Dead labor: Fetishizing chattel slavery at contemporary southern plantation tourism sites

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ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies


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.