Framing Paradise and its Silences: ‘Tropicalisation’, Environmental Degradation, and Feminist Documentary Film in Utila, Honduras
Utila is the smallest of the Honduran Bay Islands, and is located along the south end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef system. The island is heavily reliant on tourism income and is prominently advertised as an affordable scuba diving destination in both national and international tourism media. My research problematises the dominant representations of Utila in tourism ephemera, and examines what their effects might be for the island’s diverse human and non-human inhabitants. By drawing on Krista Thompson’s concept of ‘tropicalisation’, I examine how local physical space alterations, as well as image-based tropicalised representations perpetuate colonial continuities, silencing, and violent erasure of particular peoples, spaces, and species in Utila. Moreover, I challenge the ongoing separation of Utila from the Honduran mainland in both popular and scholarly publications to show how environmental and social issues in Utila are imbricated within national government corruption, gender-based violence, Indigenous land rights struggles, the murders of Land and Human rights defenders, and international flows of capital and development.
I utilise a transformative research paradigm informed by feminist epistemology to critically engage with the politics of production of a written exegesis and a 75-minute feature-length documentary film (Postcards from Utila) to examine how such a framework might enable alternative representations of the island and provoke improved social and environmental outcomes in Utila. Both film and the written dissertation draw on multiple mixed methods which I have carried out in my research, including participant-observation, semi-structured and structured interviews, field notes, and discourse analysis of tourism promotional materials gathered over six periods of fieldwork and filming in Utila, Honduras from 2010-2016. By paying attention to multiple narratives and voices, I extend Sara Ahmed’s 'politics of complaint’ to examine how positionality and intersecting forms of oppression may impact on research processes, and the ways feminist researchers and practitioners are marginalised in both academic and film industry spaces. Through the completion of an interdisciplinary research-practice PhD in Film and Human Geography, my research highlights the significance of creative production as a form of academic output and ‘complaint’, and establishes a framework for how similar research-practice projects may be completed in the future.