Small World in Academia

In college, I wrote my senior paper on favela tourism (see my post about it here.) For the paper, I read a lot of articles by Bianca Freire-Medeiros, the principal scholar on the subject. Last summer, when I was in Rio, I just so happened to meet her and her research team. They were great and inspiring people.

At the time, they were researching voluntourism, which I participated in with Iko Poran in the summer of 2007. So, I did an interview for them at Fundação Getúlio Vargas’ CPDOC. Also, Bianca gave me a signed copy of her recent book on favela tourism!

This all happened months ago, back when life seemed so much more footloose and fancy free without graduate school weighing me down. (I say this in the utmost respect for school, however, at this current point in the semester I just want it to be done!)  Today, I got an email that just made my day! It was from Bianca Freire-Medeiros. She spent the last few months doing post-doctoral research in Lancaster with John Urry. Before she returned to Rio, the University of Bristol invited her to give a talk about favela tourism. She wrote to me to tell me that the piece that they gave their students to read in preparation for her lecture was my blog post about favela tourism! It’s a small world.

It goes to show that writing a little blog about things that we care about can make little differences and reach surprising audiences around the world.

Wednesday Pick-Me-Up, (one day late…)

Wednesdays can be the hardest day of the week, right smack in the middle. You have already worked two days but still have two days left. Last week I started a Wednesday pick-me-up, because sometimes all it takes is talking about the good things of the week to make your week that much better.

So one week into my so called habitual Wednesday post, and I’m already late. However, I do have an excellent excuse: I was in the plane flying back to the United States yesterday. Arriving in the States is great because I get to see my family and friends here, but there is always a little strain in my heart when I get off the plane hear all that English and realize my time in Brazil is over (for now…). This calls for a really BIG “pick-me-up.” So despite the fact that it is Thursday, I’m going to continue with my new tradition.

Here are the five things that brightened up my last week:

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Five Pieces of Advice for Future “Voluntourists”

So, I had a great day today: First, I was able to meet such a nice Brazilian girl who works on a team of researchers studying voluntourism; Then I got to listen to a short lecture summing up some of their research by another nice researcher; Finally, I met the professor heading up the research herself!

After hearing their lecture and comparing their research to my own perspectives and experiences, I decided to write out the five things that I would tell a future voluntourist and share them with you all! Some of these aspects have a little more to do with the specific case of voluntourism in Brazil, but most can be applied universally.

Click here to read the advice!

Revealing the “Real Rio” or Packaging a Myth? – Favela Tourism

Click on the picture to read Bruno Agostini's experience on the favela tour.

Click on the picture to read Bruno Agostini's experience on the favela tour.

The Debate Surrounding Favela Tourism:

In one of his articles, Bryan McCann tells a joke, generally used to refer to Eskimo communities, about Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.  Favelas historically referred to the illegal squatter settlements that emerged on the hills in Rio de Janeiro in the twentieth century. Currently, the term favela is used throughout Brazil referring to poorer areas of any terrain containing self-constructed homes on land that had been illegally invaded. Returning to McCann’s insight, the joke goes: Question: how many people are in the typical home in the favela? Answer: Five—a mother, father, two kids, and an anthropologist.

The growing attention to the favelas worldwide has affected their development as their problems have entered the international arena. Anthropologists are not alone in wanting to experience the favela for themselves. Tourists have begun to venture into the favelas in order to get a chance to experience what life is like for the 19% of Rio de Janeiro’s population living in these regions, and tourism agencies have responded creating a whole industry focused on showing the tourists the favelas–or the “real Rio” as the agencies would say.

Favela tourism sparked an intense debate: Some see the favela tours as an opportunity to make people aware of the world’s problems; other people claim that the favela tours are exploitative and represent a “safari of poverty” that invades the personal lives of the poor. The tourism agencies claim the goal of breaking the stereotypes that exclude the favela thus integrating them into the city of Rio de Janeiro. What aspects of poverty tourism spark much more debate and interest than traditional tourism? In all tourism outside people enter the space of another culture, however, poverty tourism creates a deeper and more polemic dynamic due to the nature of marginality that poor people often face.

Tourism creates a vulnerable relationship between locals and tourists due to the mere nature of the development of tourism in a marginalized area.  Within this framework do mainstream tourism agencies carry out favela tourism in a way that exploits the residents of these areas? Click to learn more about favela tourism