Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/geoforum
Empowering the empowered? Slum tourism and the depoliticization of
King’s College London, Department of Culture, Media and Creative Industries, Strand Campus, London WC2R 2LS, UK
Mumbai’s Dharavi slum occupies a plot half the size of Central Park. It is home to one million people, with
almost half of residents living in spaces under 10 m
, making it over six times as dense as daytime Manhattan.
Using ethnographic ﬁeldwork and online analysis, this article examines slum tourism and the perceptions and
experiences of western visitors. Local tour operators emphasize the productivity of the slum, with its annual
turnover of $665 million generated from its hutment industries. Its poor sanitation, lack of clean water, squalid
conditions and overcrowding are ignored and replaced by a vision of resourcefulness, hard work and diligence.
This presentation of the slum as a hive of industry is so successful that visitors overlook, or even deny, its obvious
poverty. Dharavi is instead perceived as a manufacturing hub and retail experience; and in some cases even
romanticized as a model of contentment and neighbourliness, with western visitors transformed by ‘life-chan-
ging’,‘eye-opening’and ‘mind-blowing’experiences. This article concludes that the potential of slum tours as a
form of international development is limited, as they enable wealthy middle-class westerners to feel ‘inspired’,
‘uplifted’and ‘enriched’, but with little understanding of the need for change.
I’monaﬂight from London to Mumbai. As the aeroplane descends, I
look out across a vast, continuous landscape of brown corrugated
rooftops and blue plastic sheeting. This is India’s infamous slums. The
plane lands, I collect my luggage and ﬁnd a taxi. On the way to the
hotel, the driver shows me various temples, mosques and attractions.
He points out a modern skyscraper and tells me that this is ‘Antilla’, the
world’s most expensive residential property, with an estimated value of
US$2 billion. It is the home of Mukesh Ambani, an Indian businessman
and one of the richest people in the world, with a net worth of around
US$20 billion (Forbes, 2016). Although only four members of the
Ambani family live here, 600 workers are employed to take care of its
27 ﬂoors, three helipads, six ﬂoors of car parking, hanging gardens,
gymnasiums, theater, and ballroom. How can this be? How did this
person come to amass so much wealth in a country where over 360
million people live on less than US$1.25 a day (Rangarajan, 2014). Why
do so many people continue to live in abject poverty? India is not the
only country that grapples with this problem, nor the only place where
there are vast diﬀerences between the richest and the poorest, although
Ambani’s net worth is gigantic, even by global standards. It is not
unusual to see great wealth butt up against gruelling poverty in India,
yet this was a remarkable juxtaposition. Later that day, as I read my
guidebook, I come across a charity that oﬀers tours of Dharavi,
reportedly Asia’s largest slum. I book a place. This article provides an
account of my visit and the empirical analyses that followed. The ﬁrst
part provides a critical overview of the literature, starting with the
historical context of slums and research on slum tourism. In the second
half, I introduce the case study of Dharavi and present my ﬁndings,
which are drawn from an ethnographic account of the slum tour and a
thematic analysis of over 200 TripAdvisor reviews. In this section, I
argue that the tour operators and tourists jointly construct a view of
poverty that is normalized, even romanticized. It is seen as neutral,
natural and benign, rather than something deadly, which diminishes
wellbeing and threatens life. Poverty is depoliticized. Visitors leave the
slum feeling happy and satisﬁed to have witnessed the ‘real’and ‘au-
thentic’India, but the potential for development is hindered as re-
sidents are left with little prospect of change.
2. Slums: a global issue
According to the United Nations, a slum is a place where people
have insecure residential status. This means that they do not hold a
legal title to their property or any legal right to the land that it sits on.
Slums are characterized by inadequate access to safe water and sani-
tation, poorly built housing and overcrowding (United Nations, 2016).
In 2003, the United Nations undertook a groundbreaking study that
examined the challenge of slums. More than a decade later, it is still
Received 12 February 2017; Received in revised form 3 July 2017; Accepted 7 July 2017
E-mail address: email@example.com.
Geoforum 85 (2017) 37–45
0016-7185/ © 2017 The Author. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/BY-NC-ND/4.0/).
grappling with these challenges as the number of those living in slums
continues to grow (United Nations, 2016) and has now reached over
one billion people (Perry, 2015). This accounts for 33 per cent of the
global urban population (United Nations, 2013). This is a particular
issue for the developing world, where slum inhabitants experience
multiple deprivations including overcrowding, lack of clean water, poor
sanitation, inadequate access to food, education and health services,
and reduced social and political rights due to discrimination (Riley
et al., 2007). All of this leads to disease, illiteracy, unemployment and
crime. McLean (2006) states that by 2020, slums will be the primary
habitat of those in the developing world, a view shared by Davis (2006).
If anything, this is probably an understatement. In 2007, sociologists
argued that the global urban population had exceeded the rural popu-
lation for the ﬁrst time (United Nations, 2008). Back in 2008, statistics
revealed that more than 70 per cent of Africa’s urban population lived
in slums (Cities Alliance website). Oﬃcial ﬁgures notoriously under-
estimate numbers, which is a point that was clearly made by a census
carried out by slum inhabitants in India (Perry, 2015). Global popula-
tion forecasts also vary. Some estimate that urban slums will account
for well over two billion people by 2050 (Perry, 2015), whilst others
have argued that the three billion mark will be reached as early as 2030
(United Nations, 2008). Either way, it is widely accepted that slums are
a huge and growing problem.
The emergence and growth of slums are directly shaped by global
factors that relate to patterns of development. Urban historian Mike
Davis (2006) provides a vividly detailed account of the growth of slums,
which are caused by the rapid urbanization of the planet as a result of
industrialization. This process has been accelerated by neoliberal ca-
pitalism (Robinson, 2012). Urban populations are displaced as corpo-
rate development forces the poor from the land on which their homes
are built. At the same time, the rural poor migrate towards cities in
search of work. People are simultaneously pushed out and pulled in.
According to Davis (2006), this might be more accurately thought of as
cities migrating to people, not the other way around. The expansion of
urban centers results in less space and more demand for land, and the
inevitable growth of slums. This issue is set to deepen, with neoliber-
alism adopted by (or imposed upon) most governments around the
world (Harvey, 2005; Siddiqui, 2012). This political system sees the old
industrial countries of the West, fuelled by untrammeled corporate
power, exploiting the advantages oﬀered by developing countries in-
cluding the abundance of raw materials, cheap and unregulated labor
and lower tax. It leads to continual urbanization at an unprecedented
rate, with cities in the developing world expanding under the pressure
of deregulated market economies.
Dharavi slum in Mumbai is the focus of this article and corresponds
to this pattern. Historically, Mumbai was comprised of seven islands,
which became joined over time as commercialisation increased. It now
occupies a long and narrow strip of land in the Arabian Sea. The British
colonial government took control of the peninsula city center for
trading, and wealthy Brits and Indians built residential developments
along the coast to expand the suburbs (Risbud, 2003). This forced the
residents, the factories, and their workers to head north. These dis-
placed people settled on a patch of land between Mumbai’s two main
suburban railway lines, establishing Dharavi in 1882. Over the years, it
has continued to grow, as more of the urban population is displaced - no
longer by colonial powers but by the same driving force: capitalism.
Some argue that this is a form of ‘neocolonialism’,described as the use
of economic and political pressure by advanced capitalist countries to
control or inﬂuence less developed countries, thereby exploiting labor,
materials, and markets (Portes, 2016). According to Davis, 10–12 mil-
lion of Mumbai’s residents live in slums (2006:23). Echanove and
Srivastava (2014) estimate that this accounts for 60 per cent of the
city’s population. This number is set to rise dramatically if population
estimates are correct. Davis (2006) claims that Indian slums continue to
grow 250 per cent faster than the overall population. A Harvard Busi-
ness School report predicts that a further 200 million people are
expected to move from the Indian countryside to Delhi, Kolkata, and
Mumbai over the next ten years (Iyer and Macomber, 2010). Historical
records show that the population of Mumbai’s suburbs rose by an as-
tronomical 3555 per cent between 1911 and 2011 (Shaikh, 2014). By
2030, the city is estimated to have a population in excess of 28 million
(Hindustan Times, 2014).
3. Slum tourism: arguments and evidence
The practice of slum tourism is not new. It began in Victorian
London, with tours around the squalid East End of the city by the upper
classes, politicians, clergymen, academics, social reformers, journalists,
scientists and writers (Koven, 2004). Over the next hundred years,
formalized tours began in speciﬁc parts of the world, but it has only
been relatively recently that slum tours have become highly organized
and widely marketed. They are now run by private tour companies,
charities, and non-governmental organizations and are a common fea-
ture of tourist itineraries, alongside museums and religious sites. In this
contemporary sense, slum tourism is understood as an activity in which
tourists from the Global North visit impoverished urban centers in the
Global South (Steinbrink et al., 2012). Slum tours in their current in-
carnation began in South Africa in 1991 during the ﬁnal throes of
apartheid, when visitors were taken to townships and non-white areas
in major cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg (Rogerson, 2004;
Butler, 2012; Rolfes, 2010).
This means that slum tourism, as we know it today, is relatively new
and currently under-researched, with the body of academic literature
only recently beginning to take shape. This small but growing debate is
dominated by ethical discussions. Some scholars point to the voyeur-
istic appeal of slum tourism, reﬂecting on why people want to visit
slums, what pleasure could be derived from it and whether they should
be allowed (Dovey and King, 2012; Mendes, 2010; Steinbrink, 2012).
The combination of pleasure, leisure and suﬀering is an obvious point
of tension (Privitera, 2015). However, this viewpoint overlooks the
longstanding interest in slum life. From the poignant evocations of 19th
century London by Charles Dickens, to the dramatization of Indian slum
life by ﬁlm director Danny Boyle, there has always been an interest in
slums. Indeed Koven (2004) shows that pioneering slum tours in Vic-
torian London were as much for entertainment as they were for social
reform. Seaton (2012) claims that curiosity in slums preceded social
philanthropy. The literature criticizing slum tourism neglects this rich
history. Mainstream discussions of slum tourism focus on a straight-
forward and superﬁcial debate about whether it is voyeuristic or not
(Lancaster, 2007; Pickard, 2007; Gross, 2010). This echoes early aca-
demic work on tourism in the 1970s, which considered whether it was a
good thing (Dyson, 2012). This results in a moralizing viewpoint.
Lancaster uses the criticism of others as a proxy for his own dis-
approval, reporting that some critics have accused Reality Tours (the
tour company at the center of this article) of ‘crimes against humanity’
for invading the privacy of slum residents and treating them ‘like ani-
mals’, concluding that the tour operators were ‘parasites’and should be
imprisoned (2007:online). Whilst this is clearly excessive, it is worth
noting the depth of feeling here, that much of the academic and
mainstream literature holds the tourists and tour companies to account
(Burgold and Rolfes, 2013), rather than governments, which are
strangely relinquished. This is noteworthy since slums are the result of
rampant capitalism, inadequate urban planning and a lack of invest-
ment in essential public services. Slums grow in cities. Cities are not
built over slums. Indian government oﬃcials have been audacious,
then, in their claims that tour operators should be punished (Basu,
2012). This standpoint fails to recognize that many companies in this
arena adopt a business model where proﬁts from the tours are put back
into the local community (Frenzel and Blakeman, 2015). The afore-
mentioned Reality Tours won a ‘responsible tourism award’for its
ethical operations. Research by Rolfes (2010) demonstrates that many
tour operators express disdain for voyeurism and display a moral
M. Nisbett Geoforum 85 (2017) 37–45
sensibility. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that slum
tourism leads to any detrimental impact on residents and on the whole,
slum dwellers bear no ill feeling towards tourists. A study of Dharavi
slum in Mumbai found that only 12 per cent of slum residents expressed
negative or sceptical views of slum tourism (Slikker, 2014). Moreover,
Slikker and Koens (2015) show that these views became more positive
over time, as residents learn more about slum tourism. Privitera (2015)
is one of the few writers to actively praise tour companies for providing
real and authentic exchanges that confront stereotypes and enable
people to understand other cultures. Yet how far slum tourism promotes
an ‘exchange’is a matter for debate. Ma’s (2010) thesis found that slum
residents wanted more direct interaction with tourists. In her case study
of the Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro, Freire-Medeiros (2012) shows
that 84 per cent of slum residents were positive about tourism and a
further 9 per cent felt indiﬀerent. This empirical data contradicts the
suspicions of voyeurism and serves as a useful reminder to be cautious
of these accusations. At the same time, tourists’motivations remain
largely unattended to. There is also the argument that foreigners should
be exposed to the negative impacts of global capitalism. Advocates such
as Frenzel and Koens (2012) ask how any change will ever take place if
there is no engagement. Robinson (2012) claims that tourism raises
awareness of the realities of slum conditions.
Whilst recognizing the potential for voyeurism, other writers infer
that this is oﬀset by the advantages to the local community. It is argued
that tourism can bring ﬁnancial beneﬁt and contribute to international
development (see the work of tourism academic Harold Goodwin).
However, there are many accounts that show that local populations
don’t beneﬁt at all, especially when the negative impacts are taken into
account in a cost-beneﬁt analysis (Fennell, 2006). The supposed ‘trickle
down’eﬀect has now been widely debunked (Scheyvens, 2010). Whilst
some speciﬁcity would be useful in terms of beneﬁts to the community,
government, country or city, there is currently little evidence to support
the economic development argument on a local level, other than what
appears to be a handful of small-scale and individual cases of en-
trepreneurship (Kieti and Magio, 2013; Koens, 2012; Rogerson, 2004;
Koens and Thomas, 2015). As the continued growth of slums is sti-
mulated and maintained by global factors, even if slum tourism was
eﬀective in terms of development, it would be at such a low level that it
would have little impact against the march of neoliberalism.
For other writers such as the sociologist Bianca Freires-Medeiros
(2009), the key issue centers on the commercialization of poverty,
raising questions around who beneﬁts. Yet there is no evidence to de-
monstrate that slum communities are disadvantaged or even adversely
aﬀected. Implicit in this argument is the idea that tour operators or
governments beneﬁt. The literature is not brimming with accounts of
unscrupulous tour companies and there is little evidence to suggest that
governments are proﬁting in any meaningful way. In most cases, poli-
ticians are not in favor of slum tourism. The Indian government con-
demned it as it was seen to misrepresent the country, undermine its
tourism eﬀorts and counter its success story of economic development.
However, there is no evidence to support this either. It seems to be
more a case of national pride. Slums in Delhi that could not be relocated
in time for the Commonwealth Games in 2010 were fenced oﬀwith
bamboo screens and hidden from visitors (Basu, 2012). This also hap-
pened in Rio de Janeiro, as tourists arriving for the Olympic Games
were shielded from the Alemão favela complex by a colorful wall of
murals, nicknamed the ‘Wall of Shame’by locals (Cavalcante, 2016).
When Michael Jackson visited Rio’s slums in 1996 to shoot a music
video, the authorities responded with indignation, believing that it
would denigrate the city’s image and jeopardize its future bid for the
Olympic Games (Freires-Medeiros, 2009).
Whilst the literature is preoccupied with the ethics of slum tourism,
very little attention is paid to power, which is largely absent from the
discussions. Even the edited collection of essays on the topic Slum
Tourism: Poverty,Power and Ethics (Frenzel et al., 2012) is devoid of any
serious engagement with theories of power. The special issue of the
journal Tourism Geographies on slum tourism
barely discusses power,
with the exception of Dürr (2012), although this account remains un-
theorized. Similarly, Fabian Frenzel’s comprehensive study of slum
tourism (2016) does not look at power, despite its grounding in cultural
4. Slum tourism at Dharavi
Dharavi currently occupies a plot of land that covers 1.75 km
which is roughly half the size of Central Park in New York. It is home to
one million people. With an average of ﬁve people per household, 48
per cent live in houses under 10 m
, and 43 per cent in spaces under
. This density makes it over six times as populous as daytime
Manhattan (Reality Tours website). Dharavi has one of the highest real
estate values in the world and with close proximity to the airport, it is
perpetually at risk of demolition.
The Indian government has been
attempting to relocate residents through slum resettlement programs
for decades. This longstanding project to move people into nearby
purpose-built high-rises has repeatedly stalled. Rather than resettle-
ment being seen as the failure of the state in the ﬁrst place and a social
responsibility to resolve, it is viewed as a lucrative business opportu-
nity. Proposals for improvement programs tend to be devised in-
dependently of slum residents and fail to take the needs of the com-
munity into account (Verma, 2002). For example, the proposed high-
rises would maximize space and allow for luxury retail and hotel units,
but would eradicate the slum’sﬂourishing micro-enterprises, with re-
sidents living and working in close proximity. Dharavi is part of India’s
‘informal economy’, which accounts for 90 per cent of the country’s
employment and includes shopkeepers, farmers, construction workers,
taxi drivers and street vendors (Yardley, 2011). Removing, disrupting
or jeopardizing it through insensitive resettlement programs would be
disastrous. Hence, these programs are always controversial. Architect
and planner Gita Dewan Verma (2002) notes the lack of evidence in
demonstrating the success of resettlement programs, and argues that
many of these lead to new slums, as they are not integrated into existing
infrastructure. They perpetuate unequal access to essential services,
keep slum communities segregated from wider society and leave large
and growing numbers of poor people in substandard conditions. Indeed
a redevelopment program of Dharavi in 1985 made some changes but
ultimately failed to change the overall nature and character of the slum
(Patel and Arputham, 2007). Whilst resettlement has a long and com-
plex history (since the 1950s, according to Basu, 2012), the current
plans are more ambitious and involve a range of international investors
with competing interests.
Whilst resettlement proposals are continually redrafted and pro-
grams stalled and shelved, corporate development surges, displacing
more people and placing increasing pressure on scarce resources. This
has created a niche for slum tourism, which began in India in 2006.
Reality Tours was the ﬁrst company to organize commercial slum tours
and is now the largest, catering for 15,000 tourists annually. It has
grown rapidly over the last ten years, partly due to the box oﬃce
success of the British ﬁlm Slumdog Millionaire, which grossed over US
$377 million worldwide. Originally a charity and now a non-govern-
mental organization, Reality Tours invests 80 per cent of its proﬁts from
tours, merchandise and donations into computer, English and life skills
classes for children and young people living in the slums.
Special issue of Tourism Geographies: An International Journal of Tourism Space, Place
and Environment on ‘Global Perspectives on Slum Tourism’. 2012. 14 (2).
The residents of Vidigal favela in Rio de Janeiro face a similar threat with their pa-
noramic view of the Atlantic Ocean, forested mountains and sweeping views of Ipanema
beach. Developers have already moved in and opened the ﬁrst luxury boutique hostel in
See Patel and Arputham (2007) for a comprehensive discussion.
Most children have never left the slum and do not interact with anyone outside, so
they need help with personal grooming, hygiene and sex education.
M. Nisbett Geoforum 85 (2017) 37–45
5. Methods, data and analysis
The empirical ﬁndings begin with an ethnographic account of a
slum tour, where I acted as a participant observer, engaging in the tour
and in conversations with the tour guide and other visitors. The second
phase of the empirical work involved examining 236 TripAdvisor re-
views by slum tourists. The data was analyzed using thematic analysis,
a form of qualitative analysis that involves identifying recurring themes
and patterns. This method was chosen for its rigor. It is a time-con-
suming and labor-intensive approach, but it allows for a thorough and
detailed analysis. It was also selected for its versatility. It is not theo-
retically bound to a particular discipline or wedded to an epistemolo-
gical position. It can be used on any type of data and any size of data
Thematic analysis is a rigorous process of data familiarization,
coding, theme development and revision. It goes beyond counting
words or phrases, and involves identifying implicit and explicit ideas
within raw data. These ideas are categorized through a process of close
reading and inductive coding, which means that ideas are generated
and driven by the data, rather than the researcher looking for pre-de-
ﬁned ideas that are decided in advance. The analytical procedure then
moves onto theme development and review through a process of de-
tailed note-making and visual mapping techniques. The categories are
then conceptually developed into themes, which are examined in con-
text so that their meanings can be explored.
An ethnographic approach enabled me to describe, critique and
analyse my visit to the slum. The TripAdvisor reviews similarly shed
light on ﬁrst-hand experience of slum tours. TripAdvisor claims to be
the world’s largest travel site, covering the whole globe and featuring
over 465 million reviews, written by tourists (TripAdvisor website).
This user-generated content allows readers to build a picture of slum
life in Dharavi. These ‘mediated imaginaries’(Frenzel, 2016:187) shape
the way that people think about the slum. For those interested in slum
life or visiting Dharavi, these accounts are inﬂuential. Dharavi is rated
as more of an attraction than the cave temples of Mumbai’s Elephanta
Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Frenzel, 2016). This
further boosts the number of visitors to the slum. TripAdvisor oﬀers a
rich source of easily accessible and readily available data.
5.1. Ethnography of the slum tour
On the morning of the slum visit, the tourists assembled in down-
town Mumbai. The group comprised white westerners from Britain,
Germany, France, Sweden, and America. Our young male Indian guide
was a university graduate. We took a train north to Mahim, a 25-minute
journey, where we joined another 20 or so white western tourists and
several more young male Indian guides. I chatted to the other tourists.
They were teachers, architects, ﬁnancial analysts, web designers,
charity workers, and administrators. We walked for a further ten min-
utes until we reached our destination, where we were split into small
groups of six. Larger groups would be intrusive and impractical due to
the size of the buildings, staircases, and alleyways. The tour began with
a statement about the productivity of the slum, with its 10,000 diﬀerent
businesses and an annual turnover of US$665 million, generated from
its hutment industries. I queried this ﬁgure, as the population itself is
one million, and we had just been told that many of those who own
businesses no longer live in Dharavi. This was brushed oﬀas we headed
into the slum.
Our ﬁrst stop was a plastics recycling hut. Scavengers scour the city
for bottles in waste bins, on roadsides, and in refuse tips. The material is
collected and brought to Dharavi where it is sorted, broken down,
washed, melted and moulded into pellets, ready to be made back into
bottles and other items. A child came over to the group to ask for
money. After a curt conversation in Hindi, she was sent away. We were
told that this was highly unusual and normally never happens. The next
stop was an aluminium- recycling shed, where we observed a similar
process. This time, paint was being burnt oﬀdiscarded tins and barrels.
This was dirty and dangerous work. The factories are small single
rooms, ﬁlled with smoke and the acrid smell of melting materials. Male
workers were crouched in the dusty darkness beside their furnaces.
Dressed in vests and sandals, and in some cases, without shirts or shoes,
they poured the molten aluminium into moulds on the dusty ﬂoor. I
asked our guide about access to fresh water and electricity, and he
replied: ‘Oh, they have all of that. Let’s move on!’
Other industries looked similarly hazardous. Kilns pumped out thick
black smoke in the pottery section, which made vision and breathing
diﬃcult. In the tanneries, the stench from the animal carcasses brought
from the nearby abattoirs was so strong that we had to cover our faces.
The men pounded the skins of dead animals to remove the remaining
ﬂesh and fat. They stuck their arms into barrels of chemical dyes con-
taining the soaking hides. Next door was a shop that sold purses, wal-
lets, and bags. We were told that the leather produced here is sold to
luxury brands such as Gucci. The tourists were impressed. As we entered
the shop, our guide told us not to forget to barter.
Bakeries produced breads, cakes, and biscuits. Laundries washed
and ironed the sheets and towels of the luxury hotels of Mumbai. There
were cloth, clothing and soap manufacturers. Women were making
poppadoms, which they draped over baskets and left to dry in the sun,
amidst children playing with animals. All of these goods supply stores
and restaurants across the city and beyond. The products remain un-
branded, as any association with the slum would render them unsale-
able. So Dharavi is part of a complex supply chain that not only fur-
nishes its own community, but Mumbai, and other cities and regions
across the country, as well as the global luxury goods and services
The visits to the hutments were followed by a tour of the domestic
areas of the slum. We traversed tiny, dark, densely-packed alleyways,
which were too narrow to walk two abreast. We passed by houses,
where we caught a glimpse of life inside. The smell of frying onions and
spices permeated the air. I saw ﬂashes of interior space as we quickly
darted past. I was conscious of intruding and also compelled to look. I
observed the makeshift, fragile, slippery pipes of the rudimentary
sewerage system that we were stepping over. I asked our guide about
sanitation but I did not get a response. It was hard to converse at this
point, as we were walking in single ﬁle amidst the cacophony. Every
now and again, the alleyways opened out into small streets, where
people washed themselves using buckets of cold water and children
played in the dirt. The kids smiled and waved and laughed, and said:
‘Hello, do you speak English? What’s your name?’However, nobody
paid us any attention most of the time. There was no hostility nor any
curiosity from the adults. There was no sense that we had invaded their
privacy. We were largely ignored and met with indiﬀerence.
We went to the community center in the ﬁnal stage of the tour,
which houses the education program. Rows of smiling faces lined the
walls. By this point, we were weary. We were given more information
on funding, which comes from tour income and donations. The number
of residents who can access the programs is relatively small in com-
parison with the overall population. Whilst this is laudable work, only
6000 young people have been involved in the program so far (0.6 per
cent of the population). Finally, we were taken to the Reality Tours
oﬃce and shop, where we had the chance to buy merchandise and
make a donation. Nobody bought anything or made a donation, yet
they had clearly enjoyed the tour and were eﬀusive about the company
and its work. I reﬂected on this on the train on my way back to the city
as I wiped a tissue over my face to remove a ﬁne layer of dust. The
following day, I received an email from Reality Tours, asking me to
leave a review on TripAdvisor to ‘rate my experience’, and pointing me
to the website to learn more about ‘how to get involved’. The email also
For more information about thematic analysis and clear instructions on how to do it,
see Braun and Clarke (2006).
M. Nisbett Geoforum 85 (2017) 37–45
linked to a collection of online images that we were encouraged to
circulate and share, as there was a strict ‘no-photography’policy to
discourage voyeurism and minimize intrusion.
5.2. TripAdvisor analysis
The second stage of my empirical work involved analyzing the
TripAdvisor reviews, which were predominantly positive. In sampling
the reviews, I was only interested in those that had visited Dharavi with
Reality Tours. Out of 236 reviews, 48 per cent (113) rated the tour as
‘excellent’, 19 per cent (45) rated it ‘very good’, 18 per cent (44)
‘average’, 7 per cent (16) ‘poor’and 8 per cent (18) ‘terrible’. On closer
inspection, the negative comments tended to be short and had been
posted by Indian citizens who were outraged by the government’s in-
activity on slums. None of them were associated with the tour but were
general comments about the proliferation of slums in India, seeing them
as ‘dirty’,‘chaotic’,‘unhygienic’and ‘dangerous’environments. I dis-
regarded these comments, as they were not related to the tour itself.
The positive (‘excellent’/’very good’) comments were longer and more
detailed. Three of these reviews were analytical in nature, seeking to
explore the socio-political issues and possible plans of action to address
poverty. The rest were uncritical descriptions, which I categorized into
two main themes: visitors’perceptions and visitors’experiences.
In terms of perceptions, the comments were further classiﬁed into
two key themes: industry and community. In terms of industry, the
slum residents were viewed in a positive light and seen as ‘hard-
‘productive’,‘ingenious’and ‘energetic’.Descriptive phrases were used,
referring to the slum as an ‘economic powerhouse’and a ‘thriving
cottage industry’that ‘provided essential services’. There was a nor-
mative moral subtext of independence and self-suﬃciency, with com-
ments around the lack of ‘hand-outs’and the ‘contribution to society’
made by the residents. The slum was seen as ‘eﬃcient’,‘functional’and
‘organized’. The majority of these comments did not mention or ac-
knowledge the glaring poverty. For some, there was even a seeming
refusal to accept that the slum was a place of deﬁciency and dis-
advantage, for example:
‘I expected to see a slum …it was most unlike a slum. It is more like a
brisk business. Lovely leather products at fantastic prices’
By presenting Dharavi as a site of business, products, and prices, the
reviewer is able to eschew the political dimensions of the slum. As such,
it is not recognized as a slum and possibly even denied its slum status.
Meschkank’s empirical study found that tourists rejected the idea of
Dharavi as a slum. They disliked the word, instead favoring ‘less de-
veloped area’(2012:152). One participant stated: ‘I might not auto-
matically call it a slum’(2012:154). Meschkank concluded that ‘tourists
doubted Dharavi’s status as a slum generally’as they didn’t see it as
representing ‘true poverty’(2012:155). Poverty was obscured for many
by the manufacturing nature of the site, which was emphasized by the
tour. Ironically, it is the industrial processing that has a further detri-
mental impact on the living conditions of the residents. Living and
working in the same place is convenient, but it comes with health im-
plications due to the toxic nature of many of the industries. Indian
economist Madhura Swaminathan (1995) argues that slum residents are
the worst victims of industrial pollution. She refers to a study of the
leather-making factories at Dharavi, which showed the tanneries to be a
major source of pollution, with animal remains, eﬄuent and chemicals
found in wastewater, contaminating the air, land, and water.
By highlighting the commercial aspect, the online reviewer in the
quote above is unable to reconcile the idea that Dharavi could be both a
slum and a site of business and trade. Slums are often economically
vibrant (Cities Alliance website). The notion of income repeatedly came
through and many reviewers commented on the ‘bargains’on oﬀer.
Related to this was a steadfast belief that for many residents, living in
the slum was an ‘active lifestyle choice’and that people were there ‘by
choice, not by chance’, suggesting that living in Dharavi was not down
to a set of life circumstances that people are born into and ﬁnd it dif-
ﬁcult to escape from. Banerjee and Duﬂo (2006) argue that the self-
employed poor typically have no specialized skills and practice multiple
occupations. Karnani’s research claims that most poor people are not
self-employed by choice and that the romanticized view of the poor as
‘resilient and creative entrepreneurs’(2009:81) unhelpfully over-
emphasizes microcredit as a means of reducing poverty, rather than
steady employment on reasonable wages. This is all very much in line
with India’s reputation for its entrepreneurial energy and resourceful-
ness (Tharoor, 2007).
For many Dharavi visitors, poverty was less visible and even in-
visible for some. For others, it was certainly misunderstood and in some
cases, even normalized. Visitors remarked: ‘I’m sure this is not the worst
living conditions in Mumbai’and consistently commented on residents
having televisions, as if this was the 1950s when TV sets were luxury
items. Dharavi was heralded as a ‘ﬁve-star slum’. It was repeatedly
claimed that it housed ‘millionaires’and ‘billionaires’. This points to a
broader issue about income. Verma (2002) helpfully connects these
points in her book on Indian slums, explaining that residents are not
always poor in terms of income, relatively, but that living in slum
conditions contributes to poverty. Time, energy and money are dis-
proportionately spent trying to access basic services, such as fetching
clean water. Swaminathan (1995) reports that even where clean water
is available, it is often in short and patchy supply, and insuﬃcient for
the needs of a family. For example, it is not unusual for women to get up
at 3am to spend hours collecting water. She cites a study that also
shows that slum residents can pay up to 20 times more for water than
the rest of the population (SPARC, 1994). This is not the only expense
where slum residents are penalized. Verma (2002) claims that expenses
on health services are higher for those living in slums because the
conditions lead to major illnesses, which are more expensive to treat.
Likewise, Riley et al. (2007) argue that because slum residents are
neglected populations, the health sector only becomes aware of diseases
at a relatively late stage. This means that they are more severe and
complicated to treat, and frequently result in death. So there are mul-
tiple aspects to urban poverty that do not disappear when income in-
creases, which is a widespread misconception. This cycle keeps people
locked into poverty.
In light of the comments on the relative wealth of the slum re-
sidents, I continued to reﬂect on Dharavi’s turnover of US$665 million.
This is the gross ﬁgure, not net proﬁt, so does not take expenses such as
labor, overheads, and materials into account. Also, as our tour guide
explained to us, many of those running slum businesses no longer live
there, which raises the question of what percentage of turnover is ac-
tually going to the residents. This cannot be much, as the population of
Dharavi is one million. Nor does this ﬁgure compare favorably with the
average annual minimum wage for factory workers in India, which is
US$694 (Asia Floor Wage Alliance, 2015).
Therefore, the claims by
reviewers of ‘millionaires’and ‘billionaires’seem tragically misguided.
The TripAdvisor reviewers also perceived the inhabitants to be
tented’. The slum was seen as a place where people ‘ﬂourished’and
‘thrived’. Some visitors also claimed to feel ‘at home’at Dharavi, with
one reviewer stating that the residents were ‘just like you and me’.In
one review, a visitor wrote:
‘Friendly children smiled …The dignity of the human experience shone
brightly …neighbours watched out for each other …A model for the
Ascertaining the minimum wage is India is complicated, as there are continual labor
reforms, an enormous workforce, and high levels of informal and unorganized work.
There is also signiﬁcant variation between regions, in line with diﬀerences in living costs.
I have used calculations from the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, which takes these factors into
account (see Asia Floor Wage Alliance website, 2017).
M. Nisbett Geoforum 85 (2017) 37–45
When Asia’s largest slum is endorsed as ‘a model for the world’,
there is an ignorance of poverty. Residents were repeatedly seen to be
‘living here quite happily’, having an ‘abundance of life’, living in an
‘absence of anger and bitterness’, and demonstrating that ‘your life
circumstances don’tdeﬁne you’. This rejects the widely recognized
notion that for the vast majority of people, where you are born and the
circumstances into which you are born, tend to dictate your lot in life.
Reviewers repeatedly asserted that they ‘didn’t see suﬀering’, whilst
residents were deemed to be ‘high on life’and able to ‘ﬁnd happiness in
the smallest things’. Aside from these comments being highly patron-
izing, they overlook the endless drudgery of poverty, the substandard
living conditions of the slum residents and the degraded environments
that, in Swaminathan’s words (1995), are not suitable for human ha-
bitation. If these people are not deemed to be in need, then who is? This
data connects with other empirical accounts. For example, media stu-
dies scholar Mehita Iqani’s analysis of slum tourists’comments was rife
with accounts of the grace and ease in which the poor shouldered the
burden of poverty. Visitors celebrated the slum residents’smiles, ‘good
spirits’and ‘strong sense of togetherness’(2016:74) declaring that
‘beauty and happiness can exist in poverty too!’(2016:75). Social sci-
entist Émilie Crossley’s research on western volunteer tourism in de-
prived communities in rural Kenya found exactly this tendency. Her
interviewees consistently emphasized the perceived happiness of the
residents. One participant even expressed ‘surprise’and was ‘possibly
disappointed’(2012:248) that she had traveled a long way to ﬁnd that
the residents were not as unhappy as she had expected them to be.
Crossley noted that the tourists used the cheerfulness of the local
children to characterize the whole community, which created ‘a com-
forting illusion’(2012:249). Residents were deemed ‘poor but happy’
(2012:249), which is a narrative that was widespread across the Tri-
pAdvisor reviews. Fabian Frenzel notes the tendency of tourists to cling
onto the idea of ‘the inherent goodness of poor people’(2016:156).
Ruth Williams looks at travel memoirs, where poor children are de-
scribed as having faces ‘drenched with luminescence’(2014:624) and a
beauty that enables them to ‘transcend’their own poverty (2014:624).
One traveler sees Indian women engaged in hard labor and questions
how they can be so happy ‘doing this rough work under such terrible
conditions?’(Williams 2014:624). Williams notes that this hardship is
utilized for the tourist’s own creative inspiration. In this case, poverty is
noted but happiness is also assumed. Similarly, Kate Simpson’s study of
western gap year volunteer tourists in South America found that the
deprived locals were perceived as happy and that their poverty was
seen to be counterbalanced by their emotional, spiritual and commu-
From the reviews on TripAdvisor, it was clear that the tours follow a
very prescriptive route. They go to the same factories in the same order
every time. There is minimal, if any, interaction with the residents.
Therefore, claims of contentment and happiness are based purely on
assumptions. It is reasonable to presume that there is some happiness or
moments of happiness amongst residents, but the overarching senti-
ment here is excessive and verges on romanticization. Slum residents
work seven days a week, from before the sun rises until after it goes
down. No weekends. No holidays. No sick pay. No downtime. No
pensions. No retirement. They have worked like this since they were
children and will continue until they die. They exist in tiny, cramped,
overpopulated spaces, often with only one room in which to cook,
sleep, eat and live, with little access to proper healthcare and education.
Studies by writers such as Boo (2013), Davis (2006) and Verma (2002)
paint a picture of slum life as a cycle of hardship and toil on the edge of
survival, rather than ‘an abundance of happiness’. These accounts sit in
stark contrast to the ‘model for the world’described by the foreign
visitors. Poverty was rolled into a distorted yet romanticized notion of
contentment, humility, and community. This tendency to romanticize
poverty echoes Simpson’s (2004) ﬁndings on the perceptions of western
tourists in deprived communities in Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia. Si-
milarly, postcolonial writer Arundhati Roy’s (2009) critique of the ﬁlm
Slumdog Millionaire argues that Indian slum life and its attendant pov-
erty is romanticized. This may account for the fact that none of the
tourists made a donation or purchased any merchandise at the end of
the tour. The slum residents were simply deemed not to be in emo-
tional, practical or ﬁnancial need. This corroborates the ﬁndings of
urban geographers Jones and Sanyal (2015), who explored how the use
of slum tours shaped perceptions of Dharavi. They concluded that the
narrative of the slum as a site of industry and harmony lulled elites into
thinking that ‘the poor are getting by and do not need help or funda-
mental shifts in the structure of the global economy’(2015:438). Si-
milarly, Iqani’s analysis of slum tourism in Cape Town, Mumbai and Rio
de Janeiro concludes that tourists do not see any ‘need to change the
The experience of the tourists themselves also dominated the re-
views. Visitors reported that the slum tour was ‘eye opening’,‘life-
changing’and ‘mind-blowing’. They found it ‘uplifting’,‘inspiring’and
‘enriching’, and were satisﬁed that they had discovered the ‘real’and
‘authentic’India. This was notwithstanding the fact that thousands of
others have also experienced the exact same tour, with the exact same
route, to the exact same script. These aﬃrmative statements suggest
that the perceptions of the tourists didn’t just change, but that the ex-
perience was genuinely transformative and, in their words, ‘un-
forgettable’. These accounts raise questions about what and who these
tours are for. They are undoubtedly for tourists, in order to witness life
in the slum, but there is obviously a longer-term goal of social change.
For an ethically and socially responsible charity like Reality Tours, the
visits are presumably a call to action, going beyond a mere leisure
pursuit for the white middle classes. They are for the residents –both
directly, as the money from the tours goes into the education program
but also indirectly, in the hope that slum tourism leads to social and
economic development, although there is no evidence base to support
6. The depoliticization of poverty
So the positive and upbeat narrative of the slum tour was replicated
in the TripAdvisor comments. These representations are in danger of
obscuring poverty and undermining the reality of Dharavi. Katherine
Boo’s book (2013), based on a three-year ethnography of a Mumbai
slum, provides a vivid yet bleak portrait of slum life and how diﬃcult it
is to exist and survive in an environment of turpitude, hardship, and
suﬀering. These exaggerated positive narratives are distortions that
cause us, at best, to make overly optimistic assumptions about the lives
of those living and working in the slum, and, at worst, to misunderstand
the harsh reality of modern-day poverty.
What brings these data sets and analyses together is a depolitici-
zation of poverty within a broader context of neoliberalism. Reality
Tours aims to challenge and change the perception of poverty by en-
couraging visitors to reconsider their prejudices so that we no longer
think of slums as despairing places inhabited by hopeless people. The
slum residents were presented and perceived as productive and hard-
working, but also content and happy. As the reviews show, poverty was
ignored, denied, overlooked and romanticized, but moreover, it was
depoliticized. Slums are a casualty of corporate development and the
upshot of this land grabbing is more people in less space, which creates
slum conditions. Depoliticization is seen as a deﬁning practice of neo-
liberalism (Peck, 2008). The tour was completely decontextualized so
its related neoliberal narrative was absent. By not discussing the factors
that create and maintain slums, the site and its attendant poverty were
detached from its origins. Instead, structural inequalities were rendered
invisible. To add further complexity, poverty was obfuscated through a
pro-neoliberal subtext, which permeated the tour narrative and the
tourists’reviews. Slum residents were framed as ‘hardworking’,‘en-
trepreneurial’,‘independent’and ‘self-suﬃcient’, as opposed to being
dependent on welfare payments. Importantly, they were seen as ‘happy’
and ‘contented’. These were good and willing neoliberal subjects,
M. Nisbett Geoforum 85 (2017) 37–45
toiling without complaint, which tourists deemed admirable. This
chimes with anthropologist JeﬀMaskovsky’s (2001) work on urban
poverty, which describes how neoliberalism recasts sites of poverty
from dependent places to productive spaces. He diﬀerentiates between
the ‘productive’and ‘unproductive’poor, in the same vein as the 18th
century notions that divided the poor into the ‘deserving’and ‘un-
deserving’, which still exists in many countries today. As neoliberalism
quantiﬁes and commodiﬁes all aspects of daily life, unproductive
people are marginalized whilst productive people become ‘subjects of
value’(Smith 1997:222). Since neoliberalism is rooted in a system of
production and consumption, the tourists themselves can equally be
seen as compliant neoliberal subjects. All tourist destinations can be
classiﬁed as commodiﬁed spaces, but tourists here are seeking a journey
of self-discovery, where their own transformation is central. In this
context, ‘spiritual materialism’(Williams, 2014:618) is essential. By
consuming the ‘authentic’culture, the tourists inculcate a self-empow-
ered spiritual awakening, and by retaining a depoliticized viewpoint,
diﬃcult questions about poverty can be sidestepped, allowing them to
be free consumers. Similarly, by presenting working life in the slums as
uncomplicated and devoid of stress, it somehow becomes pure and
moral. This corresponds with Mendes, who sees Slumdog Millionaire as
presenting ‘a romanticized version of Indian poverty, skilfully depoli-
ticized …packaged for consumption’(2010:478). Roy’s (2009) inter-
pretation of the ﬁlm argues that it portrays destitution as something
that can be overcome through perseverance. This comes through in
Iqani’s analysis, where tourists admired the way that the ‘united com-
munity work together to improve their quality of life’(2016:74) and
show little recognition of the structural basis of poverty. Some writers
argue that this type of tourism is a form of colonialism (Larasati, 2010;
Roy, 2010; Williams, 2014), where native populations are simply used
as tools for spiritual inspiration and enlightenment. In the words of
Sandip Roy, this is about: ‘white people discovering themselves in
brown places’(2010:online). If we are to fully understand slum tourism
as a contemporary phenomenon, it must be theorized through the lens
of politics, power, place and race.
This article presented an empirical study examining Dharavi slum.
Through ﬁrst-hand experience of a slum tour, I observed the restricted,
upbeat and positive narrative that was told about the slum as a place of
trade and industry, integrated into global supply chains, with a strong
community feel. Those attending the tours, as observed in the online
reviews, took this up with enthusiasm. The slum was seen as a place of
energy and productivity. Slum residents were viewed as industrious and
resourceful. A sense of community was seen through smiling children
and the lack of hostility. So the tour company and the foreign visitors
jointly construct this vision of economic success and social harmony:
the tour company through its initial promotion, the tour guides through
their buoyant narrative, and the tourists who reiterate, reaﬃrm and
propagate this viewpoint in their retelling.
A key objective of Reality Tours is to address the stigma around
slums. The online reviews suggest that this was wholly achieved. From
participating in the tour, I can ﬁrmly say that it would not be possible to
come away with any negative attitudes towards the residents. However,
nor should we be left thinking that there isn’t a problem. The tour
company did such a good job of changing tourists’perceptions that it
may be to the detriment of its work. No donations or purchases were
made during my visit.
This is an obvious and immediate problem, but
there is a broader issue. Poverty was not recognized or understood by
those on the tour, who appear to be seasoned, western travelers. Life in
the slum was understood as normal and natural. Tourists came away
from the experience thinking that the residents lived there by choice,
and were happy and ﬁnancially independent, even wealthy. A positive
neoliberal narrative underpinned the tour and the tourists’reviews.
However, the broader negative neoliberal context of how slums are
created and maintained was absent. Notions of social justice were in-
visible to the tourists because they didn’t feature in the tour. Residents
live without any ownership rights to their homes and on land that they
have no legal right to. This means that their dwellings and businesses
can be demolished or taken away by the authorities at any point, and
often are. This is not to mention the lack of access to essential services.
Yardley (2011) reports that ten families can share one water tap, with
water available for less than three hours a day. Another study of
Mumbai’s slums (including Dharavi) found that there were signiﬁcantly
higher incidences of water and sanitation-related diseases in slum
communities. This is aggravated by their location at environmentally
unsafe sites, lack of sewerage and basic sanitation, and poor personal
hygiene due to a lack clean water and environmental education (Karn
and Harada, 2002). Karnani (2009) claims that there is one public toilet
for every 800 people at Dharavi. Dyson (2012) states that this ﬁgure is
one toilet per 1,440 residents. The lack of facilities leads many people
to practice open defecation (Karnani, 2009; Karn and Harada, 2002),
which results in the transmission of life-threatening diseases such as
typhoid, cholera, hepatitis, dysentery, malaria and tuberculosis.
Cramped conditions aid the spread of infection. This results in un-
healthy and unsustainable environments. Illness leads to a loss of in-
come, which then contributes to malnutrition, a factor that results in
India topping the global chart for chronic malnourishment (Pada,
By their very nature, slums are illegal settlements. They attract legal
and illegal immigrants, refugees, and those on low pay, who are ex-
cluded from claiming beneﬁts such as minimum wage compensation,
pensions, and health insurance (Riley et al., 2007). Residents experi-
ence everyday discrimination when they apply for jobs outside of the
slum, try to access schooling beyond Dharavi or attempt to get a bank
loan (Yardley, 2011; United Nations, 2013). Slums show an over-pre-
sentation of ‘schedule castes’(Rukmini, 2013), which is the oﬃcial
name for the lowest caste in India. These are the most socially dis-
advantaged who are considered ‘untouchable’in orthodox Hindu
scriptures and practice, and who are condemned to do the society’s
most unpleasant jobs, like cleaning dry latrines (toilets that don’t
By decontexualizing slum life, vital factual information is
elided. Thus slum tours like this one do not help tourists to understand,
talk about or challenge poverty.
It is disturbing, then, to reﬂect on the comments and reviews posted
by the tourists, where the conditions in which people were living were
seen to be perfectly acceptable and, in some cases, desirable. When one
of the largest slums in Asia is extolled as ‘a model for the world’,
something has gone wrong.
Visitors left the slum tour feeling satisﬁed
with their ‘authentic’experience, ‘transformed’and conﬁdent that they
had seen the ‘real India’. This is in line with other empirical studies of
Dharavi (Dyson, 2012; Meschkank, 2011) and accounts of ‘neoliberal
spiritual tourism’(Williams, 2014:626). From the abundance of phrases
such as ‘life-changing’,‘eye-opening’and ‘mind-blowing’in the online
analysis, it seems that the slum tours simply empower the wrong
people: the privileged, white, western middle classes. In other words,
However, this may have been unusual. I do not know whether sales and donations are
typically made during the tours or when people return home. The company accounts do
not provide this level of detail.
The caste system could not function without discrimination, yet it is underpinned and
reinforced by political, societal and cultural norms around religion. This ensures that
people are locked into poverty with no possibility of betterment or escape. See the
writings of the late economist and social reformer Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.
Prince Charles, heir to Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, similarly eulogized
Dharavi in his book on sustainable living. He viewed the slum as a place ‘that surely holds
lessons for modern town planning’(Wales et al., 2010:234). This is a ridiculous and
despicable suggestion from someone who embodies privilege, has an annual income of
£20 million (Palmer, 2015) and owns a portfolio of land and property worth £728 million
M. Nisbett Geoforum 85 (2017) 37–45
those who are already empowered. Therefore, for all its good inten-
tions, Reality Tours unwittingly undermines its raison d'être. This is a
tragic irony for a company that aspires to alleviate poverty and that was
founded to serve this central purpose. This possibly calls for a harsher
judgment of Reality Tours. Jones and Sanyal’s account of the Dharavi
slum tour (2015) describes how tourists were actively encouraged to
interact with the guides but when serious topics such as health and
safety, ethnic tensions or workers’rights arose, their questions were
ignored, avoided or diverted, and the answers given were im-
pressionistic. They also discussed how tourists were prevented from
speaking to locals and discouraged from obtaining counter perspectives,
which resulted in very few opportunities to contest what they were
being told. This is not accidental but planned and organized. Thus
Reality Tours can be seen to directly contribute to the problem, rather
than being part of the solution.
This normalization, romanticization, and depoliticization of poverty
legitimizes social inequality and diverts attention away from the state
and its responsibility for poverty reduction. It is, therefore, diﬃcult to
imagine how slum tourism in this case could ever make a meaningful
contribution to social change. Iqani’s devastating analysis states that
even though the tourists’reviews were replete with accounts of their
own learning, none of them ‘explained how their newfound enlight-
enment might translate into actions’(2016:82). Similarly, the com-
ments in this research gave no indication of action, as change wasn’t
deemed necessary. Slum tourism is not a suﬃcient answer to a growing
global problem. At the root of poverty is a terrible social injustice that
needs to be ‘fought with vicious intolerance’(Verma, 2002: xxiii) by
making governments and corporate organizations responsible and ac-
countable. Poverty is caused by the inequitable distribution of re-
sources, which we could end if we simply chose to (Portes, 2016). In the
meantime, tour operators could assist visitors in becoming engaged
citizens (Lyon-Callo and Hyatt, 2003) by fostering a political literacy.
They could help tourists to understand poverty by situating it within a
politics of place, and in the context of neoliberalism. Alongside this,
academic research could begin theorizing slum tourism, to connect it
with political philosophy and poverty studies, and embed it within
scholarship on power, race and class.
I would like to thank my colleague Dr Christina Scharﬀin the
Department of Culture, Media and Creative Industries at King’s College
London for her feedback and thoughtful comments on a draft of this
article. I would also like to thank Neha Gupta of the Asia Paciﬁc Forum
on Women, Law and Development for her close reading of the ﬁnal
version of this piece and for her assistance with some of the details.
Open access for this article was funded by King’s College London.
No author, 2014. Delhi is World’s Second Most Populous City in 2014 After Tokyo: UN
Report, Hindustan Times, 12 July 2014. Accessed online 7 January 2017 at: < http://
Asia Floor Wage Alliance website. Accessed online, 7 January 2017 at: < http://asia.
Banerjee, A., Duﬂo, E., 2006. The Economic Lives of the Poor. J. Econ. Perspect. 21 (1),
Basu, K., 2012. Slum Tourism: For the Poor, By the Poor. In: Frenzel, F., Koens, K.,
Steinbrink, M. (Eds.), Slum Tourism: Poverty, Power and Ethics. Routledge, Oxon, pp.
Boo, K., 2013. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum.
Portobello Books, Bidford on Avon.
Braun, V., Clarke, V., 2006. Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitat. Res. Psychol.
3 (2), 77–101.
Burgold, J., Rolfes, M., 2013. Of Voyeuristic Safari Tours and Responsible Tourism with
Education Value: Observing Moral Communiation in Slum and Township Tourism in
Cape Town and Mumbai. DIE ERDE –J. Geograph. Soc. Berlin 144 (2), 161–174.
Butler, S.R., 2012. Curatorial Interventions in Township Tours: Two Trajectories. In:
Frenzel, F., Koens, K., Steinbrink, M. (Eds.), Slum Tourism: Poverty, Power and
Ethics. Routledge, Oxon, pp. 215–231.
Cavalcante, T., 2016. Rio Olympics: View from the Favelas - ‘Going Out to Buy Bread Can
Cost a Life’. The Guardian. Accessed online, 3 January 2017 at: < https://www.
Cities Alliance website. Accessed online 14 April 2017 at:< http://www.citiesalliance.
Crossley, É., 2012. Poor but Happy: Volunteer Tourists’Encounters with Poverty. Tourism
Geograph.: An International Journal of Tourism Space, Place and Environment 14
Davis, M., 2006. Planet of Slums. Verso, London.
Dovey, K., King, R., 2012. Informal Urbanism and the Taste for Slums. Tourism
Geograph.: An International Journal of Tourism Space, Place and Environment 14
Dürr, E., 2012. Encounters over garbage: tourists and lifestyle. Tourism Geograph.: An
International Journal of Tourism Space, Place and Environment 14 (2) 339-335.
Dyson, P., 2012. Slum tourism: representing and interpreting ‘Reality’in Dharavi,
Mumbai. Tourism Geograph.: An International Journal of Tourism Space, Place and
Environment 14 (2), 254–274.
Echanove, M., Srivastava, R., 2014. The Slum Outside Elusive Dharavi. Strekla Press,
Fennell, A.D., 2006. Tourism Ethics. Channel View, Clevedon.
Forbes website. Accessed online, 6 December 2016 at: < http://www.forbes.com/
Freire-Medeiros, B., 2012. Favela Tourism: Listening to Local Voices. In: Frenzel, F.,
Koens, K., Steinbrink, M. (Eds.), Slum Tourism: Poverty, Power and Ethics.
Routledge, Oxon, pp. 175–192.
Freire-Medeiros, B., 2009. The favela and its touristic transits. Geoforum 40 (4), 580–588.
Frenzel, F., 2016. Slumming It. Zed Books Ltd, London.
Frenzel, F., Koens, K., Steinbrink, M. (Eds.), 2012. Slum Tourism: Poverty, Power and
Ethics. Routledge, Oxon.
Frenzel, F., Blakeman, S., 2015. Making slums into attractions: the role of tour guiding in
the slum tourism development in Kibera and Dharavi. Tour. Rev. Int. 19 (1–2) 987-
Frenzel, F., Koens, K., 2012. Slum tourism: developments in a young ﬁeld of inter-
disciplinary tourism research. Tourism Geograph.: An International Journal of
Tourism Space, Place and Environment 14 (2), 195–212.
Gross, A., 2010. How Slum Tourism Can Change Your Life. Your Life is a Trip. Accessed
online, 3 January 2017 at: < http://www.yourlifeisatrip.com/home/how-slum-
Harvey, D., 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Iqani, M., 2016. Slum tourism and the consumption of poverty in TripAdvisor reviews: the
cases of Langa, Dharavi and Santa Marta. In: Iqani, M. (Ed.), Consumption, Media and
the Global South. Routledge, Oxon, pp. 51–86.
Iyer, L., Macomber, J., 2010. Developing Asia’s Largest Slum. Harvard Business School.
Accessed online, 3 January 2017 at: < http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/developing-asias-
Jones, G.A., Sanyal, R., 2015. Spectacle and suﬀering: the Mumbai Slum as a worlded
space. Geoforum 65, 431–439.
Karn, S.K., Harada, H., 2002. Field survey on water supply, sanitation and associated
health impacts in urban poor communities –a case from Mumbai City, India. Water
Sci. Technol. 46 (11–12), 269–275.
Karnani, A., 2009. Romanticising the poor harms the poor. J. Int. Dev. 21 (1), 76–86.
Kieti, D.M., Magio, K.O., 2013. The ethical and local perspectives of slum tourism in
Kenya. Adv. Hospital. Tourism Res. 1 (1), 37–57.
Koens, K., 2012. Competition, Cooperation and Collaboration: Business Relations and
Power in Township Tourism. In: Frenzel, F., Koens, K., Steinbrink, M. (Eds.), Slum
Tourism: Poverty, Power and Ethics. Routledge, Oxon, pp. 83–100.
Koens, K., Thomas, R., 2015. Is small beautiful? Understanding the contribution of small
businesses in township tourism to economic development. Develop. Southern Africa
32 (3), 320–332.
Koven, S., 2004. Slumming: Sexual and Social Politics in Victorian London. Princeton
University Press, Princeton.
Lancaster, J., 2007. Next Stop, Squalor. Accessed online, 3 January 2017 at: < http://
Larasati, R.D., 2010. Eat, pray, love mimic: female citizenship and otherness. South Asian
Popular Culture 8 (1), 89–95.
Lyon-Callo, V., Hyatt, S.B., 2003. The neoliberal state and the depoliticization of poverty:
activist anthropology and ‘ethnography from below’. Urban Anthropol. Stud. Cult.
Syst. World Econ. Develop. 32 (2), 175–204.
Ma, B., 2010. A trip into the controversy: a study of slum tourism travel motivations.
University of Pennsylvania, Undergraduate Thesis. Accessed online, 30 December
2016 at:< http://repository.upenn.edu/uhf_2010/12 >.
Maskovsky, J., 2001. The Other War At Home: The Geopolitics of U.S. Poverty. Urban
Anthropol. Stud. Cult. Syst. World Econ. Develop. 30 (2–3), 215–238.
McLean, G., 2006. Where We’re headed. The Guardian. Accessed online, 30 December
2016 at:< https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2006/apr/01/weekend.
Mendes, A.C., 2010. Showcasing India Unshining: Film Tourism in Danny Boyle’s
Slumdog Millionaire. Third Text 24 (4), 471–479.
Meschkank, J., 2012. Negotiating Poverty: The Interplay Between Dharavi’s Production
and Consumption as a Tourist Destination. In: Frenzel, F., Koens, K., Steinbrink, M.
(Eds.), Slum Tourism: Poverty, Power and Ethics. Routledge, Oxon, pp. 144–158.
Meschkank, J., 2011. Investigations into Slum Tourism in Mumbai: Poverty Tourism and
the Tensions Between Diﬀerent Constructions of Reality. GeoJournal 76 (1), 47–62.
Pada, G., 2010. Putting the Smallest First. The Economist. Accessed online, 30 December
M. Nisbett Geoforum 85 (2017) 37–45
2016 at:< http://www.economist.com/node/17090948 >.
Palmer, R., 2015. Prince Charles Rakes in 19.8 million from Duchy of Cornwall. The
Express. Accessed online, 14 April 2017 at: < http://www.express.co.uk/news/
Patel, S., Arputham, J., 2007. An oﬀer of partnership or a promise of conﬂict in Dharavi,
Mumbai? Environ. Urban. 19 (2), 501–508.
Peck, J., 2008. The Age of Oprah: Cultural Icon for the Neoliberal Era. Paradigm, Boulder.
Perry, J., 2015. There’s a Global Housing Crisis and Politicians Must Do More to Tackle It.
The Guardian. Accessed online, 14 April 2017 at: < https://www.theguardian.com/
Pickard, P., 2007. Is Slum Tourism in India Ethical? Wanderlust Travel Magazine.
Accessed online, 30 December at: < http://www.wanderlust.co.uk/magazine/
Portes, J., 2016. Capitalism: 50 Ideas You Really Need to Know. Quercus, London.
Privitera, D., 2015. Tourist valorisation of urban poverty: an empirical study on the web.
Urban Forum 26 (4), 373–390.
Rangarajan, C., 2014. Report of the Expert Group to Review the Methodology for
Measurement of Poverty. Government of India Planning Commission.
Reality Tours website. Accessed online, 20 November at: < http://realitytoursandtravel.
Riley, L.W., Ko, A.I., Unger, A., Reis, M., 2007. Slum Health: Diseases of Neglected
Populations. BMC Int. Health Human Rights 7 (2), 1–6.
Risbud, N., 2003. Urban Slums Reports: The Case of Mumbai, India. Commissioned by the
Development Planning United, University College London. Accessed online, 30
December at: < http://www.ucl.ac.uk/dpu-projects/Global_Report/pdfs/Mumbai.
Robinson, M., 2012. Preface. In: Frenzel, F., Koens, K., Steinbrink, M. (Eds.), Slum
Tourism: Poverty, Power and Ethics. Routledge, Oxon, pp. xiii–xvi.
Rogerson, C.M., 2004. Urban tourism and small tourism enterprise development in
Johannesburg: the case of township tourism. GeoJournal 60 (3), 249–257.
Rolfes, M., 2010. Poverty tourism: theoretical reﬂections and empirical ﬁndings regarding
an extraordinary form of tourism. GeoJournal 75 (5), 421–442.
Roy, A., 2009. Caught on Film: India ‘Not Shining’. Dawn.com. Accessed online, 17
January 2017 at: < http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/ connect/dawn-content-
library/dawn/news/ entertainment/caught-on-ﬁlm-india-not-shining-ss >.
Roy, S., 2010. The New Colonialism of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. Salon. Accessed online, 30
December 2016 at: < http://www.salon.com/2010/08/14/i_me_myself >.
Rukmini, S., 2013. 65 Million People Live in Slums in India says Census Data. The Hindu.
Accessed online, 30 December at: < http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-
Scheyvens, R., 2010. Tourism and Poverty. Routledge, Oxon.
Seaton, T., 2012. Wanting to Live with Common PeopleEllipsis? The Literary Evolution of
Slumming. In: Frenzel, F., Koens, K., Steinbrink, M. (Eds.), Slum Tourism: Poverty,
Power and Ethics. Routledge, Oxon, pp. 21–48.
Shaikh, Z., 2014. Mumbai’s Population Growth Rate is Twice That of the State. The Indian
Express. Accessed online, 30 December at: < http://indianexpress.com/article/
Siddiqui, K., 2012. Developing countries’experience with neoliberalism and globalisa-
tion. Res. Appl. Econ. 4 (4), 12–37.
Simpson, K., 2004. ‘Doing development’: the gap year, volunteer-tourists and a popular
practice of development. J. Int. Dev. 16 (5), 681–692.
Slikker, N., 2014. Perceptions of the Dharavi Community Regarding Slum Tourism and
Aﬃliated NGO Operations. Stenden University, Undergraduate Thesis.
Slikker, N., Koens, K., 2015. ‘Breaking the silence’–local perceptions of slum tourism in
Dharavi. Tourism Rev. Int. 19 (1–2), 75–86.
Smith, P., 1997. Millennial Dreams: Contemporary Culture and Capital in the North.
SPARC, 1994. Waiting for Water: The Experience of Poor Communities in Bombay. The
Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers, Mumbai.
Steinbrink, M., 2012. ‘We did the slum!’Urban Poverty Tourism in Historical Perspective.
Tourism Geograph.: An International Journal of Tourism Space, Place and
Environment 14 (2), 213–234.
Steinbrink, M., Frenzel, F., Koens, K., 2012. Development and Globalization of a New
Trend in Tourism. In: Frenzel, F., Koens, K., Steinbrink, M. (Eds.), Slum Tourism:
Poverty, Power and Ethics. Routledge, Oxon, pp. 1–18.
Swaminathan, M., 1995. Aspects of urban poverty in Bombay. Environ. Urbaniz. 7 (1),
Tharoor, S., 2007. The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone: Reﬂections on India in the
Twenty-First Century. Penguin Books Ltd., New Delhi.
TripAdvisor website. Accessed online, 14 April 2017 at: < https://tripadvisor.
United Nations, 2016. State of the World's Cities 2016: Urbanization and Development:
Emerging Futures, United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat).
United Nations, Nairobi.
United Nations, 2013. State of the World's Cities 2012/13: Prosperity of Cities. Earthscan
for Routledge, London.
United Nations., 2008. State of the World's Cities 2010/11: Bridging the Urban Divide.
United Nations, 2003. The Challenge of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements.
Human Settlements Programme. Earthscan, London.
Verma, G.D., 2002. Slumming India: A Chronicle of Slums and Their Saviours. Penguin,
Wales Prince of., H.R.H., Juniper, T., Skelly, I., 2010. Harmony: A New Way of Looking at
Our World. Blue Door, London.
Walker, T., 2013. Prince Charles Prepares to Pass the Duchy to Prince William. The
Telegraph. Accessed online, 13 April 2017 at: < http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/
Williams, R., 2014. Eat, pray, love: producing the female neoliberal spiritual subject. J.
Popular Cult. 47 (3), 613–633.
Yardley, J., 2011. In One Slum, Misery, Work, Politics and Hope. New York Times.
Accessed online, 30 December at: < http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/29/world/
M. Nisbett Geoforum 85 (2017) 37–45