanka. I examine the social role of an everyday activity related to travel and tourism and endeavours to answer the following key questions: (1) Who are Sri Lankan travel writers? (2) How do they represent Sri Lanka through their writing? (3) What are the social mechanisms underlying these representations? Finally, (4) Why are these representations created the way they are?
The research draws on three characteristic ways locally produced travel writing in English represents Sri Lanka within tourism promotion, journalism and the independent travel blog sphere. The study attempts to broaden insights on the tourist gaze through the investigation of three distinctive gazes: the promotional gaze, the journalistic gaze and the activist gaze constructed by local writers. I thereby examine the three resultant representations and their worldmaking power along with the social intricacies underlying this process.
Not stopping there, I attempt to argue using the Bourdieusian field of cultural production that worldmaking representations are contingent not so much upon initiation or illusion but ‘inculcation’. As such, I use the conceptual triad habitus, capital and field to demonstrate the interplay between external social pre-arrangements underlying the construction of travel representations and the subjectivity of writers. In doing so, I examine the cultural histories including education, lifestyles habits, interests and tastes of writers along with constraints imposed by various fields they are positioned within society. I thereby, attempt to take an innovative stance by affording a compelling alternative to negotiating the duality between structure and agency in the study of travel representations.
Jayathilaka, G.K. (2019) The Worldmaking Role of the Professional Sri Lankan Travel Writer. Paper presented at the International Conference on Innovations in The Social Sciences and Humanities – Ton Duc Thang University, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Jayathilaka, G.K. (2019) 21st Century Tourism Representations of Sri Lanka and the World- making Role of Sri Lankan Travel Writers. Paper presented at New Voices in Postcolonial Studies Interdisciplinary Imaginations, Critical Confrontations Symposium – School of English, University of Leeds.
Teaching at the School of Sociology and Social Policy – University of Leeds:
- Sociology of Modern Societies - First year core theory module
- Central Problems in Sociology - Second year core theory module
- Ethnicity and Popular Culture - Third year discovery module
- MA Social Research - Distinction
- MA Sociology - Merit
- BA (Hons) Sociology - First Class