In an earlier post I discussed the how researchers and aid workers in impoverished areas may also be seen as slum tourists. An interesting article by Rowan Davies related to this matter was published on the Guardian website yesterday. It discusses how influential bloggers are used by international development campaign organisations to highlight issues in economically poor areas. An example is given of a blogger that is flown in to these locations and requested to report on them.
The author argues that these blogging trips in a way can be viewed as a form of poverty tourism. Indeed, in a way such “blogger” visits are reminiscent of forms of slum tourism from a different era where authors wrote stories about their visits to the slums (sometimes also with an eye on social reform).
Also the author argues visits like these risk becoming little more than some form of public relations for the aid agency, particularly if no comprehensive aid strategy is linked to them on the ground. If this is the case they become part of a dubious public relations strategy for the donor agency that could result in the exploitation of and even lead to patronising attitudes towards people that are visited. These criticisms are indeed very similar to those levelled at slum tourism suggesting at least some form of similarity.
In a former post regarding a television programme that involved famous people “living like locals” in the Nairobi slum Kibera for a week I wondered whether this could be a future face of tourism. It turns out a similar experience has already been offered, albeit on a smaller scale.
It is discussed (briefly) in a recent article on domestic slum tourism in North America written by Amanda Grzyb. She gives an example of a “48 hour street retreat” that was offered by a Yoga centre in Toronto. The retreat involved “going into the street without any money and live on the streets for several days… relying on the generosity of the streets to take care of us.” Grzyb recognises this retreat as a form of tourism and discusses it in the context of historical accounts of domestic poverty tourism in North America as well as manifestations of domestic slum tourism in the the current age. In the article she relates domestic slum tourism to societal class boundaries and concludes that “Domestic poverty tourism may or may not involve varying degrees of social conscience, advocacy, and calls for reform, but it is, first and foremost, a commodification of experience that reinforces class boundaries”
The article is part of an academic roundtable discussion on the concept of “Homeless Chic” in the journal “Expositions”. It can be downloaded from the “Expositions” website, or you can follow this direct link to the pdf of the article.
Grzyb, A. (2011) “Homeless Chic” as Domestic Poverty Tourism: Street Retreats, Urban Plunges, and North American Class Boundaries. Expositions, 5 (1), p.pp.55-61.