January 30, 2010
The Relationship Between Slum Tourism and Social Change
Slum tourism is increasing as more and more wealthy travelers are choosing to visit the poorest parts of the world. This new trend raises the following question: "Does slum tourism make us better people?" Fabian Frenzel, a researcher from the University of the West of England's Bristol Business School, is setting out to answer this question and others. According to a report in ScienceDaily, Fabian Frenzel explains that
[s]lumming is not a new phenomenon, rich people have been attracted by slums since they occurred as a result of the industrial revolution in the early 19th century. And there is evidence that the slum experience has perpetuated social motivation to do good and moreover has prompted political demands for greater social justice.
What interests me is the recent growth in organized tours to do slums or shanty towns with a variety of different kinds of tour operator. I am going to look at one 'social' not for profit enterprise and one profit oriented enterprise with a view to determining the moral dilemmas implicit in this kind of tourism. Critics argue that the dignity of slum dwellers is violated by the tourist gaze. But others say that exposure to the 'experience' can motivate people from more privileged backgrounds to 'do some good' as a result.
Many areas around the world that were once regarded as slums have become significantly gentrified and the conditions that people once lived in have led to the growing of unique cultural communities. Harlem in New York is a prime example, the area once associated with violent crime, drugs and sex trade has emancipated itself out of this as travelers have become attracted to the people, the music and the atmosphere of this multi dimensional neighborhood. Much that now makes Harlem attractive grew out of the experience of the people who lived there when times were much harder. Arguably visitors to the neighborhood have spread the word about the unique culture and this has helped to motivate the very gradual change. This has already been documented in historical books like "Slumming" by Seth Koven, looking particularly at Victorian slum-tourism in London or "Slumming in New York" by Robert M. Dowling.