UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Interpreting gentrification in China : the rising consumer society and inequality in the state-facilitated redevelopment of the central city of Chengdu Yang, Qinran


Currently, scholars are debating the epistemological limits of the concept of gentrification as a representation of global urban experiences. The thesis addresses this global debate from the perspective of Chinese urbanisation. In China, socio-spatial upgrading and displacement, which normally define a gentrification process, are most likely prompted by state-facilitated urban redevelopment. The dissertation questions why and how state action attracts middle-class newcomers to the inner city and penalises or reconciles working-class residents. With the research focused on urban China, the thesis also contributes to conceptual and methodological issues on gentrification research on a global scale. A meso-level approach is taken to trace the gentrification process through both structural tendencies and grounded empirical processes in the inner city of Chengdu from 2000 to 2010. Analysis at the two scales in conjunction accomplishes an examination of the existence of gentrification and the explanation of regularities within it. In Chengdu, the state’s mobilisation in developmental strategies concentrating on the built environment allows the case study to make new claims for gentrification knowledge for non-Western cities. Mixed methods, including statistical and spatial analysis, institutional analysis, and extensive ethnographic study, are used to investigate gentrification from a structural perspective, a historical perspective, and as a grounded process within the neighbourhood. The research reveals that state actions in urban redevelopment direct the cultural and behavioural changes of the middle-class newcomers, so that they are compatible with state strategies in modernisation and real estate boosterism. Working-class groups face varying outcomes in residential relocation. Overall, the process reflects state hegemony over societies that comprise subaltern cultures in the city, incorporating legal and propertied citizens into the frame of consumerism while disenfranchising rural-urban migrants. The study unravels how state domination in urban redevelopment drives social change towards a consumer society, which sharpens social inequities but also, ironically, rebuilds the collectivist ideology from one centring on production to one pressing the ideology and practices of consumption. So an overall gentrification process is formulated in Chengdu, which retains complexities and contingencies in localities. On a broader scale, the thesis urges a meso-level approach to gentrification research in other cities.

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