Placing favelas on the tourist city map: Between commodification and representation

2019 edition

Eugenia Altamirano

This research aims to analyse the role of tourism practices and performances as a socio-economic activity and its capacity, real and potential, to re-signify and transform the physical, social and cultural landscape of urban tourist destinations. The case study focuses on informal urban settlements of Rio de Janeiro, locally known as favelas, which carry almost 30 years of polemic tourist development. These communities have been gradually incorporated as a tourism product under criticism and opposition from the hegemonic political-economic elites. However, there were governmental, academic and community-based initiatives targeting tourism in the favelas, with diverse motives and goals, which will be analysed in order to determine their outcomes and improve understanding on the dynamics among local actors in the destination. Due to favelas record of consistent and persistent exclusion from the ‘official’ urban network, they outline the part played by tourism on the socio-cultural claim and spatial negotiation from favela dwellers and their cultural production. For this analysis, tourism will be considered as a phenomenon of human mobility that allows the interaction between a mobile (the tourist) and a static population (the local) at physical, technological and symbolic scales.


Tourism in informal urban settlements is a phenomenon studied interdisciplinarily for over 20 years and covers fieldwork in destinations around the world. Their transition to tourist destination has been approached from its historical roots, tourist motivations, systems of representation, economic benefits and contested moralities. Through ethnographic groundwork on some specific tourist practices and performances along favela tours, this research aims to shed light on the networks forged in consequence. Thus, inferring on the contribution of tourism in the social and economic integration of the fragmented urban spaces that make Rio de Janeiro a city with as many contrasts as wonders.