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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Interpreting gentrification : postindustrial, postpatriarchal, postmodern? Mills, Caroline Ann


The topic of gentrification is employed to carry through an argument about the theorization of geographical phenomena. The thesis argues for the revival of a critical cultural geography, in conjunction with the currently dominant perspectives on economic and social change in the geography of restructuring. Applying the realist perspective on gentrification as a chaotic conception, a critical appraisal is made of the conventional production-oriented and consumption-oriented approaches to explaining gentrification. The "production of gentrifiers" approach, which seeks to overcome their conceptual divisions, offers a base for further work. Three levels for examinating gentrification are proposed. First, gentrification is viewed as a conjuncture of contingent social processes. The structuration of class and gender under conditions of socioeconomic restructuring is called upon to explain changing patterns of residential choice, employing the heuristic of postindustrial class relations and postpatriarchal gender relations. An extensive statistical analysis at the urban-system scale describes the pattern of incidence of gentrification between 22 Canadian Census Metropolitan Areas. High levels of gentrification are found to occur in urban contexts indicative of the presence of a postindustrial mode of class relations and a postpatriarchal mode of gender relations. At the second level of investigation, gentrification is treated as a context for the negotiation of social conduct. An intensive ethnographic methodology is applied in one Vancouver neighbourhood, drawing upon resident interviews. "Thick Description" draws out the strategies by which gentrifiers respond to changing socioeconomic conditions. Gentrification itself is an environmental tactic allowing them to construct workable and satisfying styles of life. The geographic context enables a complex articulation of domestic life with the public realm of work. At the third level, which has been neglected elsewhere in the literature, gentrification is investigated as a constituent in the construction of social identity. The emergent meaning of the inner city is examined, especially with respect to gentrifiers' images of "the urban". Drawing upon the literature on landscape as text, a third heuristic—the postmodern— explores the inner city as a terrain of meaning, and the interactions of textual communities of landscape "producers" and "consumers".

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