Gentrification is a controversial issue in today's cities mainly because of its potential for the displacement of existing low-income groups. Many gentrifiers therefore grapple with the moral implications of their role in the process. Based on three years of fieldwork and 46 interviews in a small city, this paper explains how gentrifiers come to select the moral frames they use to identify themselves and gentrification as morally good, and how their moral ideas shape their behaviors. It argues that their own community is the social source for their moral frame of "opportunity," which they use to assign value to actors and actions based on whether they help realize the city's potential to revitalize, reduce poverty, and prevent displacement. This framing leads them to either support people, organizations, and policies that encourage "conditional gentrification" (i.e., gentrification they control) or oppose those that do not. The context of a small city plays a significant role because of gentrifers' status as civically- and politically-active property owners with social and market power. This seminar discusses how groups base justifications for morally questionable behavior on community, with strong implications for exacerbating inequalities.
Richard E. Ocejo [jjay.cuny.edu] is associate professor of sociology at John Jay College and the Graduate Center, and the director of the MA program in International Migration Studies at the Graduate Center. An urban and cultural sociologist, he is the author of Masters of Craft: Old Jobs in the New Urban Economy [press.princeton.edu] (Princeton University Press, 2017), about the transformation of low-status occupations into cool, cultural taste-making jobs (cocktail bartenders, craft distillers, upscale men’s barbers, and whole animal butchers), and of Upscaling Downtown: From Bowery Saloons to Cocktail Bars in New York City [press.princeton.edu] (Princeton University Press, 2014), about growth policies, nightlife, and conflict in gentrified neighborhoods. His work has appeared in such journals as the Urban Affairs Review, Poetics, Journal of Urban Affairs, Sociological Perspectives, and City & Community. He is also the editor of Urban Ethnography: Legacies and Challenges [books.emeraldinsight.com] (Emerald, 2019) and Ethnography and the City: Readings on Doing Urban Fieldwork [routledge.com] (Routledge, 2012), a co-Book Review Editor at City & Community, and serves on the editorial boards of the journals Contemporary Sociology, Work and Occupations, Metropolitics, and the Journal for Undergraduate Ethnography. Finally, he is a podcast host at the New Books in Sociology [newbooksnetwork.com], part of the New Books Network.