Gazing back: A feminist postcolonial lens on tourism in the townships of South Africa
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Encountering poverty in tourism is a morally fraught experience. Growing numbers of tourists are desirous of exploring off-the-beaten path adventures and this invariably leads to encounters with the Other in increasingly far-flung and improbable locales. As countries of the Majority World – where the majority of the world’s poor live – continue to host ever-increasing numbers of tourist arrivals (UNWTO, 2017), the potential of tourism to play a role in the alleviation of poverty is an alluring prospect. Despite its economic potential, the postcolonial nature of many touristic encounters in the Majority World, as well as the very tangible harm that some forms of tourism have brought to the world’s poor, have caused many critical scholars to question the assertion that tourism may bring net-benefits to people living in poverty. Further, colonialized discourses of the exoticized Other, circulated through tourism marketing and the popular media, create essentialized images that inform tourists’ interactions with tourism hosts while traveling in the global South. Guided by a feminist postcolonial theoretical framework, the purpose of this thesis research was to learn about how hosts gaze back at the tourists that spend time in the townships of South Africa where they live. Constructed as racialized spaces of economic and geographic segregation during apartheid, townships in South Africa continue to be homogenously black or coloured spaces characterized by poor infrastructure, inadequate housing, and economic marginalization. Following the end of apartheid, however, townships have also come to be demarcated as spaces of resistance and courage, of historical significance and triumph over oppression. It is into these spaces that a growing number of tourists choose to venture, travelling the streets of the townships on foot, on bicycles, or in vans. Employing a photovoice methodology for the purposes of this study, I gave digital cameras to 14 men and women living in three black townships on the outskirts of Cape Town and asked them to take photographs of how tourism is and how tourism ought to be. Through the photographs that they chose to share, participants spoke about the economic and social benefits that encounters with tourism had brought to their lives. They also spoke to the complex ways in which tourism to the townships is embedded within existing structures of race, class, gender, and postcolonial aftermaths. Employing a Foucauldian approach to discourse analysis, I strove to understand how relationships of power, embedded within these structures, inform the ways in which township residents conceptualize and seek out encounters with tourism. Complicating this narrative was my presence in the townships as a white/Canadian/tourist/researcher. The narratives that were shared with me were filtered through the lens of my embodied presence, and led me to explore my own situatedness and biases through a number of reflexive research practices. This thesis analyzes the ways in which relationships of power based in race, gender, mobilities, colonial narratives, and financial resources inform touristic encounters in the townships of Cape Town, South Africa. This work contributes to the field of critical tourism and leisure studies by advancing our understandings of how tourism is conceptualized as powerful in a multitude of ways by tourism hosts in a unique part of the Majority World.
Cite this version of the work
Meghan Muldoon (2018). Gazing back: A feminist postcolonial lens on tourism in the townships of South Africa. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/13410