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Slum Tourism in the Americas: Commodifying Urban Poverty and Violence

Slum Tourism in the Americas: Commodifying Urban Poverty and Violence

Research Teams:

  • Eveline Dürr and Barbara Vodopivec (LMU, social anthropology)
  • Rivke Jaffe and Alana Osbourne (UvA, urban studies)
  • Gareth Jones and Alessandro Massimo Angelini (LSE, cultural geography)

Funded by: Open Research Area, DFG, ESRC, NWO


This trilateral research project investigates slum tourism in four cities in the Americas: Los Angeles, Mexico City, Kingston, and Rio de Janeiro. Drawing on a multi-sited ethnographic approach, this project aims to theorise the commodification of urban poverty and violence in the context of global mobilities and urban political economies of spectacle. The research has a twin focus on the political economy of slum tours and their representational-performative politics. Its objectives are to ask: Through what representational strategies do different actors negotiate the slum’s ‘place-in-the-world’? How is violence aestheticised and performed as part of symbolic economies based on cultural production and consumption? What new social relationships and subjectivities are produced through the ‘slum tourism encounter’ between slum-dwellers, tourists, tour operators and state actors? Our approach to slum tourism is original and important for several reasons. First, our cross-city, comparative research will allow us to distinguish between generalisable patterns and the idiosyncratic features of individual cities. This is particularly relevant as slum tours are increasingly popular and influential in constituting the representations of urban poverty on a global scale. Second, where existing work largely focuses on tourists as consumers, we also ask how a broader range of actors connect in the ‘slum tourist encounter’ to convert the slum into a tourism product. Third, this attention to both production and consumption links to the project’s central focus on the aestheticisation and performance of violence in slum tours. Finally, this project is innovative methodologically: its multi-sited, longitudinal and ethnographic research is both a challenge to most existing methodologies on slum tourism and the most appropriate means to interrogate the performativity of the ‘encounter’, to establish knowledge on poverty and violence. The results will be relevant for academic and non-academic stakeholders (residents, civil society, urban development and tourism policymakers). The trilateral research is part of on-going efforts to connect national disciplinary traditions and develop European interdisciplinary urban studies.