Abstracts and bios 15

revisiting the concepts of critical urban studies

Chiara Valli & Helena Holgersson

Beyond the “Is this Gentrification?” question. Dis-placing and re-placing gentrification in Swedish political economy.

Drawing on recent critical urban research, we would like to present an appraisal of the kaleidoscope of gentrification- and displacement- related processes in Swedish cities as an entry point to explore the profound shifts that Swedish political economy are undergoing and the ways they are materializing in the urban form. We will move beyond the “is this gentrification?” question, which relegates non-Anglo-Saxon experiences to the periphery of knowledge in the globalized theorization of gentrification. Instead we will pursue the question “what are these phenomena symptoms of?”. If we start from the pivotal understanding of gentrification as urban transformations that lead to the direct or indirect replacement of lower-income households with wealthier ones, we find diversified phenomena in Swedish cities that can be ascribed to this process.
STATE-LED AND NEW-BUILT GENTRIFICATION. A number of studies have pointed out that a typical form of gentrification in Sweden relates to what Davidson and Lees (2005) called ‘new-built gentrification’. Although the direct displacement of low-income residents and businesses in these cases has been questioned (Boddy, 2007), it has also been demonstrated that forms of displacement are produced (Davidson and Lees, 2010), see for instance, Thörn and Holgersson (2016) analysis of the remaking of the industrial area of Kvillebäcken in Gothenburg into an exclusive residential area. In a Swedish context new-built gentrification is often also state-led.
THE RESTRUCTURING OF PUBLIC HOUSING. Since the 1990s, the Swedish housing system has undergone pervasive processes of restructuring and financialization (Gustafsson, 2019) which eroded its historical universalistic ethos (Grander, 2017; Listerborn, 2018). Quantitative studies show that tenure conversions of rental stock into cooperative tenants-owned housing since the 1990s has contributed to super-gentrification in the city centres and increased segregation in the city as whole (Andersson and Turner, 2014; Hedin et al., 2012). Moreover, displacement of the lower-classes has emerged through ‘renoviction’ processes attributed to the ongoing renovation and upgrading of public housing stock from the 1960s-70s (Baeten et al., 2017; Polanska and Richard, 2018; Pull and Richard, 2019; Westin, 2020).
ENTREPRENURIAL URBAN GOVERNANCE. Swedish research shows that in the local version of what David Harvey described as a move from “managerialism to entrepreneurialism” (1989) the social democratic welfare state could easily roll-out neoliberal policies (Mukhtar-Landgren 2012, Franzén, Hertting & Thörn forthcoming). It has been argued that radical alterations in the social fabrics of some city centers have been pursued through a multiplicity of ‘banishment tactics’ aimed at steering the poor away from central urban areas (Baeten and Listerborn, 2020). Moreover, in the past years a number of BIDs have been introduced in which local authorities play a central role in socioeconomic upgrading processes (Valli and Hammami, 2020; Sahlin, 2010).
Considered together, the different streams of literature above show that: first, we need to thoroughly reconsider what the concepts of gentrification and displacement mean in Sweden and, second, perhaps more significantly than in other contexts, gentrification-like processes in Sweden typically encompass a particularly active role of the local State. Two partly contradictory characteristics of the Swedish context pivotal to understand gentrification-like processes here are, we argue, the transformation of the Swedish welfare state (Larsson et al., 2012), including the public housing system, and the continuing central role of the state and the municipal administrations. Welcoming the epistemological challenges proposed by the workshop to re-embed the middle-range concept of gentrification into broader theoretical discussions, and at the same time learning from the “peripheral” empirical context of Sweden, we will attempt to disentangle the structural processes (e.g. social stratification, racialization, urban neoliberalism, and more) that underly the various gentrification-like phenomena, and investigate the following question: what are the political, economic and cultural forces that allow and sustain the variegated forms of gentrification and displacement in Swedish cities?

Gözde Orhan & Yonca Güneş Yücel

Revisiting the Concept of Gentrification on Rural Scale: An Anthropological Approach

This article focuses on the relations of ownership occurring in Domatia, a small village in the Menderes Delta, after the removal of the village in the 1980s. It problematizes the segregation between the space that was moved to and the space that was left behind. The Rum houses left by the former inhabitants of Doğanbey who moved to a new settlement 2 kilometers south since the early 1980s to build the New Doğanbey Village on account of the fact that the growing population was outgrowing the village were purchased and restored by a group of people, mostly authors and academics. These newcomers entirely transformed the façade and socioeconomic profile of the Old Doğanbey Village. This development brought together two different communities who were neighbors but very unlike in social, economic, or cultural terms. Discussing both settlements in the context of spatial segregation around the axis of division of labor, negotiations, and conflicts between actors, the study underlines the cultural and social differences as much as the differences of class between these two communities. Therefore, this research makes a suggestion to discuss class dynamics and identity configurations in terms of the establishment of space and spatial segregation.
Although new space discussions often emphasize the transitivity and ambiguity of urban-rural scales, the concept of gentrification is usually theorized on an urban scale. This study aims to fit this concept into a smaller scale and to approach it using an anthropological method. Examining how the gentrification practices we are accustomed to seeing in the city are experienced on a rural scale, the research regards rural gentrification as an attempt to bring urban habits to a rural scale. The study questions the function of nature, to what extent nature is included/excluded in the new life model, how users from different classes perceive, use, and commodify a village settlement located in the heart of an area defined as a national park. From this point of view, the research aims to think about the comprehensiveness, flexibility, and explanatoriness of the concept of gentrification, to draw attention to the common features of urban and rural experiences as much as the differences, and to bring the contemporariness of the concept into view.

Elton Chan

Retracing Commodification in Critical Urban Studies

Whereas commodity has long been established as a concept, commodification is a relatively new concept that did not even exist in the English language before 1970s. By and large based on the Marxian critique of capitalism, commodification generally describes the process and action of viewing and treating something as a commodity. It is closely tied to the proliferation of late capitalism and the expansion of the neoliberal project in the past decades. Since then, the social impact of commodification has not only heightened and intensified, the process has also swept away all barriers and infiltrated all aspect of life. As Russ argues in her article on the commodification of professional care, “The proliferation of consumption practices and domains in late capitalism, including the commodification even of foetuses and means of reproduction, creates doubts as to what – if anything – exists outside of commodity exchange” (Russ, 2005: 142). Not only do we live in a world of commodities (Lefebvre, 1996; 2014), everything that was not previously considered as a commodity have become exposed to the constant threat of being commodified as a result of the domination of economic logic and exchange value in a capitalist society. Labour power, land, and even body and intimacy are now being “treated, understood, or thought of as if they have entered the market” (Constable, 2009: 50).

Within the field of critical urban studies, commodification remains a concept that is used sparingly and mostly used in research pertaining to housing. While commodification of housing has drawn a lot of critical interests in both academic and popular debates, it could be argued that other aspects of urban commodification remain underdeveloped. I contend that this is in part due to the narrow conceptualisation of commodification that is most commonly prescribed by urban scholars today. In this paper, I set out to explore the meaning of commodification by retracing the origin and development of the concept and broaden it beyond the traditional Marxist notions of commodity production and exchange. I will first look at how commodification is defined by examining its etymological and historical development. I will then attempt to unpack the concept by illustrating its connection to commodity, exchange and value, before identifying other related processes that might be relevant to an expanded conceptualisation of commodification. I will next set out to explore the concept’s transferability by looking at how commodification is conceptualised and used in various fields like linguistic, pedagogy and cultural studies before focusing on the current debates of commodification in critical urban studies. The paper will conclude by discussing how a broadened conceptualisation of commodification can be useful to advancing urban theories and critiques beyond the subject of housing in the ongoing discussions of neoliberal urbanism.

Johan Pries

Public space in a city of streets and sidewalks: repackaging urban critical theory in the development of eastern Malmö. 

For several decades, a whole range of critical approaches emphasizing networks, flows and mobility have gained ground in social theory and slowly made its way into governmental practice. In few fields of study has the epistemological shift been as marked in both theory and practice as urban studies in general, and those interested in public space in particular. From Jane Jacobs ‘ballet’ of the street to Gordon Cullen’s illustrations of moving through ‘townscapes’, from Jan Gehl’s vision of pedestrian cities of a ‘human scale’ to Sennet and Sendra’s argument for focusing design efforts on the interfaces ‘between’ areas, movement through public space has come to take on new meanings as indicators of values beyond mere a mode of transportation.
With this article I argue that applying models of urban space as little but pedestrian flows to actually existing urban space has important effects that largely aren’t factored into planning and design processes. This article explore these concerns by studying how the ideal of mobility pathways (stråk) has come to be used in Sweden, with the city of Malmö being the leading example, to imagine everyday pedestrian mobility through urban space as a way to rewire the city’s everyday life and cultural make-up. Mobility pathways become a key facet of post-industrial urban renewal, with new areas envisioned to have Jacobsian qualities designed around connective streets and sidewalks as corridors of urban life in a bid to remake the city’s public culture. More recently, mobility pathways have in Malmö also become imagined as a key tool for combatting segregation by affording a space for everyday interaction between housing areas in a city that often is presented as the most ethnically diverse and economically divided in Scandinavia.
This paper does not seek to interrogate if this mode of planning has its desired effects in terms of vitality and integration than what its unintended consequences are. Rather, I will focus on how this mode of planning’s intense mappings and modelling of public spaces as flows is related to other kinds of spaces falling off the planners maps. In particular, this paper suggest that this emphasis on movement on the streets and sidewalks registers few qualities of actual uses in unprogrammed areas and in-between interfaces of urban, public space. This active disinterest in less clearly defined open spaces, often remnants of modernist planning, might have a ‘desirable’ effect in that few uses are identified to potentially upend the redevelopment plans for lucrative housing along the new pedestrian pathways on what once were mundane public spaces. Still, with public spaces increasingly reduced to streets and sidewalks, occasionally interrupted by parklets, with few possibilities to linger in unexpected ways in an urban landscape designed to promote perpetual movement, the potential for meetings between strangers which mobility pathways provide come into question. Thus, this paper set out to argue that an epistemology of the urban and urban planning taking networks, flows and mobility as its starting point risks creating new blind spots which come with their own set of problems for urban planning and design needing to be critically interrogated.