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Mobile Imaginaries, Portable Signs: Global Consumption and Representations of Slum Life

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This essay explores how iconic representations of slum life are produced for transnational consumption in Europe. The focus is on the manner in which the logics of spectacle and entertainment have come to organize images of urban poverty. The use of slums as global entertainment spectacle requires that core images be detached from social life to produce a repertoire of free-floating emblems and signs that can be variously deployed, assembled, appropriated and discarded, depending on shifting cultural desires in a capitalist commodity market. The research suggests that a limited register of signs is recycled by artists, photographers, urban critics and private entrepreneurs, some of whom have built faux-shantytowns as theme parks in global cities such as Zurich, London and Berlin. The ‘bare life’ of these informal cities is branded for consumer publics that can afford to refashion their social identities by physical or symbolic contact with the portable icons of poverty.
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Keywords: Slum; consumer gaze; ghetto; globalization; modernity; race; shantytown; space; spectacle; urban poverty

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Rochester Institute of Technology, Sociology and Anthropology, Rochester, USA

Publication date: 2012-05-01

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