Boston University School of Law

The Ethics of Poverty Tourism
Evan Selinger
Kevin Outterson

Boston University School of Law Working Paper 09-29


Poverty tours—actual visits as well as literary and cinematic versions—are characterized as morally controversial trips and condemned in the press as voyeuristic endeavors.  In this collaborative essay, we draw from personal experience, legal expertise, and phenomenological philosophy and introduce a conceptual taxonomy that clarifies the circumstances in which observing others has been construed as an immoral use of the gaze.  We appeal to this taxonomy to determine which observational circumstances are relevant to the poverty tourism debate.  While we do not defend all or even most poverty tourism practices, we do conclude that categorical condemnation of poverty tourism is unjustified.


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Suggested Citation:

Evan Selinger and Kevin Outterson, ""The Ethics of Poverty Tourism," B.U. School of Law Working Paper 09-29.

Kevin Outterson Contact Information

Boston University School of Law
765 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215

Email address:

Office Phone: (617) 353-3135
Fax: (617) 353-3077


Evan Selinger Contact Information

Associate Professor
Department of Philosophy
College of Liberal Arts
Rochester Institute of Technology
92 Lomb Memorial Drive
Rochester, New York 14623-5604

Email address:

Phone: (585) 475-2531
Fax: (585) 475-7120