Investigations into slum tourism in Mumbai: poverty tourism and the tensions between different constructions of reality

Abstract

The paper seeks to contribute to the recent slum tourism-debate. On the basis of an empirical field study conducted in Mumbai in 2009, this article investigates how Indian slums are observed by different actors within the communication context of this (emerging) form of tourism. Taking into consideration that slums are defined in public discourse nearly exclusively by poverty and sordidness, it is interesting to examine how the tour agency’s objective of correcting the negative connotations of poverty is achieved. Accordingly, the study aims, by means of a second order observation, to observe how the tourists and the tour agency simultaneously perceive and charge poverty. Following the epistemological premise that reality is an observer-dependent construction, it seeks to outline which different images or realities of the investigated slum, Dharavi, are created by the different observations. The findings will then facilitate a discussion of the extent to which poverty can be defined as the dominant mode of observation of the slum tourism context as a whole.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Marginal settlements can be viewed as results of socio-economical polarization and segregation, which especially take place in the metropolitan areas of the so-called developed or emerging nations (Davis 2006). In order to record the spread of marginal settlements internationally, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (2003, p. 12) has developed five operational criteria. According to this approach, one talks about a marginal settlement when the settlement ful-fils at least one of the following criteria: restricted access to safe water sanitation, provisionally built and temporary housing, a high population density and insecure residence rights (UN-HABITAT 2003). Marginal settlements are re-ferred to by different terms in the countries at issue. For example, they are referred to as townships in South Africa, as favelas in Brazil and slums in India.

  2. 2.

    A case study of favela tourism in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, yielded similar results (see Rolfes 2010; p. 12f).

  3. 3.

    As will be shown below, slum tourism is not only about experiencing reality, but also about experiencing authenticity. Taking into consideration that reality and authenticity have different meanings, it becomes clear that the term reality tour-ism lacks conceptual clarity. It is therefore questionable if reality tourism is the appropriate term for designating all these forms of tourism. Thus, a further clarification is needed, which cannot be provided in the scope of this article.

  4. 4.

    Subsequent to the theoretical premise, tourists always make authentic experiences as long as they are first-order ob-servers. The body and object related perception during the tours—which Pott (2007) defines as authenticity-anchors—is a first-order observation. In a first-order observation the paradox of visibility is invisible. The observer, here the tourist, only perceives what he perceives. He is not able to perceive the dependency of his perception from the (pre-determined) distinctions structuring the perception at the same time. These can only be observed by an outside ob-server or in a delayed process. By this second-order observation the distinctions of the first-order observation can be reflected (Pott 2007, p. 173ff).

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Acknowledgments

This article is a summary of my unpublished master thesis submitted in July 2009 at the Department of Geography, University of Potsdam. I wish to thank the interviewees for sharing their experiences, Cory Goldberg for his photos, Rakesh, Krishna Poojari and Chris Way from Reality Tours and Travel as well as Sebastian Burgold for their helpful support, Manfred Rolfes for his thorough and insightful comments and suggestions, Gisela Spehr, Naomi and Paul for revising this article.

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Correspondence to Julia Meschkank.

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Meschkank, J. Investigations into slum tourism in Mumbai: poverty tourism and the tensions between different constructions of reality. GeoJournal 76, 47–62 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10708-010-9401-7

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Keywords

  • Poverty tourism
  • Slum tourism
  • Township
  • Favela
  • Slum
  • Observational-theoretical approach