Very particular or rather universal? Gentrification in London, Berlin and St. Petersburg

ISS welcomes Matthias Bernt, Senior Researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space.

Portrait, Dr. Mattias Bernt

Dr. Mattias Bernt

Matthias Bernt will examine recent conceptual debates around gentrification. Using London, Berlin and St.Petersburg as cases, he argues that both universalist and particularist accounts fall short of making sense of differences.

In this lecture he calls for new approaches which give the politico-institutional environment a key role in explaining neighbourhood change.


Over the last years, an increasing number of scholarly contributions has questioned the usefulness of the concept of gentrification for cases outside of the context in which the term has originally been developed.

The paper builds on this debate and explores the unfolding of gentrification in three contrasting environments. It analyzes the course of urban upgrading in London-Barnsbury, in Prenzlauer Berg in East-Berlin, as well as in the central city of St. Petersburg and argues that while the concept of gentrification provides useful conceptual tools to understand the commodification of urban space in general, its explanatory force is fairly limited with regard to the actual spatial and temporal patterns of urban change.

I conclude that what is widely coined as “gentrification” is in fact an umbrella term for fairly disparate socio-spatial formations which are marked by different policies and state structures and result in different dynamics of regeneration and population change. I claim that this calls for more reflection on the double character of housing as a commodity and as a social right, i.e. the nexus between commodification and decommodification in the housing sector. While rent-gap theories provide indispensable instruments for understanding the first, other and more contextually sensitive approaches are needed for studying the latter.


Dr. Matthias Bernt has been trained as a Political Scientist and works as a Research Associate at the Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space in Erkner (near Berlin). Previous positions were at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig and, as a Visiting Scholar, at the Columbia University of New York City and the University College of London. Since 1998 Bernt has taught as an Adjunct Lecturer at the several German universities.

Bernt works on the broad field of interrelations between urban development and urban governance, with a strong focus on urban shrinkage and on gentrification. He has extensively published on the two issues both in national and international journals.

Bernt is a member of the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, as well as of the Board of the Research Committee 21 on Sociology of Urban and Regional Development of the International Sociological Association. He is Deputy Speaker of the Section Urban and Regional Sociology of the German Sociological Association.


Cities and Society
Tags: Gentrification, Urban politics
Published Oct. 28, 2016 12:55 PM - Last modified Oct. 17, 2019 7:55 AM