Pushing borders : Cultural workers in the restructuring of post-industrial cities
- Uppsala University
This research explores the agency and positioning of cultural workers in the restructuring of contemporary cities. This positioning is ambiguous. Cultural workers often lead precarious professional lives, yet their significant symbolic and cultural capital is widely mobilised in the service of neoliberal urban restructuring, including ‘creative city’ flagship developments and gentrification. But cultural workers’ actual agency, their reactions to urban processes that exploit their presence, and their relations to other urban social groups, are poorly understood and hard to decipher. This thesis addresses these issues through three articles.Paper I examines a process of artist-led gentrification ongoing in Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York. It shows that artists, gallerists and other members of the local art scene contribute to sustaining gentrification through their everyday practices and discourses. The gentrification frontier is constructed on an everyday level as a transitional space and time in the scene members’ lives. Gentrification is de-politicised by discursively underplaying its conflictual components of class and racial struggle. Forms of resistance to gentrification amongst scene members are found, but they appear to be sector-specific and exclusive. Finally, scene members tend to fail at establishing meaningful relationships with long-time residents.Paper II brings the perspectives of long-time residents in Bushwick to the forefront. Examination of the emotional and affectual components of displacement reveals that these aspects are as important as material re-location to understanding displacement and gentrification. The encounter with newcomers’ bodies in neighbourhood spaces triggers a deep sense of displacement for long-time residents, evoking deep-rooted structural inequalities of which gentrification is one spatial expression.Paper III examines the case of Macao, a collective mobilisation of cultural workers in Milan, Italy. There, cultural workers have mobilised against neoliberal urbanism, top-down gentrification, corruption, growing labour precarity and other regressive urban and social issues. The paper considers the distinctive resources, aesthetic tactics and inaugurative practices mobilised and enacted in the urban space by Macao and it argues that by deploying their cultural and symbolic capital, cultural workers can reframe the relations between bodies, space and time, and hence challenge power structures.Cultural workers might not have the power to determine the structural boundaries and hierarchies that organize urban society, including their own positioning in it. Nonetheless, through their actions and discourses and subjectification processes, they can reinforce or challenge those borders.