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Slums of hope: Sanitising silences within township tour reviews

Huysamen, Monique and Barnett, Julie and Fraser, Danae Stanton (2020) Slums of hope: Sanitising silences within township tour reviews. Geoforum, 110. pp. 87-96. ISSN 0016-7185

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In a context of rapidly increasing urbanisation and deepening global inequalities, slum tourism has thrived. This paper presents a discursive analysis of tourists’ online reviews of two township tours in Cape Town, South Africa. We investigate how, and to what ends, tourists collectively construct townships as places of hope on TripAdvisor; we question how these reviews feed into broader narratives of urban poverty in the global south. We show how tourists draw on both neoliberal and colonial discourses to construct townships as places of hope–vibrant cultural spaces, rich in non-material assets, inhabited by happy, hard-working residents. We show that by producing slums as productive cultural spaces, tourists are able to resist the stigma associated with slum tourism and position themselves as ethical, enlightened and morally superior tourists. We argue that neoliberal and colonial discourses operate together to produce sanitised representations of townships that both obscure inequalities between poor residents and wealthy tourists from the global north and depoliticise issues like poor infrastructure in townships. In discussing the broader implications of the study, we highlight the importance of producing nuanced representations of townships that acknowledge residents’ assets and excellence, while also foregrounding how they live within the oppressive constraints inherent in enduring systems of inequality.

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