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Slum Tourism: Representing and Interpreting ‘Reality’ in Dharavi, Mumbai

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This article examines how Dharavi is represented to, and interpreted by, tourists participating in walking tours around Mumbai's largest slum. Across the world ‘the slum’ is positioned as space more authentic and realistic than the artifice of the concrete cityscape, as demonstrated by the recent fascination surrounding ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. By first exploring the complex geography and history of Dharavi, this article lays the foundation for arguing that any representation of this place can only ever be subjective, conditional and uncertain. Through interviews and surveys with tour guides, tour-goers and slum dwellers this article evaluates how Dharavi is represented by ‘Reality Tours and Travel’, and how its message is interpreted by their tour-goers. It becomes clear these tours do have a capacity to change negative perceptions about slums, albeit in a highly individualized context. The article concludes that the tour partially achieves its transformative aims, although its ability to alter any negative images of slums remains restricted by the very techniques it uses to position Dharavi as a place of archetypal ‘reality’.

Keywords: Dharavi; India; Mumbai; poorism; poverty tourism; reality; slum tourism; slumming

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography,Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, UK

Publication date: May 1, 2012

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