Rethinking tourism gentrification

The proposed project aims to shed new light on the political economy of tourism, in particular the idea of tourist valorization (Frenzel 2017) and its relation to current debates on tourism gentrification. Tourism gentrification occurs when tourism inflows effect gentrification, mostly notably increases in the value of real-estate, triggering the displacement of residents and certain businesses. An issue of increasing academic concern, tourism gentrification is also a point of contestation for many anti-tourist social movements. Despite its political and economic relevance tourism gentrification remains poorly understood. Existing approaches address how the increasing value of neighbourhoods is enclosed and commodified in rent regimes of urban real estate, to be sold, among others, to tourists. They also show how tourism is recognized by public policy as a lever of capital-led urban regeneration. But most approaches leave untouched how neighbourhoods become valuable in the first place, there is a particular gap concerning the role of tourists in effecting neighbourhood value and worth.

In research covering the wider domain of creative and cultural industries and their role in urban regeneration, critical political economy approaches have explained the creation of attractive neighbourhoods as the result of practices of ‘common-ing’. But such semi-autonomous productivity is often considered, implicitly at least, as an exclusive domain of permanent residents. Tourists, and other mobile, non-permanent residents feature merely as consumers of commodified attractiveness with little agency on their own and no input in the production of attractive neighbourhoods.

The project sets out to challenge such approaches both in terms of theoretical insight and in terms of their practical and policy implications. The innovative idea of this project is to advance existing theories of urban common-ing to include tourists (and other mobile or non-permanent residents) as co-producers of urban commons. A theoretical framework is developed that considers space as a product of practices of urban commons rather than its ‘container’, based on Virno’s (2004) theory of practice. The project collects empirical evidence from a number of cases of tourism gentrification to develop the theoretical proposition. The project contributes to a better understanding of tourism gentrification, and enables a politics that questions existing real estate regimes. Urban social movements and policy may use such research to improve responses to tourism-induced and other forms of gentrification. The project will focus centrally on contact and collaboration with such user groups.