Dead Labor: Fetishizing Chattel Slavery at Contemporary Southern Plantation Tourism Sites
Plantation tourism is a major economic industry and element of the cultural landscape of the US South that has long minimized and occluded the legacy of chattel slavery from tourism experiences. By employing a Marxist analysis of contemporary plantation tourism, we advance understandings of the continued commodification of the enslaved through the lens of dead labor, both metaphorical and literal. We also examine the economic and social relations that make possible and sustain the contemporary plantation tourism industry and consider how the historic plantation and contemporary plantation tourism systems obfuscate the dead labor of millions of enslaved people. Drawing upon semi-structured interviews with owners of four major tourism plantation sites in Louisiana, we argue that the dead labor of the enslaved is still an economically productive force that creates value in the contemporary landscape for plantation property owners, which must be critically considered in light of ongoing calls for socially just memory practices at tourism plantation sites.
Adams, Jessica, Michael P. Bibler, and Cécile Accilien, eds. 2007. Just Below South: Intercultural Performance in the Caribbean and the U.S. South. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press.
Alderman, Derek H., David L. Butler, and Stephen Hanna. 2016. Memory, slavery, and plantation museums: The River Road Project. Journal of Heritage Tourism 11, 209–218.
Alderman, Derek H., and E. Arnold Modlin, Jr. 2008. (In)visibility of the enslaved within online plantation tourism marketing: A textual analysis of North Carolina websites. Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing 25, 265–281.
Baptist, Edward. 2014. The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. New York: Basic Books.
Beckert, Sven, and Seth Rockman (eds.) 2016. Slavery's Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Berlin, Ira, Barbara J. Fields, Steven F. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy and Leslie S. Rowland. 1993. Slaves No More: Three Essays on Emancipation and the Civil War. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Berry, Daina R. 2017. The Price for Their Pound of Flesh: The Value of the Enslaved, from Womb to Grave, in the Building of a Nation. Boston: Beacon Press.
Brasher, Jordan P., Derek H. Alderman, and Aswin Subanthore. 2020. Was Tulsa’s Brady Street really renamed? Racial (in)justice, memory-work and the neoliberal politics of practicality. Social & Cultural Geography 21, 1223–1244.
Bright, Candace F., and David L. Butler. 2015. Webwashing the tourism plantation: Using historic websites to view changes in the representation of slavery at tourism plantations. In, Stephen Hanna, Amy E. Potter, E. Arnold Modlin, Perry Carter, and David L. Butler (eds.) Social Memory and Heritage Tourism Methodologies. London: Routledge, 31–47.
Bright, Candace F., Derek H. Alderman, and David L. Butler. 2018. Tourist plantation owners and slavery: A complex relationship. Current Issues in Tourism 21, 1743–1760.
Bright, Candace F., Kelly N. Foster, Andrew Joyner, and Oceane Tanny. 2021. Heritage tourism, historic roadside markers and “just representation” in Tennessee, USA. Journal of Sustainable Tourism 29, 428–447.
Butler, David L. 2001. Whitewashing Plantations: The Commodification of a Slave-Free Antebellum South. International Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Administration 2, 163–175.
Buzinde, Christine N., and Carla A. Santos. 2008. Representations of Slavery. Annals of Tourism Research 35, 469–488.
Carter, Perry, David L. Butler, and Derek H. Alderman. 2014. The house that story built: The place of slavery in plantation museum narratives. The Professional Geographer 66, 547–557.
Carter, Perry, David L. Butler, and Owen Dwyer. 2011. Defetishizing the plantation: African Americans in the memorialized south. Historical Geography 39, 128–146.
Chatterjee, Ipsita, and Waquar Ahmed. 2019. Dialectical Materialism. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 18, 364–393.
Connerton, Paul. 2008. Seven types of forgetting. Memory Studies 1, 59–71.
Cook, Matthew R. 2016. Counter-narratives of slavery in the Deep South: the politics of empathy along and beyond River Road. Journal of Heritage Tourism 11, 290–308.
Cook, Matthew R. 2018. Textual politics of Alabama’s historical markers: Slavery, emancipation, and civil rights. In, Stan Brunn and R. Kehrein (eds.) Handbook of the Changing World Language Map, Springer.
Cook, Matthew R., and Amy E. Potter. 2018. Unfinished geographies: Women’s roles in shaping Black historical counter narratives. In, Hamzah Muzaini and Claudio Minca (eds.) After Heritage: Critical Perspective on Heritage from Below, 107–129. London: Edward Elgar Publishing.
Davis, Angela Y. 2005. Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture. New York: Seven Stories Press.
Du Bois, W.E.B. 2013 . Black Reconstruction in America. Piscataway: Transaction Publishers.
Dunn, Kevin. 2010. Interviewing. In, Ian Hay (ed.) Qualitative Research Methods in Human Geography, 101–138. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dwyer, Owen, David L. Butler, and Perry Carter. 2013. Commemorative Surrogation and the American South’s Changing Heritage Landscape. Tourism Geographies 15, 424–443.
Eichstedt, Jennifer L. and Stephen Small. 2002. Representations of Slavery: Race and Ideology in Southern Plantation Museums. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Foner, Eric. 1988. Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877. New York: Harper and Rowe.
Genovese, Eugene. 1965. The Political Economy of Slavery: Studies in the Economy and Society of the Slave South. New York: Pantheon Books.
Gilmore, Ruth Wilson. 2002. Fatal Couplings of Power and Difference: Notes on Racism and Geography. The Professional Geographer 54, 15–24.
Halifax, Shawn. 2018. McLeod Plantation Historic Site: Sowing Truth and Change. The Public Historian 40, 252–277.
Hanna, Stephen P. 2016. Placing the enslaved at Oak Alley Plantation: narratives, spatial contexts, and the limits of surrogation. Journal of Heritage Tourism 11, 219–234.
Hanna, Stephen P., Derek H. Alderman, and Candace Forbes Bright. 2018. From Celebratory Landscapes to Dark Tourism Sites? Exploring the Design of Southern Plantation Museums. In: Philip R. Stone et al. (eds.) The Palgrave Handbook of Dark Tourism Studies, 399–421. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Harvey, David. 2010. A Companion to Marx’s Capital. London: Verso.
Hoelscher, Steven. 2003. Making place, making race: Performances of Whiteness in the Jim Crow South. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 93, 657–686.
Horowitz, Sara. 2016. The Geography of Memory: Haunting and Haunted Landscapes in Contemporary Canadian Jewish Writing. Studies in American Jewish Literature 35, 216–223.
Hulme, Alison. 2017. Following the (unfollowable) thing: methodological considerations in the era of high globalisation. cultural geographies 24, 157–160.
Jansson, David R. 2010. Racialization and “Southern” Identities of Resistance: A Psychogeography of Internal Orientalism in the United States. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 100, 202–221.
Johnson, Walter. 2013. River of dark dreams. Harvard University Press.
Kirsch, Scott, and Don Mitchell. 2004. The Nature of Things: Dead Labor, Nonhuman Actors, and the Persistence of Marxism. Antipode 36, 687–705.
Marx, Karl. 1959 . Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Moscow: Progress Publishers.
Marx, Karl. 1992 . Capital: Volume 1: A critique of political economy. London: Penguin Classics.
McKittrick, Katherine. 2011. On plantations, prisons, and a black sense of place. Social and Cultural Geography 12, 947–963.
Mitchell, Don. 1996. The lie of the land: Migrant workers and the California landscape. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Mitchell, Don. 2000. Dead labor: The geography of workplace violence in America and beyond. Environment and Planning A 32, 761–764.
Mitchell, Don. 2003. Dead Labor and the Political Economy of Landscape—California Living, California Dying. In Kay Anderson, Mona Domosh, Steve Pile and Nigel Thrift (eds.) Handbook of Cultural Geography, 233–248. London: Sage.
Modlin, Jr., E. Arnold. 2008. Tales Told on the Tour: Mythic Representations of Slavery by Docents at North Carolina Plantation Museums. Southeastern Geographer 48, 265–287.
Modlin, Jr., E. Arnold, Derek H. Alderman, and Glenn Gentry. 2011. Tour Guides as Creators of Empathy: The Role of Affective Inequality in Marginalizing the Enslaved at Plantation House Museums. Tourist Studies 11, 3–19.
Modlin, Jr. E. Arnold, Stephen P. Hanna, Perry L. Carter, Amy E. Potter, Candace Forbes Bright and Derek Alderman. 2018. Can Plantations Do Full Justice to the Story of the Enslaved? A Discussion of Problems, Possibilities, and the Place of Memory. GeoHumanities 4(2), 335-359.
Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. 2015. Racial Formation in the United States. Third ed. New York: Routledge.
Potter, Amy E. 2016. “She goes into character as the lady of the house”: Tour guides, performance, and the Southern plantation. Journal of Heritage Tourism, 11, 250–261.
Rapson, Jessica K. 2020. Refining memory: Sugar, oil and plantation tourism on Louisiana’s River Road. Memory Studies 13, 752–766.
Rosenthal, Caitlin. 2018. Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management. Harvard University Press.
Robinson, Cedric J. 2000 . Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Small, Mario Luis. 2009. 'How many cases do I need?' On science and the logic of case selection in field-based research. Ethnography 10, 5–38.
Small, Stephen. 2013. Still Back of the Big House: Slave Cabins and Slavery in Southern Heritage Tourism. Tourism Geographies 15, 405–423.
Springer, Simon. 2013. Violent Accumulation: A Postanarchist Critique of Property, Dispossession, and the State of Exception in Neoliberalizing Cambodia. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 103, 608–626.
Tyner, James A. 2014a. Dead labor, landscapes, and mass graves: Administrative violence during the Cambodian genocide. Geoforum 52, 70–77.
Tyner, James A. 2014b. Dead Labor, Homo Sacer, and Letting Die in the Labor Market. Human Geography 7, 35–48.
Tyner, James A. 2019. Dead labor: Toward a political economy of premature death. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Tyner, James A. and Joshua F. Inwood. 2014. Violence as fetish: Geography, Marxism, and dialectics, Progress in Human Geography 38, 771–784.
Urquhart, Cathy. 2013. Grounded Theory for Qualitative Research: A Practical Guide. London: Sage Publications.
Wilson, Bobby M. 2000. America’s Johannesburg: Industrialization and racial transformation in Birmingham. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.
Woods, Clyde. 2017 . Development arrested: The blues and plantation power in the Mississippi Delta. London: Verso.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Authors agree to publish their articles in ACME under the Creative Commons "Attribution/Non-Commercial/No Derivative Works" Canada licence. To read and review the agreement, click here. In line with fair attribution and proper permissions, note any copyrights of materials cited in your paper. Do not use materials that are not fair use without express written consent.