Am I a gentrifier?

I’ve recently moved. I moved from a small flat to a house to accommodate a growing family, but in order to afford to do so, we had to move out of the area we were in, to a smaller town/village nearby that has a large traveller community, a significant Nepalese diaspora and soon to be homeless service men and women once the neighbouring barracks are torn down and replaced with mock town housing. As an urban geographer I’d like to think that I’m aware of some of the nuances of urban processes including gentrification, and as such, I was acutely aware that, as a middle class, white collar academic from the heartland of Surrey, I was potentially a gentrifier of the area. In upsizing for a growing family, my situation is typical of a myriad of academics who find themselves looking for alternative accommodation on an (often) meagre income, and as a result, looking in more diverse areas of ethnic communities and/or lower social-economic class.

Am I a gentrifier? If I am, then according to this recent Atlantic Cities article, I am a hypocrite. Drawing on (but seemingly distorting the central tenant of) an informative and poignant paper by Schlichtman and Patch, this article seems to argue that the critics of the gentrification process (of which I must confess to being) are the very people that are the subject of the critiques. Having found myself in a neighbourhood with quite alien practices occurring outside my front window, the fact that I could be considered a ‘gentrifier’ is a serious concern for me.

But then again, should it be? Am I really becoming the subject of my own critiques? Well, I think not. I’ve made logical decisions based on my economic, cultural and social desires (and limitations) and this is the most appropriate place for me to live. I won’t be looking for the community to reflect my own personal socio-economic consumption patterns, and I’m not really bothered if the house prices go up because I intend to stay here for as long as I’m physically able.

More importantly however, the very notion of gentrification is not predicated upon people’s personal consumption decisions alone. The argument that students, artists and other ‘bohemians’ are early gentrifiers, canary’s in the coal mine of an area’s upcoming prosperity, is only half the story, or perhaps even less than that. And middle class people moving to lower income areas should not be chastised as hypocritical, if they themselves have been displaced by capitalistic process (akin to what Loretta Lees described as super-gentrification). The critiques of gentrification also include the structural state-led processes of property development more than individual consumption choices. The decisions of property financiers (searching for the biggest rent gap) and the urban entrepreneurial system (influenced by prevailing policies that champion cultural and ‘creative’ consumption) have far more power in the ‘locations’ of gentrification, and hence should be the focus of critique, rather than individual consumer choices.

It is our position as academics to question the status quo, and there are plenty of other instances where our actions appear to counteract our argumentations. Resistance to the increasing neoliberalisation of the academy is often something that has been voiced, yet we continue to operate within it. Is this hypocritical? No. There can still be activism within the system, Amin called it solidarity in a minor key, or to use more subversive parlance, we can use De Certeau’s idea of tactics.

So, yes, by all means lets encourage self-reflexivity in academic critique, and I certainly feel there is a lack of personal inflection in academic study (although too much and we risk narcissistic and rather myopic narratives). However, lets not deride critical engagement with processes of power in which we happen to be, or indeed choose to be embroiled. Indeed, our relative positions make such critiques all the more valid.


  1. Jim · August 11, 2013

    This is really interesting and I’d agree with a lot of it, but I guess with a somewhat different spin.

    By what you say and by the standards of a lot of academic gentrification critiques (Slater etc) you certainly sound like a ‘gentrifier’, in that you’re a middle-class person moving into a poorer area. But your story is probably typical of what these ‘gentrifiers’ are doing, which is trying to find somewhere cheap but relatively pleasant to live. This kind of thing has been going on for about as long we’ve had middle classes, and displacement by capitalistic processes is not a necessary condition.

    In fact, it seems to me that displacement is often accelerated by a lack of capitalist production (i.e. house building). If capitalist developers were really as powerful as often supposed we would probably see a lot more building in high-demand areas, which would moderate price growth and displacement. Instead, it’s very hard to get new homes built in most urban areas, because homeowners are by far the more politically powerful propertied class. That pushes up prices and accelerates displacement.

    So I would argue we need a stronger focus on both consumer choice and the effects of under-supply (usually as a result of local politics) if we’re to really understand gentrification and broader urban changes.

  2. Oli · August 12, 2013

    Thanks Jim for the comment. You’re absolutely right, the propertied classes do have the power, and there would be a great deal more demand if property developers could build more. But there’s also the issue of planning laws which is restrictive in this regard but I think perhaps more crucially, the size of the rent gap decides more where houses are built I would fathom. But yes, too disaggregate the structure (i.e. state and capitalism) from the agency (consumer and individual choice) would be ridiculous here, or perhaps to put it a more accurate way, to claim that structure exists without multiplicitous agency is ridiculous. Thanks again!

  3. Pingback: Cleveland’s Future: Bowling with Strangers | richeypiiparinen

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