Doctoral Dissertation Research in DRMS: Is Tourism: Boon or Bane? An Institutional Analysis of Tourism System as Commons in the Himalayan Region of Upper Mustang, Nepal

Project: Research project

Project Details


Doctoral Dissertation Research in DRMS: Is Tourism: Boon or Bane? An Institutional Analysis of Tourism System as Commons in the Himalayan Region of Upper Mustang, Nepal Doctoral Dissertation Research in DRMS: Is Tourism: Boon or Bane? An Institutional Analysis of Tourism System as Commons in the Himalayan Region of Upper Mustang, Nepal Overview: Tourism is one of the world's largest and fastest growing industries. Globally, households in regions with high levels of tourism are rapidly diversifying their livelihoods or transitioning to tourism-based ones. While the tourism literature has focused heavily on the decisions and decision-making processes of tourism consumers, the decision-making processes of various stakeholders in tourism destinations, particularly those with tourism-based livelihood strategies in rural areas, are poorly understood. As a politically sensitive border region with unique cultural and natural features, only opened to tourism in 1992, and subject to recent major infrastructural changes, Upper Mustang, Nepal, is an ideal region in which to examine these dynamics. Under the supervision of Dr. Shauna BurnSilver, Gurung will conduct his doctoral research in the Himalayan region of Upper Mustang, Nepal to: 1) understand the robustness of the tourism system to changing political, environmental, and socio-economic conditions, 2) from a commons perspective understand the livelihood decision-making processes of local inhabitants, and 3) understand the decision-making processes of the elected officials in managing tourism. Gurung will use the Institutional Analysis and Development (IAD) framework to assess the robustness of the Upper Mustang tourism system. He will first conduct a survey (n=180) to identify the factors that local people perceive as influential in livelihood decisions, and follow this with in-depth interviews (n=80) to understand what role those factors play in shaping their decisions whether and how to engage in tourism. In addition to participant observation and follow up in-depth interviews with elected officials, Gurung will also review all tourism-related administrative records since 2017 to understand the decision-making processes of elected officials in engaging with and managing tourism. The emergent themes from data generated through this mixed-methods approach will allow Gurung to employ an ethnographic decision tree model in his analysis. The IAD framework will then be used to further explore any feedbacks loop of decision-making processes between the agency of households and the structure of institutions represented by and through elected officials. Intellectual Merit: This research creatively and originally integrates the theoretical frameworks from complexity theory and commons literature and contributes to a reframing of tourism studies. In addition, this research will provide a key empirical case which will contribute to the broader literature on the nexus of institutions, commons, livelihood decisions, and tourism. In addition, household level data on tourism in this region is non-existent. Furthermore, a political transition since 2017 in Nepal is ongoing. This research represents a significant opportunity to study tourism under different institutional regimes. The social-ecological systems (SES) library at ASU describes more than 180 SES cases and coupled infrastructure systems (CIS), but not a single tourism commons case. Upper Mustang would be the only tourism commons case in this US National Science Foundation funded open access database. As a native of Upper Mustang, Nepal, Gurung has deep local sociocultural knowledge, linguistic expertise, and historical understanding of the region, as well as close rapport with local people and elected officials. Due to his academic training at ASU and his pilot research in the region during the summers of 2018 and 2019 he is now ideally positioned to undertake this project. Broader Impacts: On a daily basis people and elected officials in Upper Mustang are making significant decisions about how to engage in tourism under conditions of great uncertainty. Tourism is changing the character of infrastructure, access and human relationships to nature. The findings of this research will be presented to local people and elected officials. Findings from this research will not only help the locals make better and informed livelihood decisions, but also help the elected officials in better managing tourism. In addition, the recommendations based on the findings of this research will be offered to government and related organizations which will be instrumental in policy decisions and implementations. This research is taking place at a time when the entire country of Nepal is going through a major political transition. Therefore, this research has the potential for real-time practical, institutional, policy, and managerial impacts which will be valuable for effective management of tourism not only in the region of Upper Mustang, but in other Himalayan regions of Nepal and other Himalayan countries.
Effective start/end date8/1/207/31/22


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $21,590.00


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