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Visiting the Ruins of Detroit: Exploitation or Cultural Tourism?

Journal of Applied Philosophy

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Are Detroit ruin tours a form of morally permissible cultural tourism, or do these tours amount to a form of exploitation? To answer this question I compare Detroit ruin tours with ‘slum tours’ – guided tours of slums in the world's major cities. I argue that exploitation of the sort we find in slum tourism also exists, to a lesser extent, in Detroit ruin tours. To show this I detail two different accounts of exploitation and argue that Ruth Sample's account best captures what is most morally problematic with slum tours and ruin tours. I then identify the similarities and differences between slum tours and ruin tours, and provide suggestions for how ruin tours could be retooled to avoid some (but not all) of the worries of exploitation. Finally, I suggest that with the proper framing Detroiters could embrace photographic tours as a new form of cultural tourism.