Butler T, 2007, "For gentrification?" Environment and Planning A 39(1) 162 – 181
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Received 15 November 2005; in revised form 3 April 2006
Abstract. In this paper I argue that gentrification, despite the many arguments over its continuing validity as a concept, retains its key importance in understanding processes of class change. For some it is a process of colonising the city, for others a manifestation of belonging; for some the concept can be used as a radical critique of neoliberalism whilst for others this very critique is an exemplar of the hegemonising tendencies amongst (often radical) North American urban scholars. I argue that the concept has grown somewhat middle-aged and overendowed with its own history. I suggest that it needs to retain a focus on the implications of macro social change for individuals and social groups. In particular, gentrification needs to decouple itself from its original association with the deindustrialisation of metropolitan centres such as London and from its associations with working-class displacement. Recently, gentrification has occurred across the spatial scale—in second-order cities and in hitherto suburban locations as well as in the countryside. Processes such as ‘greentrification’, ‘gated communities’, and ‘studentification’ often coexist in quite close proximity to each other; the influence London exerts over the southern half of England is a good example of this. I argue that the concept of gentrification functions as an important way of understanding the mediations between global processes and flows, on the one hand, and the construction of identities in particular localities, on the other. With the decline of social class as providing an overall explanation of cultural, social, and spatial behaviour, this notion of gentrification as a form of ‘elective belonging’ has considerable potential for uniting geographical and sociological approaches to agency and structure. I illustrate this by drawing on three recent studies on the relationship between people and places.
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