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At the Beach

2003
Author:

Jean-Didier Urbain
Translated by Catherine Porter

At the Beach

An engaging look at why we vacation at the shore

Jean-Didier Urbain focuses on the paradoxical enterprise of the residential seaside vacationer, who travels in order to stay in one place and who leaves the everyday world behind to reconstruct an idealized version of it at the shore. Blending history with social observation, Urbain presents an original, incisive, and entertaining account of this enduring ritual of escape and recreation.

This translation of At the Beach gives the Anglo-American leisure/tourism audience access to an engaging study of beach vacationing in Western societies. A valuable work that notes the often paradoxical meanings both of the beach as a leisure space and of the practices/rituals performed upon it.

Modernism/Modernity

Around the world, when people think of vacation it’s the beach they want—even when long distances must be traversed, the seashore is the place to escape the rigors of modern life. How did this come to be, and what does our ongoing love affair with the beach mean? How do shore vacations differ from traditional tourism, and what does this tell us about our dreams and fears? In At the Beach, Jean-Didier Urbain offers witty and insightful answers to these questions.

Urbain traces the transformation of the beach from a place of mythological threats and a demanding workplace fraught with danger to a destination for medical treatment and the pursuit of pleasure. He looks to the emergence of the modern vacation in the nineteenth century, examines representations of beachgoing in literature and the arts, and shows the transgressive side of beach culture—from nudism to hedonism to various “scandals” about costume, behavior, and sexuality that make the beach the site of social spectacle as well as leisure.

Urbain’s ultimate focus is the paradoxical enterprise of the residential seaside vacationer, who travels in order to stay in one place and who leaves the everyday world behind to reconstruct an idealized version of it at the shore. He argues that unlike tourists, who move from place to place, beach vacationers are not seeking to explore nature, to discover other cultures, or even to “get away from it all”; rather, they are attempting to re-create their own identities through a simplified community they can no longer find elsewhere.

Blending history with social observation, Urbain presents an original, incisive, and entertaining account of this enduring ritual of escape and recreation.

At the Beach

Jean-Didier Urbain is professor of sociology at the University of Versailles and has also taught at the University of Paris-V. He is the author of several books on travel, including Secrets de voyage (1998) and L’idiot du voyage (1991).

Catherine Porter is professor emerita of French at the State University of New York, College at Cortland.

At the Beach

This translation of At the Beach gives the Anglo-American leisure/tourism audience access to an engaging study of beach vacationing in Western societies. A valuable work that notes the often paradoxical meanings both of the beach as a leisure space and of the practices/rituals performed upon it.

Modernism/Modernity

Urbain locates himself, pen in hand, between beach umbrellas and bath towels, observing the games and ceremonies of the beach people, scanning the intrigues of seduction, analyzing the maneuvers to claim each corner of sand.

L’Express

An enjoyable and adrenaline-charged volume that can be read and reread in order to appreciate its various layers of stimulating meaning.

Annals of Tourism Research