The Vital Politics of Gentrification: Governing Life in Urban Canada into the 21st Century
Parish, Jessica M.
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This dissertation is about the vital politics of gentrification. The vital politics of gentrification is a politics of space that places the question of the vital characteristics of people and places at its very core. The dissertation argues that this vital politics is evident in the alignment between the 21st century proliferation of new forms of health and wellness consumption in gentrifying urban neighbourhoods (i.e. yoga studios, day spas, and juice bars) and broader shifts in how governing mentalities understand the relationship between health and urban space. The concept of the vital politics of gentrification is offered as a critique of normalized and commonsensical modes of thinking and acting towards health in the contemporary moment. This critique has two parts. The first analyzes contemporary spatial problematizations of health in light of those that came before. In particular, the birth and normalization of forms of knowledge-power that problematize health as socially and environmentally determined (that is, determined by the social and physical characteristics of where we live work and play) has had major impacts in recent decades on the theory and practice of governing urban spaces and populations. To understand the emergence of this form of political rationality the dissertation pursues a genealogy of the relationship between space and how health is conceptualized and problematized since the golden age of public health in early 20th century Canada. The second documents how health and vitality have become constitutive aspects of material struggles to define, enact, and inhabit space in the West Toronto neighbourhood of Parkdale. Parkdale is an important case study because it is a neighbourhood where significant levels of material deprivation exist cheek by jowl with an emergent proliferation of forms of elite heath care consumption. Against the backdrop of the changing spatial problematizations of health, I conclude that that the actions of diverse agents have converged to produce Parkdale as a healthified space, a space in which forms of valuation and belonging are actualized and enacted through the power to lay claim to health. I further conclude that this raises distinct challenges for thinking about justice in the 21st century.