Are Urban Explorers Heritage Activists?: The ‘Eternal Drabness’ of DeHoCo

“[Urban exploration] is a community of people who by their inherent nature break rules and expectations. Expecting them to then follow the rules of a community is patently absurd” (Garret 2013: 33).

Pablo Arboleda,  a Ph.D. student at Bauhaus-University Weimar, recently published an interesting article in the International Journal of Heritage Studies that argues for urban exploration as a type of bottom-up heritage activism.

In this post, I’ll discuss Arboleda’s argument and apply it to my own varied experiences as an urban explorer, anthropologist/archaeologist, and instructor of college courses about the politics of exploring and representing neglected spaces. I’ll also discuss recent visits I’ve made to the abandoned Detroit House of Correction (DeHoCo) and the role that urban exploration plays (or has the potential to play) in memorializing this soon-to-be-demolished site.

Continue reading “Are Urban Explorers Heritage Activists?: The ‘Eternal Drabness’ of DeHoCo”

All Aboard the ‘Hipster Bus’: Ethnography and Dereliction Tourism

I recently went on an “urbex tour” with one of the more visible tour operators in the metro Detroit area. I went for a few reasons: I was planning on taking my students to the city and wanted to check this tour out before I took them on it; my research focuses on blight in Detroit and this is one of the ways that people see and experience blight (specifically industrial blight, but also neighborhood blight) in the city; and I wanted to compare the dynamic of an organized, paid urban exploration tour with that of the more informal, “traditional” urban exploration outings that I’ve observed and participated in.

In this post, I’ll explore the difference between urban exploration and dereliction tourism, discuss my experiences of the tour, and talk about the ethical implications of dereliction tourism for ethnographic researchers living and working in postindustrial communities.

Continue reading “All Aboard the ‘Hipster Bus’: Ethnography and Dereliction Tourism”