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Subaltern Urbanization in the Touristic Mountains of Southern and South-Eastern Asia

Dalat (photo d'Emmanuelle PEYVEL)Small and medium-sized cities account for more than half of Asia’s population, yet they remain largely unstudied, especially when compared to large cities. Looking at hill stations founded during the colonial period in India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia, URBALTOUR intends to fill this gap by analyzing the overlap between urban and tourist dynamics in mountainous areas.

Historically, hill stations were designed as new frontiers of colonization. Today, this function is reactivated by the pivotal role they play in the expansion of globalized urban societies into mountains. In many cases, their permanent resident population has risen, their economy has diversified, and their tourist frequentation is now primarily driven by a domestic clientele. In addition, the combined effects of COVID and global warming are currently reinforcing their appeal, bringing back their historical sanitary function and turning them into places of refuge from the heat and diseases associated to lowland cities.

This interaction between tourism and urbanization in vulnerable areas like mountains raises obvious environmental, social and economic sustainability issues, as evidenced by the intensified commercial exploitation of natural resources, the pollution that comes with the land’s artificialization and the inter-ethnic tensions over the sharing of wealth between local actors. URBALTOUR’s intersectional approach to inequalities in the access to tourism resources will enable us to assess the inequalities and discriminations at work, and push forward sustainable alternatives.
Choosing mountains of South and South-East Asia as our fields of study not only allows documenting one of the fastest-growing urban regions in the world, but also learning from these cities of the South beyond the concepts forged in the North for understanding them.

In that perspective, we form the two following hypotheses : 1/ Tourism is a vehicle for new urban models, whether in terms of means of transport, architecture, urban expansion or management. 2/ Tourism contributes to profound restructuring of stakeholder systems, leading to renewed modes of governance and legitimizing forms of violence in urban production.

By doing so, URBALTOUR fully contributes to the scientific axis « Urban societies, territories, constructions and mobilities« , and more specifically to theme 1, « City Territories » , addressing issues on growth, morphology and urban planning, urban practices of tourist mobility, governance and citizen engagement, as well as management and revival of heritage.


For more information : see ANR website and the blog Hypotheses.


Project Coordinator : Emmanuelle PEYVEL

Partenaires :

  • IRASEC Institut de Recherche sur l’Asie du Sud-est Contemporaine
  • IFP Institut Français de Pondichéry
  • ESO UMR 6590 Espaces et SOciétés
  • Département d’histoire Université de Toronto