Book review - Gentrifier

Authored by John Joe Schlichtman, Jason Patch & Marc Lamont Hill and reviewed by Aysegul Can

12 Sep 2018, 3:55 p.m.
Aysegul Can



Authored by John Joe Schlichtman, Jason Patch & Marc Lamont Hill and reviewed by Aysegul Can

Toronto: University of Toronto Press 2017; 256 pp.: 978-1-4426-5045-9, £19.95/US$29.95 (hbk)


This book challenges the ways in which gentrification scholars define and categorise gentrifiers based on the personal experiences of three academics (the authors) who self-identify as gentrifiers. With its less academic and somewhat journalistic language, this work may attract many parties outside the scope of academia who are interested in gentrification. The authors approach processes of gentrification from a more personal perspective to bring theory and urban policy closer, and present an account of the processes unfolding on the ground level. This is a very interesting piece of work that is likely to draw some attention and may even create some controversy in the gentrification studies circle. In this regard, as Peter Marcuse states at the beginning of the foreword: ‘This is a brave book’ (p. vii). Its main aim and focus is to re-categorise the role of gentrifiers, to expose gentrification scholars and activists as gentrifiers and to finally start a discussion that is maybe more personal, as many scholars tend to be gentrifiers themselves. The authors try to do that by first identifying themselves as gentrifiers. This focus on personal narrative aims to remove some of the stigma surrounding gentrifiers in an attempt to bring them into the discussion on gentrification rather than casting them as ‘an enemy to fight against’. In the conclusion, the authors propose some ways to achieve this, especially in an Anglo-American context.

The book consists of five chapters. The first chapter outlines the ‘Tools’ the authors use to create an account that is not ‘strictly scholarly because it contains the personal, and … not strictly personal because it contains the scholarly’ (p. 5; quoting Burnier, 2006: 412). The reader can feel this all throughout the book as it does not read like a completely academic piece of work, which makes it more attractive to the general audience. These tools are used to define the making of a gentrifier and the possible motivations for becoming a gentrifier, be it knowingly or unknowingly. In addition, the authors briefly touch on the long debated supply and demand aspects of gentrification, and state that both economics and human agency should be taken into consideration while conceptualising the processes of gentrification. This is an old debate where each side (including Neil Smith, 1996) has already agreed that both factors should be examined by any gentrification scholar. They finish the chapter with an explanation of their seven-faceted multi-tool designed to help readers and gentrification researchers adjust and re-define their views about this complex process.

The second chapter of the book, ‘Dispatches’, presents a narrative for the making of gentrifiers and the concept of gentrification, starting from the early gentrification stage, to what some call the second-wave gentrification or hyper-gentrification stage, through the authors’ own stories of becoming gentrifiers and what that meant to them at different stages of their lives. The authors present their stories and the decisions they faced as gentrifiers from a personal perspective as a way to theorise the production of gentrifiers. This chapter reads like personal memoirs and gives a glimpse of the life and experiences of three scholars who have a trained eye when it comes to gentrification and gentrifiers.

The third chapter, ‘Invasions’, focuses on the discourse on displacement with regard to gentrification literature. The authors present gentrification as two categories, starting with a de- (devaluation, deterioration, demarcation, deindustrialisation, etc.) period and transforming into a re- (regeneration, revaluation, revitalisation, etc.) period. While doing this, they briefly touch on abstractions such as deregulation, the changing global economy since the 1970s and the financialisation of the housing market as driving forces of gentrification worldwide, and how these macro-level economic changes can have effects on the local level. However, they do not engage with the ever-growing literature on gentrification in the Global South and different types of gentrification such as state-led gentrification, but focus almost solely on the Anglo-American world. Although this chapter tries to tackle the notion of stigma and how working class people or ethnic minorities have been systematically pushed outside of the housing market, there is no mention of the ‘territorial stigmatization’ (see Slater, 2014Wacquant, 20072008) concept that has been used to explain the role of stigma, and how it is used to displace lower-income residents. Overall, this chapter tries to present a slightly different definition for gentrification-led displacement so that scholars avoid drawing out the concept to cover all kinds of displacement that may or may not be caused by the process of gentrification or the ‘invasion’ of middle class people.

In the fourth chapter, ‘Columbus’, the authors examine and re-identify types of gentrifiers. According to the authors, there are six types of gentrifiers in a typical gentrifying neighbourhood: conqueror, coloniser/collector, consumer, competitor, capitalist and curator. These categories range from a gentrifier who moves to a neighbourhood to implement their own culture and to antagonise and displace the other, to a gentrifier who comes into a neighbourhood in search of an authentic and diverse community. The authors present their own and others’ experiences as gentrifiers and provide an in-depth discussion for each category type. Particularly in the ‘curator’ section, there is an implication and promise of a social mix in a gentrifying neighbourhood; however, the authors do not engage with the social mix literature in gentrification studies or the overwhelming evidence that argues against that (see Bridge et al., 2011Lees et al., 2008Slater, 20022004Smith, 1996).

In the concluding chapter, ‘Collisions’, the authors present some tools which might serve as a starting point for discussions between policy-makers and urban scholars to avoid gentrification’s negative consequences, such as segregation and displacement. The authors urge other urban scholars not to use the concept of gentrification as an all-encompassing term against any and all urban regeneration or rehabilitation projects. They also make the point that stigmatising gentrifiers as being ‘invaders’ who should ‘go back to where they came from’ is not helpful for neighbourhoods in transformation as a whole, and propose a solution that includes the gentrifiers as well. This proposal is similar to popular policies regarding mixed communities and social mix in gentrifying neighbourhoods, which use gentrification policies as a way to alleviate poverty in working class areas. This issue has been widely discussed with many case studies from the Global North and South; however, the authors do not engage with this literature. Although the authors accept the effects of neo-liberal urban policies – how they have played a role in the processes of gentrification and the structural inequalities faced by urban citizens (especially working class) – their proposal has more to do with ground-level solutions that focus mainly on human agency without actually tackling the macro-level (sometimes global) economic changes and inequalities. In other words, the authors are looking for a ‘solution’ to gentrification without disturbing the globalised, neo-liberal features of today’s economic system and housing market; an idea they express as seeking to ‘harness the beast [neo-liberalism]’ (p. 192).

Finally, the authors, self-identified upper-middle class gentrifiers from the USA, have used their own experiences as research data; however, considering the current debates in gentrification studies, this book is missing the voices of those most affected by gentrification (working class people) and fails to offer a more holistic account of gentrification worldwide because of its focus on the Anglo-American world. The authors propose to start a new discussion to change and update the academic debate on the processes of gentrification; however, they do not seem to engage much with the ongoing debate on planetary gentrification (Lees et al., 2016Slater, 2015) or gentrification in the Southern countries and what that may mean for the Northern context.


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  Burnier, D (2006) Encounters with self in social science research: A political scientist looks at autoethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 35(4): 410–418. Google ScholarSAGE Journals
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