How to Know a City: The Epistemic Value of City Tours




urban tourism, urban epistemology, knowledge, testimony, tour guide, city tour


When travelling to a new city, we acquire knowledge about its physical terrain, directions, historical facts and aesthetic features. Engaging in tourism practices, such as guided walking tours, provides experiences of a city that are necessarily mediated and partial. This has led scholars in tourism studies and more recently in philosophy to question the epistemological value of city tours, critiquing them as passive, lacking in autonomous agency, and providing misrepresentative experiences of the city. In response, we argue that the mediated and partial knowledge of a city acquired through city tours is not epistemologically disvaluable. Although city tours involve the transmission of testimonial knowledge, this does not necessarily render tourists as passive and non-autonomous. Instead, tourists have the potential to actively participate in the generation of their knowledge, given that testimonial knowledge is often actively co-produced. Moreover, we argue that city tours also provide a tourist with valuable ‘objectual knowledge’ of a city, which has the potential to be first-personal, active, and does not necessarily misrepresent the city’s identity. This type of knowledge is valuable both for tourists as credible epistemic agents, and for the city itself, as the knowledge generated by the tour can facilitate an accurate representation of the city and promote social transformation. We conclude by highlighting four further epistemic and ethical implications of our argument.