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New Orleans 1960s
"Doing the slums" - A scene in the Five Points in 1885

Slumming (derived from slum) originally referred to a practice, fashionable among certain segments of the middle class in many Western countries, whereby one deliberately patronizes areas or establishments which are populated by, or intended for, people well below one's own socio-economic level, motivated by curiosity or a desire for adventure. Most often these establishments take the form of bars or restaurants in low-income areas.


19th century

Recreational slumming was popular in Victorian London, where omnibus rides through Whitechapel were in vogue. Similarly, slumming tours were documented through the Five Points slums in Manhattan during the 1840s[1], and also during the 1880s along the Bowery [2]

20th century

It's also associated with the middle 1980s, as an outgrowth of the yuppie subculture. The sense that upper-class establishments were phony, overpriced, and affected (ironically, the very criticisms leveled at yuppies themselves) made it fashionable among middle-class professionals to frequent "dives", due to their supposed authenticity and local color.

"Slumming" (also known as "class tourism") has come to refer to many activities that involve interaction with the less fortunate[3], especially when motivated by curiosity, adventure, laziness, boredom, and even outright greed and miserliness. The term, and to some extent, the practice, have consequently acquired an unpleasant connotation, having become associated with condescension, exploitation, affectation, and bourgeois insensitivity. Unlike bohemianism or voluntary simplicity, slumming rarely involves more than a temporary or superficial commitment on the part of its participants; it is by nature a touristic or voyeuristic activity.

Cultural references

In the film Good Will Hunting, for example, the main character uses "slumming" to describe sexual relationships between rich, well-educated girls and poorer boys, whom they might encounter around their universities.

In the original version of the song Puttin' on the Ritz by Irving Berlin, the song referenced slumming by parodying black Harlemites spending an evening—and their fortune—on the town.

The song Common People by Britpop band Pulp is inspired by the practice of slumming.


  1. ^ Sweeney, Camille (October 6, 2002). "QUESTIONS FOR GRADY TURNER; Sin-City Exhibitionist". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-06.  
  2. ^ "Slumming in this Town", New York Times, September 14, 1884.
  3. ^ Kakutani, Michiko (May 26, 1996). "CULTURE ZONE;Slumming". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-06.  

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