Oslo Summer School for Social Sciences 2020

From Gentrification to the Urban Revolution: or, Why Capital Loves the City (and What That Means for the Rest of Us)

Professor Donald Mitchell, Department of Social and Economic Geography, Uppsala

Dates: 6 July - 10 July 2020

Main disciplines: sociology, human geography

Course content 

It is hardly remarkable anymore to point to the central role gentrification plays in shaping cities and their social and economic life. And it seems like nothing more than a commonplace to say that we are living in the midst of an urban revolution: after all, more than half the world’s population lives in cities. But precisely because the terms have become so prevalent in both scholarly and popular discourse – and in the process perhaps been drained of a good deal of their analytical precision while also being politically dulled – it is worth examining closely the processes and practices that lie behind them as well as the relationship between them.

That is the point of this course: to examine the political-economic processes and social relations that have made gentrification a primary means by which the urban revolution is being accomplished – and why that matters. We will examine the origins of gentrification as a process and theories of gentrification as a focus of research, exploring early debates over whether this is a supply (capital)- or demand (consumer)-led process, while also linking the rise of gentrification to shifts in patterns of capital circulation. To do so will require coming to grips with theories of the circulation of capital through the built environment as well as the value in the built environment is realized through consumption. It will require a close examination of the “capital-switching” debate to better understand why capital – it seems – has become urban. In the process, we will rethink what the urban revolution is and what it entails.

My overall hypothesis that will drive the course is that what we call the urban revolution is best understood as a shift in the primary means by which capital circulates and accumulates – a shift from industrial production being the primary locus of accumulation to the urban built environment becoming the primary locus of capital accumulation. To the degree this hypothesis is correct – and one of the things we will do in the class is assess that degree – it has profound implications for how we can, and cannot, live in cities. Any capital circulation and accumulation processes is contradictory. The contradictions at the heart of processes capital accumulation within and through the built environment – which define the current form of rentier capitalism that marks the modern city – are particularly acute and hit the poor and marginalized the hardest. We will see why and how, and in the process also seek to understand why movements of resistance against the depredations of urbanized rentier capitalism take the forms that they do.

Learning objectives

At the conclusion of this course, students will have developed:

  • A fuller understanding of the origins and evolution of gentrification as a phenomenon
  • A strong grasp of theories of capital circulation and accumulation through the built environment, and the contradictions this entails – and how the story of gentrification fits into these theories
  • A clearer sense of how finance capital intersects with and shapes the circulation of capital in and through the built environment and how theories of rentier capitalism can help us better understand this
  • A deeper appreciation for the complexity of the “urban revolution,” especially in relation to the industrial revolution that preceded it
  • A broad understanding of the consequences of the shifting patterns of capital circulation for the lives of the poor, the marginalized, the working classes, and others who are dispossessed or displaced as a consequence of these shifting patterns
  • Insights into the determinant forces shaping where and how activist movements intervene to either ameliorate or radically transform these forces.

Teaching
Take 1: The discovery of gentrification (why capital loves the city)


Lecture 1: From bulldozer redevelopment to the "Back in the city movement"

This lecture will examine the pre-gentrification world of urban redevelopment and the contradictions that arose with it. In turn, we will look at how the “back to the city movement” developed as a response to those contradictions.


Berman, Marshall, In the Forest of Symbols: Some Notes on Modernism in New York, in All That Is Solid Melts into Air (New York: Verso, 1983), 287-348 (61 pp.)

London, Bruce, Gentrification as Urban Reinvasion: Some Preliminary Definitional and Theoretical Considerations,” in Shirley Bradway Laska and Daphne Spain (eds.), Back to the City: Issues in Neighborhood Revitalization (New York: Pergamon Press, 1980), 77-92. (15 pp.)

Von Hoffman, Alexander, The Lost History of Urban Renewal, Journal of Urbanism 1 (2008), 281-301. (20 pp.)
 

Lecture 2: Rent gap theory - and its discontents

Here we will examine the origins and development of gentrification theory, especially in relation to the idea of the “rent gap.” I will argue that gentrification must be understood in the first instance as a process of capital circulation. But we will also examine literature that understands gentrification quite differently.


Ley, David, Alternative Explanations for Inner-City Gentrification: A Canadian Assessment, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 76 (1986), 521-535. (24 pp.)

Rose, Damaris, Rethinking Gentrification: Beyond the Uneven Development of Marxist Urban Theory, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2 (1984), 47-74. (27 pp.)

Smith, Neil, Towards a Theory of Gentrification: A Back to the City Movement by Capital Not People, Journal of the American Planning Association 45 (1979), 538-548. (10 pp.)

Smith, Neil, Gentrification and Uneven Development, Economic Geography 58 (1982), 139-155. (16 pp.)
 

Lecture 3: Capital switching: Putting the rent gap in its (political, economic, and political-economic) place

At the heart of rent-gap theory, if only implicitly, is an argument about “capital switching.” Developed by David Harvey, capital switching theory suggest that at times of crisis, capital is switched out of the primary circuit (industrial production) and into the secondary circuit (the built environment). During this lecture we will come to grips with this theory and its importance for understanding gentrification – and the urban revolution more generally.


Christophers, Brett, Revisiting the Urbanization of Capital, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 101 (2011), 1347-1364. (17 pp.)

Haila, Anne, Four Types of Investment in Land and Property, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 15 (1991), 343-365. (22 pp.)

Harvey, David, Class-Monopoly Rent, Finance Capital, and the Urban Revolution, Regional Studies 8 (1974), 239-255. (16 pp.)

King, R.J., Capital Switching and the Role of Ground Rent: 1. Theoretical Problems, Environment and Planning A 21 (1989), 445-462. (17 pp.)

Weber, Rachel, Selling City Futures: The Financialization of Urban Redevelopment Policy, Urban Geography 86 (2010), 251-274. (23 pp.)
 

Lecture 4: The generalization – or the dilution - of gentrification?

Smith, Neil The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City (New York: Routledge, 1996), (235 pp.)

 

Take 2: The urban revolution (gentrification as symptom)

Lecture 5: The urban revolution (part 1): The world according to Henri Lefebevre

This lecture will critically examine Henri Lefebvre’s theory of the urban revolution, while placing it in the context of his contemporaneous work on the production of space and the end of capitalism.


Lefebvre, Henri, The Urban Revolution (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003) [NB: Be sure to read Smith’s Introduction] (244 pp.)
 

Lecture 6: The urban revolution (part 2): The world according to David Harvey

In some ways, Harvey’s arguments about the “urbanization of capital” parallel the arguments of Lefebvre, but they are also much more analytically precise. In this lecture we will examine the urban revolution as understood through Harvey’s spatialized Marxism.

Harvey, David, The Urban Process under Capitalism: A Framework for Analysis, in The Urbanization of Capital (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), 59-89. (30 pp.)
 

Lecture 7: The urban revolution (part 3): The world according to Blackstone Private Equity

Why is financial capital so interested in the city? What does it mean that it is? What does the urban revolution look like through the eyes of a financier?


Peck, Jamie and Whiteside, Heather, FInancializing Detroit, Economic Geography 92 (2016), 235-268. (33 pp.)


Soederberg, Susanne, The Rental Housing Question: Exploitation, Eviction, and Erasures, Geoforum 89 (2018), 114-123. (9 pp.)
 

Take 3: What it means for the rest of us

Lecture 8: Displacement

Gentrification – that symptomatic process at the heart of the urban revolution – necessarily entails displacement. But what does that displacement mean for those who are displaced as well as those who are not? What difference does taking a working class perspective on gentrification and the urban revolution make, theoretically and politically? This lecture will inquire into just these issues.


Paton, Kirsteen, Restructuring Theory, in Gentrification: A Working Class Perspective (London: Routledge, 2015), 13-66. (53 pp.)

Paton, Kirsteen, The Paradoxes of Gentrification: Displacing the Working-Class Subject, in Gentrification: A Working Class Perspective (London: Routledge, 2015), 155-184. (29 pp.)

 

Lecture 9: Homelessness

In this lecture we will examine what the urban revolution has meant in relation to homelessness – and what homelessness means for the urban revolution. We will see that the remaking of homelessness in the urban revolution has entailed a thorough remaking of public space in the city.


Mitchell, Don, Boise, ‘Africa,’ and the Limits of Capital, in Mean Streets: Homelessness, Public Space, and the Limits to Capital (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2020), 3-30. (27 pp.)


Mitchell, Don, Interlude: Homelessness, Public Space, and the Limits to Capital, in Mean Streets, Homelessness, Public Space, and the Limits to Capital (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2020), 91-101. (10 pp.)
 

Lecture 10: Living in and contesting the rentier world

And this is what it comes to. A world defined by real estate, where capital circulating and accumulating in the built environment defines the limits of our social horizons.


Moreno, Louis, Always Crashing in the Same City: Real Estate, Psychic Capital, and Planetary Desire, City 22 (2018), 152-168 (16 pp.)


Roy, Ananya, Dis/possessive Collectivism: Property and Personhood at City’s End, Geoforum 80 (2017), A1-A11 (10 pp.)
 

In addition

We will take at least one afternoon walking tour during the week to see if we can see the urban revolution underway in Oslo. I think it is hard to miss. Let’s see what you think. We’ll decide on a day during our first class meeting – and whether we want to end the tour with a collective course dinner (I hope we do).

Syllabus/ reading list

Berman, Marshall, In the Forest of Symbols: Some Notes on Modernism in New York, in All That Is Solid Melts into Air (New York: Verso, 1983), 287-348 (61 pp.)

Christophers, Brett, Revisiting the Urbanization of Capital, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 101 (2011), 1347-1364. (17 pp.)

Haila, Anne, Four Types of Investment in Land and Property, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 15 (1991), 343-365. (22 pp.)

Harvey, David, Class-Monopoly Rent, Finance Capital, and the Urban Revolution, Regional Studies 8 (1974), 239-255. (16 pp.)

Harvey, David, The Urban Process under Capitalism: A Framework for Analysis, in The Urbanization of Capital (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), 59-89. (30 pp.)

King, R.J., Capital Switching and the Role of Ground Rent: 1. Theoretical Problems, Environment and Planning A 21 (1989), 445-462. (17 pp.)

Lefebvre, Henri, The Urban Revolution (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003) (244 pp.)

Ley, David, Alternative Explanations for Inner-City Gentrification: A Canadian Assessment, Annals of the Association of American Geographers 76 (1986), 521-535. (24 pp.)

London, Bruce, Gentrification as Urban Reinvasion: Some Preliminary Definitional and Theoretical Considerations,” in Shirley Bradway Laska and Daphne Spain (eds.), Back to the City: Issues in Neighborhood Revitalization (New York: Pergamon Press, 1980), 77-92. (15 pp.)

Mitchell, Don, Boise, ‘Africa,’ and the Limits of Capital, in Mean Streets: Homelessness, Public Space, and the Limits to Capital (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2020), 3-30. (27 pp.)

Mitchell, Don, Interlude: Homelessness, Public Space, and the Limits to Capital, in Mean Streets, Homelessness, Public Space, and the Limits to Capital (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2020), 91-101. (10 pp.)

Moreno, Louis, Always Crashing in the Same City: Real Estate, Psychic Capital, and Planetary Desire, City 22 (2018), 152-168 (16 pp.)

Paton, Kirsteen, Restructuring Theory, in Gentrification: A Working Class Perspective (London: Routledge, 2015), 13-66. (53 pp.)

Paton, Kirsteen, The Paradoxes of Gentrification: Displacing the Working-Class Subject, in Gentrification: A Working Class Perspective (London: Routledge, 2015), 155-184. (29 pp.)

Peck, Jamie and Whiteside, Heather, FInancializing Detroit, Economic Geography 92 (2016), 235-268. (33 pp.)

Rose, Damaris, Rethinking Gentrification: Beyond the Uneven Development of Marxist Urban Theory, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2 (1984), 47-74. (27 pp.)

Roy, Ananya, Dis/possessive Collectivism: Property and Personhood at City’s End, Geoforum 80 (2017), A1-A11 (10 pp.)

Smith, Neil, Towards a Theory of Gentrification: A Back to the City Movement by Capital Not People, Journal of the American Planning Association 45 (1979), 538-548. (10 pp.)

Smith, Neil, Gentrification and Uneven Development, Economic Geography 58 (1982), 139-155. (16 pp.)

Smith, Neil, The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City (New York: Routledge, 1996), (235 pp.)

Soederberg, Susanne, The Rental Housing Question: Exploitation, Eviction, and Erasures, Geoforum 89 (2018), 114-123. (9 pp.)

Von Hoffman, Alexander, The Lost History of Urban Renewal, Journal of Urbanism 1 (2008), 281-301. (20 pp.)

Weber, Rachel, Selling City Futures: The Financialization of Urban Redevelopment Policy, Urban Geography 86 (2010), 251-274. (23 pp.)

Total = 864 pp.

 

Key books for course preparations 

 

  • Harvey, David, The Limits to Capital (Oxford: Blackwell, 1982 and subsequent editions), especially chapters 8 & 12
  • Lees, Loretta, Tom Slater, and Elvin Wyly, Gentrification (London: Routledge, 2007).
  • Lees, Loretta, Tom Slater, and Elvin Wyly (eds.), The Gentrification Reader (London: Routledge, 2010)
  • Lefebvre, Henri, The Urban Revolution (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003)
  • Smith, Neil and Peter Williams (eds.), The Gentrification of the City (London: Allen and Unwin, 1986; Routledge 2007)
  • Smith, Neil, The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City (New York: Routledge, 1996)

 

Tags: Sociology, Human Geography, PhD, Oslo Summer School, Donald Mitchell
Published Feb. 7, 2020 2:28 PM - Last modified Feb. 27, 2020 7:02 PM