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Labour goes urban: Working out legacies of resistance to gentrification

30 minutes
Regardless of the focus adopted most of the literature that falls in the genre now known to us as «critical heritage studies», has actually contributed to the expansion of the contents the very concept of heritage bears as well as to its multifarious material implementations. Be it from a critique of the heritage regimes at stake that seek to paper the world in static, when not statist, cultural productions of an authentic character, be it by discovering and voicing traditions of resistance to the commoditization of culture, to the extent of institutionalising these and turning them into part and parcel of the commoditization they aimed at critiquing in the first place, few authors have actually brought together the exploitative nature of the productive relations the making of heritage entails with a programme for a politically organised labour that carries the seed of social transformation. This paper will address this absence of work by looking into what a working-class heritage would look as, that is, not a heritage that praises the industries, the material outcomes or the living milieus of exploited labour, all of which makes the heritage of the capitalist classes that appropriate a value created by the working class, but the contentious traditions of struggle passed on from generation to generation that have challenged the organisation of labour, its conquests in the realm of consumption, and the re-appropriations within the reproductive environment the capitalist social order established for it. Intangible as this legacy of struggle may look like, it has certainly determined the diverse matter that makes what we gather under the concept of the working class. Since such a project is in itself vast, I will here focus on those legacies of resistance that take place in the urban reproductive environment and, more specifically, in the camp set forth by gentrification and the rent gaps that determine it. With the seminal proposal of the rent-gap theory in the 1970s, a consistent materialist and class-based explanation for gentrification was developed in order to efficiently contend with individual consumer preference tenets by focusing on the cycles of capital’s disinvestment and reinvestment in the built environment thanks to the necessary mediation of forms of collective social action. However, since the rent-gap theory had initially been devised to argue against «consumer preference», with the emphasis on the back-to-the-city movement by capital and not people (as in individuals), all understandings of «people» vanished, including those that hold people to be the bearers of particular class relations and interests. Despite later attempts to mellow such a structuralist approach by teasing out the working-class experience and practice of resistance to gentrification, it is hard to find any explicit reference to the actual class relations that take place in their building. By drawing on ethnographic sketches written by myself on Ciutat de Mallorca (also known as Palma, Spain) and by other authors on other places elsewhere, I will compare the different kinds of collective labour developed by what I view as a single urban working class involved in the creation of rent gaps at several gentrifying neighbourhoods across time –a working class often depicted as the irreconcilable poles encountered in gentrification under the respective forms of the so called underclass and middle classes. My aim is to look into the different forms of resistance to gentrification in order to evaluate whether or not any conclusions can be drawn so to construct a useful legacy of working-class struggle. Thus, by using the urban example of gentrification, the overall aim of this paper is to consider what a working class heritage with the working class would look like.
Universitat de Barcelona
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