The Psychic Life of Gentrification I: Unconscious Topologies

Type: Paper
Sponsor Groups: Sexuality and Space Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Balcony L, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Organizers: David Seitz, Jesse Proudfoot
Chairs: Jesse Proudfoot


“Ultimately, when urbanists use ‘gentrifier’ as a slur, we are often referring to a disposition of the heart.”
- John Joe Schlichtman and Jason Patch, 2014, “Gentrifier? Who, Me? Interrogating the Gentrifier in the Mirror,” 1506

“To put it in the most basic terms, I want to propose that the ethics at the core of… psychoanalysis… is an ethics pertaining to my answerability to my neighbor-with-an-unconscious”
- Eric L. Santner, 2001, On the Psychotheology of Everyday Life: Reflections on Freud and Rosenzweig, 9, emphasis in original

“Techies! Take the Mission! Techies! Gentrify me, gentrify me, gentrify my love.”
- Persia featuring Daddies Plastik, 2013, “Google Google Apps Apps,”

Processes of gentrification and displacement are often posited as paradigmatic manifestations of urban neoliberalism. Robust and longstanding debates in urban studies have debated explanations of gentrification (Smith 1996, Ley 1986, Slater 2006), the work of intersecting vectors of subject formation in gentrification processes (Kern 2010, Leslie and Catungal et al. 2009, Bondi 1998), and how best to understand topologies of complicity and resistance and locate horizons for ethical and political change (McLean 2014, Marcuse 2015, Schlichtman and Patch 2014).

Much cultural and intellectual work gestures toward the affective and unconscious dimensions of gentrification: the ways in which racial capitalism both generates and exploits ressentiment, alienation and desire in ordinary urban life (Smith 1996); the differentiated and distributed ways that mutual suspicion and paranoia can mete out disproportionate and deadly consequences for marginalized citizens (Lee 1989); the melancholia that remains in the wake of forms of life (quite literally) foreclosed by displacement, both for the displaced and those who “survive” displacement (Schulman 2012, Delany 1999); the work of anger, attachment, and dissident senses of place in anti-gentrification and anti-eviction politics (Seitz 2015); and the ambivalence and guilt that haunt well-meaning, often well-educated gentrifiers and potential gentrifiers, including many urbanists (Schlichtman and Patch 2014, Sachs 2016). While key terms employed in these accounts such as “displacement,” “ambivalence,” and “integration” have long histories in psychoanalytic and affective theory, scholarship on gentrification has yet to fully take up these powerful conceptual tools in order to make sense of the imbrication of emotional and social life in cities (exceptions include Bondi 1998, Delany 1999, Kern and McLean).

Following scholars who have argued that sustained attention to affect and the unconscious is key to developing better maps of how ideology works in the present (Berlant 2011, Zizek 1994), this session aims to create space for more sustained analysis of the psychical and affective dimensions of neoliberal ideologies as they materialize in scenes of gentrification, displacement, and resistance, broadly conceived. How do gentrification and displacement feel in everyday life? What unspoken thoughts and fantasies subtend these feelings? What might the range of differently situated actors in ordinary, fraught scenes of gentrification and displacement need to claim or disavow in order to feel righteous, innocent, possible, or safe? And how could becoming more articulate about such feelings – conscious and unconscious – inform ethics and politics in and against the neoliberal city?

To that end, this session welcomes experimental work on gentrification that addresses the difficult, the unseemly, with what remains unknowable about ourselves in scenes of stratified, contested, ordinary urban life. Eric L. Santner (2001) writes that answerability to strangers, others, and neighbors as incoherent to themselves – as “we” are to our own incoherence – is a capacity for ethical response “at the heart of our very aliveness to the world” (9). We invite work that builds on psychoanalytic and affective scholarship in and outside of geography to zoom in on the aliveness of gentrification and displacement (Pile 1996, Hollway and Jefferson 2000, Sibley 1995, Proudfoot 2015, Kingsbury and Pile 2016, Nast 2002). Scholarship that attends to the slow and rich composition of competing or coexistent forms of urban life – ethnographic work, writing on film or other cultural texts – is especially welcome. Our hope is that better understanding the affective and psychic character of processes of gentrification in ordinary life might provide insights into both the “why” and the “how” of gentrification, as well as how things might be otherwise.

Possible approaches to the racialized, sexualized, gendered, classed politics of gentrification in cities in both the global North and South include:
− Alienation, abjection, displacement, loss of home
− Ambivalence
− Cross-class, cross-race desire, contact, misapprehension, solidarity
− Domestication, home, the uncanny
− Fear, paranoia, securitization
− Integration, segregation, disintegration
− Resistance (unconscious, psychical, collective, multiscalar)
− Ressentiment, revanchism, conquest, (internal) colonialism
− Shame, guilt and repair
− Surprise

Please submit abstracts of no more than 250 words, names, affiliations and contact information to by October 10, 2017.

Works Cited
Bennetts, Simon and Daniel Tufts. 2014. “Hamlet’s Nothing: Berfrois Interviews Simon Critchley.” Berfrois: Literature, Ideas, Tea. 13 June.
Berlant, Lauren. 2011. Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke University Press.
Bondi, Liz. 1998. “Sexing the City.” In Cities of Difference, edited by Ruth Fincher and Jane M. Jacobs, 177-200. New York: Guildford Press.
-----. 1999. “Lacanian Theory.” In A Feminist Glossary of Human Geography, edited by Linda McDowell and Joanne Sharp, 143-145. New York: Routledge.
Catungal, John Paul, Deborah Leslie and Yvonne Hii. 2009. “Geographies of Displacement in the Creative City: The Case of Liberty Village, Toronto. Urban Studies 45.5/6: 1095-1114.
Delany, Samuel R. 1999. Times Square Red, Times Square Blue. New York: New York University Press.
Hollway, Wendy and Tony Jefferson. 2000. Doing Qualitative Research Differently: Free Association, Narrative and the Interview Method. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Kern, Leslie. 2010. Sex and the Revitalized City: Gender, Condominium Development, and Urban Citizenship. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.
Kern, Leslie and Heather McLean. “Undecidability and the Urban: Feminist Pathways through Urban Political Economy.” ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies. Under Review.
Kingsbury, Paul and Steve Pile. 2016. Psychoanalytic Geographies. New York: Routledge.
Lee, Spike. 1989. Do the Right Thing. New York: 40 Acres and a Mule Productions.
Ley, David. 1986. “Alternative Explanations for Inner-city Gentrification: A Canadian Assessment.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 76.4: 521-535.
Marcuse, Peter. 2015. “Gentrification, Social Justice and Personal Ethics.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 39.6: 1263-1269.
McLean, Heather. 2014. “Digging Into the Creative City: A Feminist Critique.” Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography 46.3: 669-690.
Nast, Heidi. 2002. “Queer Patriarchies, Queer Racisms, International.” Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography 34.5: 874-909.
Persia featuring DADDIE$ PLA$TIK. 2013. “Google Google Apps Apps.” Dir. Vainhaim. 1 July.
Pile, Steve. 1996. The Body and the City: Psychoanalysis, Space and Subjectivity. New York: Routledge.
Proudfoot, Jesse. 2015. Anxiety and Phantasy in the Field: The Position of the Unconscious in Ethnographic Research. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. 33.6: 1135-1152.
Sachs, Ira. 2016. Little Men. New York: Magnolia Pictures.
Santner, Eric L. 2001. On the Psychotheology of Everyday Life: Reflections on Freud and Rosenzweig. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Schlichtman, John Joe and Jason Patch. 2014. “Gentrifier? Who, Me? Interrogating the Gentrifier in the Mirror.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 38.4: 1491-1508.
Schulman, Sarah. 2012. The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Seitz, David K. 2015. “The Trouble with Flag Wars: Rethinking Sexuality in Critical Urban Theory.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 39.2: 251-264.
Sibley, David. 1995. Geographies of Exclusion: Society and Difference in the West. Routledge: New York.
Slater, Tom. 2006. “The Eviction of Critical Perspectives from Gentrification Research.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 30.4: 737-757.
Smith, Neil. 1996. The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City. New York: Routledge.
Zizek, Slavoj, ed. 1994. Mapping Ideology. London: Verso.


Type Details Minutes Start Time
Presenter Stuart Aitken*, San Diego State University, Living in Gentrified Ellipses … Falling Apart Without Ceasing to Exist 18 8:00 AM
Presenter Don Kunze*, Pennsylvania State University, The Perverse End-Game of Gentrification: The Truman Show 18 8:18 AM
Presenter Dugan Meyer*, University of Kentucky, ‘Security Symptoms’: Civil Gang Injunctions and Ambivalent Revanchism 18 8:36 AM
Presenter David Seitz*, Harvey Mudd College, “The Story of Right Hand, Left Hand”: Melanie Klein for Anti-Gentrification Critique 18 8:54 AM
Discussant Leslie Kern Mount Allison University 18 9:12 AM
Discussant Jesse Proudfoot University of Durham 10 9:30 AM

To access contact information login