Looking ‘for a fight rather than a cause’

(De)legitimization of resistance to gentrification in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Margaret Ellis-Young

Published in Issue 2.1 // The Long Read

Keywords: resistance, gentrification, neoliberalism, hegemony, antagonism


Negative implications of gentrification have been continually recognized over the past several decades, prompting varied forms of resistance in cities around the world. However, gentrification has also been more recently framed in public discourse as a beneficial and constructive process, grounded in examples of ‘revitalizing’ centres. These contrasting positions introduce underexplored tensions in how different interests approach gentrifying environments in an urban area, particularly with respect to the impact of resistance movements. Using Hamilton, Ontario as a case study, I consider how acts of resistance to gentrification and displacement are perceived and (de)legitimized by local residents, business owners, and others, focusing on the recent emergence of direct action tactics across the inner city. Applying concepts of antagonism, hegemony, and transparent space, I explore dominant values in a context of municipal-led revitalization as portrayed through discourse on resistance to gentrification in central Hamilton. This analysis draws primarily on news articles and Twitter responses pertaining to prominent instances of gentrification-related resistance in Hamilton between 2016 and 2018, supplemented by interviews conducted in early 2018 with representatives from local community organizations. The paper finds three discourses through which antagonistic relations emerge and the (de)legitimization of gentrification-related resistance occurs: violence, entrepreneurship, and productivity. The dismissal of certain acts of resistance in residents’ and others’ responses can be connected to their contestation of dominant ideals of revitalization and the contrived simplicity of gentrified space. Importantly, this delegitimization includes the invalidation or minimizing of underlying concerns and imperatives. These findings have implications for mobilizing collective responses to address inequities of gentrification.


Margaret Ellis-Young is a PhD student in the School of Planning at the University of Waterloo. 

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