The Uses of the Periphery – Slum Tourism

When I was in Kenya last Spring, my guide took me to Kibera, at my request, but I did not take photos. I did take photos of Lusaka Kanyama Area when I was visiting with an NGO through which I sponsor kids. I am highly ambivalent about slum tourism. On the one hand, yes, it is a source of business (in which case, it should be more than £20 a pop and there should be direct contributions to projects) in areas that otherwise survive mostly on informal economy and illegal trafficking. On the other hand, poverty is not a spectacle and the people living in these quarters are trapped there by poverty.

And yes, if you’re European, it is impressive in a horrific kind of way. But let’s face it: we go spend 2 weeks in nice resorts, attended to by locals at our beck and call. And then, we spend a couple of hours in the slum for the authenticity. And we cough up a little money (a drop compared to the cost of a safari) to take care of the white guilt and pretend we made a difference.

2 thoughts on “The Uses of the Periphery – Slum Tourism

  1. I had a similar feeling when I was in Rio:

    They offer tours that are “beneficial to the community” and “not voyeuristic at all.”

    I didn’t take the tour but I do remember being very ambivalent about it. I guess a lot depends on the meaning and purpose one puts into it. On the other hand, I’m wondering how the community feels about this, and what are the specific benefits for them.

    • @Dangger, I know how you feel. As a sociologist, I want to see this stuff and I want pictures to share with my students who have no idea how most of the world lives.

      But then, slum people are people, not illustrations of global poverty so that I can make a point, especially without their consent.

      That’s why I was not really offended when I went to visit a Masai village in Amboseli, Kenya, and it was clear that tourists were treated as a source of money and nothing else. It’s only fair, in my view.

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