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Social Anthropology

Nice slum you‘ve got here!

München, 05/22/2014

In this era of globalization, many tourist itineraries include a day out in the slums. Indeed, slum tourism has become an intriguing object of study for urban anthropologists.

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Source: thakala - Fotolia.com

Professor Eveline Dürr of the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology at LMU will direct a 3-year research project on “Slum Tourism in the Americas: Commodifying Urban Poverty and Violence”. The project is funded by a grant of more than 1 million euros from the Open Research Area Scheme (ORA), a consortium of funding agencies in five countries, including the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG). In addition to social anthropologists at LMU, researchers based at the University of Amsterdam and the London School of Economics will take part in the study.

Eveline Dürr and her colleagues plan to investigate slum tourism in Los Angeles, Mexico City, Kingston and Rio de Janeiro. “We very deliberately chose to include a metropolis in the northern hemisphere, which is not usually associated with slum tourism. The most aggressively marketed slums are to be found in Rio, where they have become part of the city’s official sightseeing program,” she says.

Putting poverty on show
Several commercial tour operators, as well as charitable organizations, make it possible for groups of tourists to visit urban slums. Dürr’s international research project will analyze and compare the factors that stimulated the emergence of this form of tourism and its impact on the communities in their four case studies. “Of their own accord, people who live in urban slums would rarely describe themselves as slum-dwellers. The presence of tourists first prompts them to think about what the term ‘slum’ actually means and, as a result, they begin to develop their own ways of presenting themselves to outsiders,” she points out.

The research team plans to investigate in a comparative perspective, the ways poverty and violence are actually represented to visiting tourists in the four slums. “We also want to extend research on urban structures and communities across national boundaries, and open up new perspectives on the interactions between city life, commercial activity and urban poverty,” Dürr explains.

The project is explicitly designed to challenge conventional stereotypes and to probe the multifaceted character of slum tourism. “We want to overcome the one-dimensional view of slum-dwellers as helpless victims. Slum tourism also serves to make people who occupy the margins of society visible. In so doing, it offers them a form of participation, and they do their best to claim a share of the income from the lucrative tourism business,” Dürr says. “On the other hand, not all forms of slum tourism are designed to engage the inhabitants themselves. There are also neocolonial tendencies in this business. Some slum-tour operators derive their profits from the blatant exhibition of poverty and destitution.”

ORA is intended to provide support for collaborative projects in which social scientists work together on questions related to individual and social behaviors. The ORA scheme is administered by national grant agencies in Europe and the USA, including the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. The overall goal of the program is to promote greater international cooperation in the Social Sciences.