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Track 5: Class

Class and urbanisation


Many studies have investigated various topics related to the association between class and urbanisation. Urban space and its usage is not only determined by economic activities, local culture or politics, but is also determined by social classes (Baner and Korff 1995). Nowadays, cities and their spaces seem to serve particular classes in society. Since globalisation has enriched the opportunity for prosperity, and has enlarged the area of economic activity for the elite (Baner and Korff 1995), the upper and middle class have become those who dominate urban space development, and who benefit most from urban development. In fact, globalisation could be considered to be harmful for the poor, because it forces them away from the areas with the highest concentration of jobs and urban facilities.

This session wishes to explore the different methods and the different perspectives on the relationship between class and urbanisation. We are particularly interested in and invite paper proposals from studies that examine how class influences urban space development, how particular classes benefit from those urban spaces, the inequality behind space development serving only one particular class in a city, how urban development policies relate to class and urban segregation, and how political and economic circumstances affect urban spaces and different classes. However, other related studies on class and urbanisation are also welcome.

Keywords: class, urbanisation, urban space, gentrification, urban development, globalising city, globalisation, policymaking, urban governance, urban space segregation

Chair: Petch Lattanan


Fractured mobility: SkyTrain and the politics of the middle class in Bangkok

Petchpilai Lattanan, Department of Geography, University College London

Recent scholarship on the rise of the middle class in cities of the global South tend to portray them as powerful actors driving an influential mandate of bourgeois urbanism, claiming unhindered access to an aesthetically reshaped ‘clean’ public spaces as well as a specific form of urban re-imagination involving megainfrastructure projects such as flyovers, expressways, light-rail transit/metros, etc.

However, ethnographic studies of the middle class reveal such assumptions to be oversimplistic given the complexity and contradictions inherently present within this broad social category. Thus, following Blokland’s (2012) call for the need to combine systematic empirical research of everyday practices with the theories formulated, this paper takes a close look at the politics of the Thai middle class in relation to the mega-infrastructure projects that are being implemented in Bangkok. Taking the particular case study of the SkyTrain, a mass rapid rail transit development that seeks to change the traffic and transport culture within the city, this paper cautions against the tendency to conclude that its material expression of a globalised imagination is indicative of a systematic intervention of middle-class interests influencing state policies. Instead, what this paper shows is that while the middle class might be an important actor in the city’s urban restructuring, middle class own heterogeneity within a volatile Thai-style democratic politics suggests a ‘fractured hegemony’, resulting in an agency that is more muted and passive. Thus, even though the state actively sought the middle class as key patrons of projects such as the SkyTrain in its realisation from mega to everyday infrastructure, and the middle class do play a crucial role in exasperating such projects’ geographies of exclusion, this paper emphasises the need for a more nuanced understanding of their politics whereby their influence on urban transformation may not be as deliberate as one assumes.


The luxury-places development

Li Fang, Urban Studies, University Paris-Est

The world metropolisation process is forcing public authorities to face new challenges such as the necessity of urban sustainable development, competition in economic, cultural and touristic offerings, and new demands in quality of life from citizens.

By the other side, luxury, through its economic, cultural and social activities, it creates specific centralities, interacts with new or emerging lifestyles, and impacts the urban forms and activities’ locations decisions. At the intersection of metropolisation and market management-development strategies, luxury has different meanings to luxury stakeholders: it could be places to support commercial or social activities, located often in the traditional city-centres; it could be also urban qualities to provide different place experiences (creative of not), to emerge new and out-of-centre destinations. They all aim to catch both local and global markets, and target mainly the leisure class or elites, utile the middle class or the not-enough educated people has been marginalized, the local inhabitants have not always been counted as place users.

This paper will be based on three case studies – the concept art gallery shop 10, Corso Como, the Louis Vuitton Art Foundation, and Samaritaine – to question the luxury-places developments’ qualities and limits, as well as how the political, socio-cultural and economic context shape luxury operators’ practice in place development and management field, to minimize the inequality in the luxury-places development, finally the possibility to integrate luxury into government strategies for territorial transformation.


An ethnographic study of the social life of Shennan Road, Shenzhen, China

Ximin Zhou, Social Anthropology with Visual Media, Department of Anthropology, University of Manchester

Part of my thesis explores the relationship between structure and agency with the ethnographic materials on the road. The aim of the project is to demonstrate that on the grounded micro level, the road is a congregation of nodal points where activities and events contribute to the substantiation of the road. Ethnographically, I carried out my fieldwork at a few chosen nodal points where social actions take place. Part of the thesis deals with understanding agency through its spatial and temporal dimensions. Spatially, I explore agency through the lens of the production of social space. Then I look at the right to the use of space in order to tease out the issue of dispossession and the lack of possession of the intangible (space and time) as well as the tangible. In terms of its temporal dimension, I explore agency as a way of negotiating with the hegemony of structural time. With the ethnographic materials, I demonstrate how people are trapped in what I call a mode of coordination by default. Finally, I also attempt to bridge the gap between agency and activism especially in the sociocultural context of China, and Shenzhen in particular. While scattered and unorganized activisms are allowed to exist in a city that is becoming increasingly tolerant towards the rise of civil society, agency is also suffering from fragmentations. As a result, I argue that the realization of agency (at a larger degree) is essential for the realization of collective and more powerful activism.


Everyday Urban Walking: Unequal Lived Experience

Soledad A. Martínez Rodríguez, Geography Department, University College London

Walking is more than only physical movement. As anthropologists Ingold and Vergunst (2008) claim: ‘walking is a profoundly social activity’. Therefore to walk is not a neutral activity. To walk the city, beyond the romantic images that are associated to it, can be a radical different experience depending on who walks, where and how. In Shortell and Brown’s (2014) words: ‘As power shapes urban space, urban dwellers experience the city differently’. Some people are free to walk, some other aren’t. Some can enjoy a walk, other cannot. These differences can be seen as produced by the assemblage within the practice of walking of unequal conditions such as spatial features, class, gender, ethnicity, and disability among others. Is it possible to talk about unequal lived experiences of urban space, and specifically, about unequal pedestrian experiences? How to explore it? I agree with the assertion that walking is essential for ‘everyday practice of social life’ (Lee and Ingold, 2006: 67) then, to explore how walking is unequally lived opens a path to a more general and critical understanding of everyday urban life. I propose to explore these questions theoretically in my presentation. This is part of the initial steps of a broader research about differences and inequality in everyday walking practices in Santiago de Chile that I am actually carrying on.


Critical Urban Approaches: Social Justice and the Right to the City

Voulgaridou Eva, Department of Architecture, D.U.Th, Greece

The Diploma Research Thesis entitled: “Critical Urban Approaches [social justice & the Right to the city]” , constitutes an effort to gather and interpret all the parameters that lead to the generation of social and spatial inequalities, and their combat. The explosive urbanization and its mechanisms seem to intensify the phenomenon of spatial injustice in the modern metropolis. At the same time, the scientific scientific field of Urban Planning appears to turn its interest elsewhere.  Aim of this study is to understand the processes that generate inequalities in urban space, in order to renegotiate the relationship of residents and their cities. Within the frame of the above, the research is centralized to the “Right to the City” as H. Lefebvre, the French sociologist, first defined that, and its modern identity, through the work of the geographer, D. Harvey. The methodological approach of this thesis starts with three basic definitions of urbanism, that each one is leading to different modules. First, the research focused to space, as a multidimensional concept and to the detection of the process that turns land into an exchangeable good. After we defined the spatial framework of the urbanization phenomenon, we sought for its supporting economic model.

Polarization, separation, alienation of social groups and ghettoization, seems to be just a matter of choice [provides by income]. After the spatial-economic research, came the social network of cities, through the right of citizens to create, form and experience their city, a right which today revives through social movements. Finally, this thesis seeks the importance of theory against practice.


Struggling with the leisure class. Tourism and gentrification

Agustín Cocola Gant, School of Planning and Geography, University of Cardiff

Gentrification is usually defined as a process in which middle class residents move into working class areas, resulting in the displacement and exclusion of the indigenous communities. The presentation will show, however, that such dispossession is also provoked by visitors, and so it will illustrate how tourism can be interpreted as a gentrifying process. Research notes that the contemporary urban landscape is produced for and consumed by residents and visitors alike, that is to say by a middle-class that demands and reproduces similar urban environments wherever they go. And at the same time, research has identified a geography of ‘touristification’ in the Mediterranean and Latin America, where the failure of attracting advanced services has led local elites to turn to tourism as a way of extracting the highest profit from the city.

From this starting point, the presentation will focus on the way in which the colonisation of city centres by affluent visitors results in the exclusion of working-class residents.This exclusion operates at two different scales: the household and the entire neighbourhood. I first will describe how the transformation of rental flats into holiday apartments has contributed to rising rents and evictions. And regarding the neighbourhood scale, I will illustrate different consequences: the displacement of local shops and services that working class consumers rely on; the growing privatisation of public areas and communal facilities that are ‘rented’ to cafés or restaurants; and an intense process of punitive urbanism as the presence of the poor makes the city inhospitable to visitors.

Note: this abstract is part of a paper in progress for Progress in Human Geography and which title will be “Tourism and gentrification. A framework for analysis”.


Young South Europeans Heading North: Class-Specific Patterns of Migration in Contemporary Berlin

Stefania Animento, Department of Sociology and Social Research, University of Milan-Bicocca,

In my contribution I discuss my PhD research project at the nexus between theories of class, migration and urbanisation. As a result of increasing flexibility, precarity and mobility in the labor market, since the 1970s Western class analysis has faced many challenges. Bourdieusian approaches deploy the concepts of cultural, symbolic and economic capital to overcome such impasse (Devine et al. 2004). Housing is hereby considered as a privileged field for delineating emerging class patterns. With the reunification, Berlin has increasingly integrated into the global flows of information, capital and people which interconnect cities. At the same time, the German capital has engaged in a neoliberalization process characterized, among other things, by the entering of international capital into the housing market and the adoption of competition-oriented policies.

In my research I focus on young migrants moving from the European South to Berlin. I assume that by looking at the spatial inscription of their position in social space, significant knowledge on contemporary class formation can be gained. I also question if these migrants might be considered as "agents of urban neoliberal restructuring" (Glick Shiller 2012). Indeed, while one could expect fluxes from the South-European crisis-hit countries to resemble the traditional work-driven migration pattern, statistics show that these groups settle mostly in gentrifying central districts of the city. In my research I want thus to investigate the processes through which migrants end up living in these areas as well as their housing behaviour, in order to reconstruct their class belonging. Which new patterns of migration can be revealed? And what is the role played by class in these patterns? Through a mixed methods design I will explore the relationship between trajectories of spatial and social mobility run by migrants in the arrival city.