Post-structuralist Analysis Of Gentrification In London


Within this essay I will be analysing the gentrification that is taking place within London. I will be analysing it under the post-structuralist framework put forth by Young, I (1990). Within the following section I will briefly define the key terms that I will be using throughout this essay. I will then move onto a more descriptive analysis of the post-structuralist framework. Thereafter, I will be outlining the following case study of gentrification in London and how it is relevant within the framework. Finally, I will summarise my findings with a concluding statement.

The Post-structuralist framework is a critique of the previous ideas that came before it, which are the liberalism framework that Rawls, J. (1971) put forth, as well as, a radical framework which Harvey, D. (1973) published as a Marxist critique of liberalism. These ideas tended to focus on the distributive paradigm, and how social justice focuses on the allocation of material goods such as resources, income, etc. (Young, I. 1990. Pp15). Any inequalities that arise from this, be that social or economic, are occurring because of one’s economic class position within society. Post-structuralism, however, puts forth that oppression and domination should be the key understanding of social injustice and how inequalities not only occur partly due to distribution but yet are also embedded within our social structures.

I will be using the following definition of Gentrification, in which it is understood as a process which causes a neighbourhood transformation. This process takes place when there is an increase in middle-class residents living in a relatively low-income area, through this increase of higher earners it results in the displacement of working-class residents. This change in class structure causes improvements in the areas housing and public infrastructure (Hammel, D. J. 2009. Pp360).

Post-Structuralist Theory

Young, I. cemented the idea of post-structuralism within todays academia with her work ‘Justice and the Politics of Difference’ (1990). Her work is a critique of Rawl’s and Harvey’s previous ideas. She highlights how these schools of thought are too focused on the economic, distributive processes that dominated social justice theory. These radical and liberal schools of thought concentrate social justice theory on one’s economic class and the inequalities that came with it; resources, wealth, jobs, etc. I, Young (1990. Pp17) when discussing these ideas states that “dominant liberal framework continues to formulate the focus of justice in exclusively distributive terms”, however, this ignored the ‘social structure and institutional context’ that is needed when analysing social justice (Young, I. 1990. Pp15). By only focusing on the concept of class, it forgoes phenomena such as racism and sexism (Young, I. 1990. Pp49), thus, without looking at the social inequalities that different groups face, one is unable to understand how and why these inequalities exist within society.

Furthermore, shifting this idea of thinking that inequality is only apparent depending on which economic class you are in, towards an understanding that the social group you identify with has impact on social injustices faced. These social groups can be defined as “a collective of persons differentiated from at least one other group by cultural forms, practices, or way of life. Members of a group have a special affinity with one another… which prompts them to associate with one another more than those not identified with the group” (I, Young. 1990. Pp43). By understanding the inequalities that people face because of their group identity, and not only just their economic class. Post-structuralism has meant that there is more rigorous study into the idea that social injustice involves the constraints of oppression and domination, thus involving matters outside the distributive paradigm of thinking like; culture and division of labour (Young, I. 1990. Pp40).

Young, I. (1990) shifted critical thinking of social justice from being inherently economical towards understanding the social processes and structures that allows for inequality to be rampant within capitalist society. By understanding Justice, through not only distribution, but also “the institutional conditions necessary for the development and exercise of individual capacities and collective communication and cooperation” (Young, I. 1990. Pp40), one begins to recognise the oppression that different social groups can face under the domination of a hegemonic group. Young, I (1990. Pp41) refers to oppression as one group ruling over another, that results in systemic constraints for other non-ruling groups. This oppression that social groups can face is structural and is constantly reproduced in major economic, political, and cultural institutions. Often the hegemonic group lacks knowledge of this happening due to it being reproduced in everyday activities (Young, I. 1990. Pp41).

Thus, distinct forms of oppression such as, racism, sexism, etc. are not only just a product of class oppression, whilst they can interact with one another (Young, I. 1990. Pp42), but instead a result of a hegemonic group amongst society. To determine whether a group is oppressed, Young, I. (1990) argues that there are five faces to oppression one must understand. These being Exploitation, Marginalisation, Powerlessness, Cultural Imperialism, and Violence. Exploitation refers to how Capitalism itself, transfers the powers of some individuals to others through division of labour (Young, I. 1990. Pp49). Different groups can often be pushed aside from participation within social life, causing marginalisation of groups. This can mean that groups not only face distributive justice but also “the deprivation of cultural, practical, and institutionalised conditions for exercising capacities in a context of recognition and interaction” (Young, I. 1990. Pp55). Powerlessness, means that groups facing injustice do not have the means to escape injustice. Due, to groups lacking the necessary economic and cultural power to escape from inequality. Moreover, culture imperialism “involve the universalization of a dominants groups experience and culture, and its establishment as the norm” (Young, I. 1990. Pp59). By, having this hegemonic group it means that other groups that do not fit with the societal norms are forced into exclusion. Finally, due to oppressed groups facing these forms of injustice, it means that systematic violence against members is commonplace. Mainly, because they are labelled as ‘others’ in society. Only by eliminating these institutional forms that allow for inequality to arise, will we be able to provide social justice to the varieties of group identities facing inequality (Young, I. 1990. Pp49).

London – Gentrification Case Study

London’s population is on the rise with it reaching 8.6 million people in 2015 and expected numbers to reach 10 million by 2035 (Housing In London, 2015). Housing is an issue for London with more people moving to London than homes are being built. In Figure 1, a graph showing new homes built compared to the conversion/demolition of dwelling stock throughout the turn of the millennium. This displays the clear lack of new housing being built, particularly social housing which I will discuss later, in order to make way for upper class housing. As Butler, T. et al (2008.pp70) states “London has undoubtedly become a more ‘middle-class city’”, which causes a variety of inequalities throughout. In this section I will discuss the gentrification that is taking place throughout London.

Butler et al (2008) in his work defines the class composition of the area of London. In which he states that the largest group living in inner London is no longer the working class that is historically expected to live here but is now the middle-class professional workers. As Watt (2013) claims “deindustrialisation and professionalisation have led to the upgrading of former working-class areas as the working class are themselves replaced”. Through this London’s class composition has ‘reversed’ in inner London over the past 20 years (Butler, T. et al. 2008. Pp83). Throughout this time, inner city boroughs have begun to become more equal with the “increasing homogenisation of boroughs in terms of middle social class composition and reduction of inequality…” (Butler, T. et al. 2008. Pp78-79), thus displacing the previous working-class residents and making it economically uninhabitable for them.

There is evidence in this fact, that can be seen from boroughs like; Chelsea, Mayfair, Kensington, etc. these areas are bought out by the super-rich classes, often foreign investors (DeVerteuil, G. & Manley, D. 2017. Pp1313-1314). This investment by the super-rich classes into London, often due to instability in other countries and London being deemed as a safe investment. Has meant that areas once sought by middle-class gentrifiers are now out-of-bounds, causing the spread of gentrification to grow larger, into ‘more eastern, northern and southern fringes of inner London and beyond’ (DeVerteuil, G. & Manley, D. 2017. Pp1319).

Aylesbury, located in the borough of Southwark, it is another key area that has undergone in gentrification within London. However, the displacement of working-class and ethnic minorities in this area is largely due to redevelopment from the local council. This social housing was designed to, at the time, house a population of 10,000 residents but has since fell into disrepair and deprivation, becoming an area of extreme social disadvantage; 68% of the residents are of black or other ethnic minority (Lees, L. 2014. Pp924). The area has gained a reputation of rampant anti-social behaviour, crime and poverty. The local council devised a strategy to demolish and replace the council estate with 3200 private new homes to increase the population of middle-class income earners, as well as 2000 social rented housing to keep the 40% requirement.

Post-Structuralist Analysis

Through gentrification of inner urban areas that are predominantly social housing, like that of Aylesbury, those that depend on social housing are marginalised by mainstream society. Those that live on these deprived council estates, are often stereotyped to be ‘deviant’ and ‘untrustworthy’. This is what perpetuated through media sources at the time of the redevelopment of Aylesbury (Lees, L. 2014. Pp928), which allow for the oppression of this community. Through redeveloping social housing areas, it means that the polarisation and exclusion processes of working class are enabled, which can lead to further inequalities, such as; homelessness, overcrowding and poor housing conditions (Watt, P. 2013. Pp103).

Without social housing in the inner-city areas to support working-class citizens, it will reduce accessibility to social services. Many of the social services are located close to these areas of low-income, mainly inner-city, due to a lack of mobility that exists for low-income citizens. However, through the gentrification of the inner-city this also leads to displacement of vital social services (DeVerteuil, G. 2010. Pp1564). A knock-on effect from this displacement, means that groups like disabled and the elderly are blocked access to necessary social services. Resulting in inequality across different social groups as those with more mobility can access services. Thus, Gentrification is not only detrimental to working-class in terms of economic inequality, but also face a variety of social inequalities from exclusion from services, quality housing. Yet, also through the marginalisation of whole communities as areas are stereotyped and excluded from participating in demonstrating their ‘right to the city’.


Post-structuralism theory has meant that we can analyse the injustices faced by social groups, outside of the distributive paradigm. Which predominantly focused on one’s economic class and thus resulted in the social phenomena’s that arise from group identity to be specific to one’s wealth. However, through Young, I (1990) work we can understand that oppression and domination from a hegemonic group in society causes social injustice, as groups are socially and economically excluded because of their identity. This can be understood through studying London’s increased gentrification of inner-city areas, leading to the displacement of working-class citizens. Yet, this displacement is only enabled through the ruling group of middle-class citizens in London’s increasing marginalisation of working-class areas, as they attempt to exclude them from participating in mainstream society. Such is the case of Aylesbury, and other areas like this, as they are stereotyped by mainstream media as violent and deviant. Thus, allowing for the continuation of social injustice against these groups.