Missing Marcuse: On gentrification and displacement

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2009 Tom Slater / City

Peter Marcuse’s contributions to the study of gentrification and displacement are immense, not just when measured in theoretical development, but in analytical rigour, methodological influence, cross-disciplinary relevance and intellectual–political commitment to social justice. However, his contributions have been conveniently missed in the disturbing 21st-century scholarly, journalistic, policy and planning rescripting of gentrification as a collective urban good. This paper charts and exposes the politics of knowledge production on this pivotal urban process by critically engaging with recent arguments that celebrate gentrification and/ or deny displacement. I explain that these arguments not only strip gentrification of its historical meaning as the neighbourhood expression of class inequality; they are also analyt- ically defective when considered alongside Marcuse’s conceptual clarity on the various forms of displacement in gentrifying neighbourhoods. Understanding and absorbing Marcuse’s crucial arguments could help critical urbanists breach the defensive wall of mainstream urban studies, and reinstate a sense of social justice in gentrification research.