A video recording of my David M. Smith lecture at Queen Mary geography department, delivered on November 30th 2016. "The real duty...is not to explain our sorry reality, but to improve it."
I was born in 1975 and raised on the 'Somerset Levels' in southern England. I'm an urban geographer, employed as Reader in Urban Geography at The University of Edinburgh, which I joined in August 2008. I was lucky enough to be an undergraduate (1995-1998) at the wonderful Department of Geography at Queen Mary, University of London, where the breathtaking lectures and powerful writings of David M. Smith opened my eyes to questions of social justice, and inspired a passion for geographical inquiry that is at once politically committed and theoretically informed. When on an exchange program at the University of South Florida (1996-7), I also benefited enormously from the remarkable pedagogical and political energy of Kevin Archer, who had studied under David Harvey at Johns Hopkins. To the astonishment of all who knew me, I became a serious nerd as an undergraduate, turning down invitations to pubs and bars in favour of immersing myself in the works of, inter alia, Smith, David Harvey, Peter Marcuse, Michael Watts, Linda McDowell, Neil Smith, Eric Sheppard, Dick Peet, Miles Ogborn, John Western, David Ley, Damaris Rose, Allan Pred, Ceri Peach, Derek Gregory, Margit Mayer, Doreen Massey, Jamie Peck. "If this is geography," I thought, "then I want to be part of it."
After being displaced from the south London neighbourhood of Tooting in 1998 by a landlord capitalizing on a gentrifying neighbourhood, I decided to conduct Ph.D. research (1999-2003) on gentrification, based at King's College London, but conducting fieldwork in Toronto and New York City. From there I went to my first academic post at the University of Bristol (2003-2008), where I developed a passion for teaching, and intellectual concerns with troubling phrases such as "evidence-based decision making". I take a very dim view of the subordination of scholarly to policy agendas, and feel that policy-driven research (as opposed to research-driven policy) must be vigorously resisted if social scientists are to retain autonomy and integrity. The moment that we cannot ask our own questions due to the priorities of the state, it ceases to be research and becomes propaganda.
I work amongst a talented group of scholars here in Edinburgh, a city that invigorates with its relentless energy and astonishing physical setting, yet one that offends with its inequalities. I've been lucky to supervise some wonderful postgraduates (working in urban contexts as diverse as Damascus, Shanghai and Nîmes) over the years, who have educated me via their knowledge and dedication.
Recently I have been tracing the roots and implications of the current UK government's welfare reforms, which rest on the ongoing and deeply disturbing stigmatisation of the urban working class and the places where they live. A critique of the practices and publications of free market think tanks features strongly in my analysis. I have also developed an interest in the links between rent gap theory and territorial stigmatisation, explored in public and keynote lectures in 18 different countries since 2010. My work has been translated into 10 different languages and circulates widely to inform struggles for housing justice.
Slater. T. (2020, forthcoming) Shaking Up The City: Reframing Urban Inequality (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press).
Cupples, J. and Slater, T. (eds) (2019, forthcoming) Producing and Contesting Urban Marginality: Interdisciplinary and Comparative Dialogues (London: Rowman and Littlefield International "Transforming Capitalism" Series).
Tyler, I. and Slater, T. (eds) (2018) The Sociology of Stigma (London: Sage, Sociological Review Monograph Series).Gentrification (New York: Routledge)
Tyler, I. and Slater, T. (2018) 'Rethinking the sociology of stigma' The Sociological Review
Slater, T. (2018) 'The invention of the 'sink estate': consequential categorization and the UK housing crisis', The Sociological Review
Slater, T. (2017) 'Planetary Rent Gaps'*, Antipode 49 (s1) p.114-137.
*This is my contribution to a special issue of Antipode and an edited book engaging with the late great Neil Smith's intellectual contributions to radical geography and beyond.
Slater, T. (2016) 'Revanchism, Stigma and the Production of Ignorance: Housing Struggles in Austerity Britain', Research in Political Economy 31, p.23-48.
Larsen, H., Hansen, A., MacLeod, G. and Slater, T. (2016) 'The Housing Question Revisited', ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 15(3) p.580-589.
Slater, T. (2014) 'Unravelling False Choice Urbanism', CITY: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action 18 (4-5) p.517-524.
Slater, T. (2014) 'The myth of 'Broken Britain': welfare reform and the production of ignorance'*, Antipode 46 (4) p.948-969
*Some background: "required reading for anyone interested in what made the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill, and myriad similar state actions in our neoliberal times, possible."
Wacquant, L., Slater, T. and Pereira, V.B. (2014) 'Territorial stigmatization in action'*, Environment and Planning A 46 (6) p.1270-1280. [Introduction to Theme Issue on Territorial Stigmatization]
*Spanish translation in Revista INVI (Santiago de Chile), Fall 2014.
*German translation forthcoming in Zeitschrift für Politik und Gesellschaft (Göttingen)
*Turkish translation forthcoming in Cogito (Istanbul)
Kallin, H. and Slater, T. (2014) 'Activating territorial stigma: gentrifying marginality on Edinburgh's periphery', Environment and Planning A 46 (6) p.1351-1368.
Slater, T. (2013) 'Expulsions from public housing: the hidden context of concentrated affluence', Cities 35 p.384-390.
Slater, T. (2013) 'Your life chances affect where you live: a critique of the 'cottage industry' of neighbourhood effects research', International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 37 (2) p.367-387.
Rose, D., Germain, A., Bacqué, M-H., Bridge, G, Fijalkow, Y., & Slater, T. (2013). 'Social mix' and neighbourhood revitalization in a transatlantic perspective: comparing local policy discourses and expectations in Paris (France), Bristol (UK) and Montréal (Canada). International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 37 (2) p.430-450.
Slater, T. and Anderson, N. (2012) 'The reputational ghetto: territorial stigmatisation in St. Paul's, Bristol', Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 37 (4) p.530-546.
Slater. T. (2012) 'Impacted geographers: a response to Pain, Kesby and Askins'*, Area 44 (1) p.117–119.
*This piece was written in response to an article by three participatory geographers that cautiously welcomed the REF 'impact' agenda. As I see it, all forms of academic research, including those involving collaboration with non-academics, are best pursued for reasons worked out by academics in the course of their engagements with knowledge/ignorance and social life, not in the service of an imposed, reductive, compromised, institutionally mediated artificial assessment system that wastes a huge amount of our collective time and effort on a particularly obnoxious navel-gazing exercise rooted in input-output neoclassical economics. You can read Pain et al's reply here (requires subscription).
Slater. T. (2011) 'From "criminality" to marginality: rioting against a broken state', Human Geography: A New Radical Journal 4 (3) p.106-115.
Slater, T. (2010) 'Still Missing Marcuse: Hamnett's foggy analysis in London town'*, CITY: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action 14 (1) p.170-179
*This article is a rejoinder to a published critique of my 'Missing Marcuse' paper by Chris Hamnett. Unusually, Hamnett responded to this rejoinder. Peter Marcuse read the exchange and added this note, which, in contrast to Hamnett, takes seriously my closing arguments in Still Missing Marcuse. Here's an excerpt:
"If the pain of displacement is not a central component of what we are dealing with in studying gentrification - indeed, is not what brings us to the subject in the first place - we are not just missing one factor in a multi-factorial equation; we are missing the central point that needs to be addressed."
Slater, T. (2010) 'Ghetto blasting: on Loïc Wacquant's Urban Outcasts' Urban Geography 31 (2) p.162-168
Slater, T. (2009) *'Missing Marcuse: on gentrification and displacement' CITY: analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action 13 (2) p.292-311
*Translated into Turkish and Swedish
Slater, T. (2008) 'A literal necessity to be replaced': a rejoinder to the gentrification debate, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 32(1) p.212-223
*Slater, T. (2006) The eviction of critical perspectives from gentrification research, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 30(4) p.737-757. MULTIPLE TRANSLATIONS AVAILABLE (e.g. Spanish, French, Hungarian, Swedish), please contact me for copies
*"One of the most important urban geography articles of the last decade" - Neil Smith, 2008
*"A timely wake-up call for scholars of class, space and politics in the city" - Loïc Wacquant, 2008
Check out the debate in IJURR 32 (1) on this little piece of mischief, featuring invited commentaries by Chris Allen, Lance Freeman, Kate Shaw, Neil Smith, Loïc Wacquant and Paul Watt.
Whitzman, C. and Slater, T. (2006) Village ghetto land: myth, social conditions and housing policy in Parkdale, Toronto, 1879-2000, Urban Affairs Review 41(5) p.673-696
Slater, T., Curran, W. and Lees, L. (2004) Gentrification research: new directions and critical scholarship, Guest Editorial. Environment and Planning A 36(7) p.1141-1150
Slater, T. (2004) Municipally-managed gentrification in South Parkdale, Toronto, The Canadian Geographer 48(3) p.303-325
Slater, T. (2004) North American gentrification? Revanchist and emancipatory perspectives explored, Environment and Planning A 36(7) p.1191-1213
Slater, T. (2002) Fear of the City 1882-1967: Edward Hopper and the discourse of anti-urbanism, Social and Cultural Geography 3(2) p.135-154
Slater, T. (2002) Looking at the 'North American City' through the lens of gentrification discourse, Urban Geography 23(2) p.131-153
Kallin, H. & Slater, T. (2018) "The Myths and Realities of Rent Control" in N. Gray (Ed) A Century of Housing Struggles: From the 1915 Rent Strikes to Contemporary Housing Activisms (London: Rowman & Littlefield).
Slater, T. (2018) "Rent gaps" in L. Lees and M. Phillips (Eds) The Handbook of Gentrification Studies (London: Edward Elgar).
Slater, T. (2017) "Revanchism, Ignorance and Class Struggle in Austerity Britain" in N. Benach and A. Albet (Eds) Processes of Urban Gentrification: Neil Smith and Beyond (London: Routledge).
Slater, T. (2017) Territorial Stigmatisation, Gentrification and Class Struggle: An interview with Tom Slater in P. Kirkness and A.Tijé-Dra (Eds) Negative Neighbourhood Reputation and Place Attachment: The Production and Contestation of Territorial Stigma (London: Routledge).
Slater. T. (2017) 'Territorial Stigmatization: Symbolic Defamation and the Contemporary Metropolis' in J. Hannigan and G. Richards (Eds) The Sage Handbook of New Urban Studies (London: Sage) pp111-125
Slater. T. (2016) 'The Housing Crisis in Neoliberal Britain: Free Market Think Tanks and the Production of Ignorance' in S. Springer, K. Birch and J. MacLeavy (Eds) The Routledge Handbook of Neoliberalism(London: Routledge) pp370-382.
Slater, T. (2016) 'The neoliberal state and the 2011 English riots: a class analysis'* in H.Thörn, M. Mayer, O. Sernhede & C. Thörn (Eds) Understanding Urban Uprisings, Protests and Movements (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan) pp121-148.
*"By the time I'd finished I was overwhelmed....a tremendous and humbling analysis of inequality that to be honest was not so obvious throughout the investigations...but very much resonated having been involved in policing some of the more socio-economically challenged areas of London over the past 30 years." Detective Chief Inspector Robin Bhairam, Senior Investigating Officer, London 2011 Disorders.
Slater. T. (2013) 'Capitalist urbanisation affects your life chances: exorcising the ghosts of 'neighbourhood effects'' in D. Manley, M. Van Ham, N. Bailey, L. Simpson, & D. Maclennan (eds) Neighbourhood Effects or Neighbourhood Based Problems? A Policy Context (Springer Press) pp113-132.
Slater, T. (2011) 'Missing Marcuse: On Gentrification and Displacement' (revised and updated) in N. Brenner, P. Marcuse and M. Mayer (eds) Cities for People, Not for Profit (Routledge) pp171-196.
Slater, T. (2011) 'Gentrification of the City' in G. Bridge and S. Watson (eds) The New Companion to the City (Oxford: Blackwell) pp571-585.
Slater, T. (2009) 'Revanchist City'. Entry in R. Hutchison (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Urban Studies (Thousand Oaks: Sage)
November 2016: I am delighted to have been appointed as an Editor of The Sociological Review, tasked with bringing more urban studies into the journal and making stronger links between sociology and human geography.
May 2016: Here is the opening keynote lecture I gave to the to the COES Annual Conference in Santiago de Chile last November.
February 2016: Imogen Tyler and I were successful in The Sociological Review's Monograph Series competition, and together we will edit a monograph/special issue entitled "The Sociology of Stigma". Details here.
February 2016: In collaboration with colleagues at Universidad La Salle in Mexico City, my colleague Julie Cupples and I have just received a British Council Research Links workshop grant entitled “Producing and contesting urban marginality: Speculation, public space and social movements in the neoliberal city”. It will enable us to hold a workshop in Mexico City in the summer involving early career scholars from both Mexico and the UK. The workshop will explore the material and symbolic mechanisms through which urban marginality is produced and contested. It seeks to understand how things might be otherwise, and how the city might be geared towards more inclusive forms of belonging and citizenship.
November 2015: A write up (in Spanish) of my keynote lecture to the COES Annual Conference in Santiago de Chile.
September 2015: Here is my keynote lecture at a conference in Barcelona held in tribute to Neil Smith. The title of my lecture was "Revanchism, Stigma and The Production of Ignorance: Housing Struggles in Austerity Britain."
September 2015: WHY WE NEED RENT CONTROLS. Some questions I answered for the wonderful activists of the Living Rent campaign.
July 2015: I have two keynote lectures coming up at very exciting conferences. The first is in September in Barcelona at a conference organised in tribute to the late great Neil Smith, and the second is in November in Santiago, Chile at a fascinating event addressing urban and territorial conflicts. I'll be speaking about revanchist housing policies directed at working class people under austerity, and the role of think tanks in producing widespread ignorance of the UK housing crisis.
November 2014: 'THERE IS NOTHING NATURAL ABOUT GENTRIFICATION'. This is my response to an abominable piece in The Guardian entitled 'Gentrification is a Natural Evolution'. Thanks to New Left Project for inviting me to respond.
June 2014: Delighted to have been awarded a Fellowship at the Department of Sociology and Social Research at the University of Trento, Italy from August 25th to September 22nd.
June 2014: Just out: a theme issue of Environment and Planning A on "Territorial Stigmatization", which I co-edited with Virgilio Borges Pereira and Loïc Wacquant.
April 2014: In response to rather too many "gentrification is better than urban decay" articles, I wrote a piece entitled "Unravelling False Choice Urbanism".
January 2014: I've got some issues (to put it mildly) with the ubiquitous notion of "resilience". Here's why.
A piece on the devastation currently being caused by the "bedroom tax" in the UK, drawing on Marc Fried's "Grieving for a Lost Home" half a century after its publication.
I had the honour of reviewing Imogen Tyler's astonishing "Revolting Subjects" for Antipode. A very, very special book.
Kim Allen at MMU has written this fascinating blog piece on the disturbing educational reforms taking place in the UK. It draws on my work on "decision-based evidence making" in a scintillating critique of the ways in which Michael Gove, the Tory education secretary, is trying to push through his elitist agenda.
It is an honour to make Neil Smith's undergraduate dissertation available for download. Completed in January 1977, this is a foundational document for gentrification research, presenting the results of a landmark piece of scholarship in urban studies. Although his hugely influential 'rent gap' thesis did not emerge until two years later, there are many tantalising glimpses of what was to come. It's beautifully written and shows remarkable scientific prowess and sophistication for an author aged only 22. You can read more about it in my tribute to Neil, here. Many thanks to Joe Doherty (who supervised and inspired Neil during his undergraduate studies) for unearthing and scanning the dissertation, and to Deb Cowen and Don Mitchell for supporting my wish to make it publicly available.
Welfare Reform and the Production of Ignorance. The Antipode Foundation has produced this lead-in to a paper I wrote on the think tank influences behind punitive welfare reforms in the UK.
On June 20-21 2012 I organised a conference at the College de France in Paris entitled "Urban Marginality and the State". The videos of the presentations are now available here.
With welfare reform never far from social and political debate in the UK, I'm receiving a lot of correspondence about a piece I wrote last year entitled "The Myth of Broken Britain". A condensed version was published by New Left Project last December. Distilled into a brilliant cartoon, Steve Bell captures the argument I am making!
In February 2012, at the AAG conference in New York, I had the pleasure of being on a panel revisiting Engels' classic pamphlet "The Housing Question". The panel consisted of Ute Lehrer, Kate Shaw, myself, Neil Smith and Peter Marcuse. It followed three invigorating paper sessions on the same theme - there is so much from that pamphlet, published in 1872, that rings true today. Many thanks to comrade Anders Lund Hansen for filming it and uploading it!
One of my articles, "The Eviction of Critical Perspectives from Gentrification Research" (see below), has been translated into Hungarian and published by the Hungarian Social Science Quarterly entitled 'Fordulat'. Köszönöm szépen Fordulat!
The UK welfare state is under very serious attack, with those living in poverty bearing the brunt of an economic crisis that they had absolutely no part in creating. With this in mind, the rhetorical excesses of Iain Duncan-Smith's "Centre for Social Justice" (Orwellian doublespeak: it's a right-wing think tank that provides the 'intellectual' justification for the vicious assualt on the benefits system), seemed to justify this equally declamatory response commissioned by New Left Project.
Here's a piece on the political response to the English riots of 2011, just out in Human Geography: A New Radical Journal. As always, I was particularly inspired by the words of Paul Gilroy, delivered at a community meeting in Tottenham in the aftermath of the riots. I would welcome any comments/reactions!
I am often asked by colleagues, students, and journalists about the late, great Ruth Glass, who coined the term 'gentrification' in 1964. If you want to see a photo and read more about her, click here
Listen to my presentation at "The Right to the City" conference in Berlin, 6th-8th November 2008. A fantastic event in honour of Peter Marcuse's 80th birthday.
Gentrification Web This desperately needs updating, but you may find it useful. Be warned - annoying pop-up windows appear on this site, because it is hosted on a rubbish free webspace platform. One day I will move it across to a better platform, but I need research assistance to do that!
Slater, T. (2005) Toronto's South Parkdale neighbourhood: a brief history of development, disinvestment and gentrification. Centre for Urban and Community Studies, University of Toronto, Research Bulletin #28
Slater, T. (2003) Comparing gentrification in South Parkdale, Toronto and Lower Park Slope, New York City: a 'North American' model of neighbourhood reinvestment?. ESRC Centre for Neighbourhood Research Paper 11
It is a pleasure to post here a .pdf copy of a landmark study by my friend Eric Clark, a Professor of Human Geography at Lund University in Sweden. The Rent Gap and Urban Change: Case Studies in Malmö 1860-1985 is without question the definitive work on the history, theoretical roots, and empirical expression of 'rent gaps', a crucial concept not just in gentrification theory, but land rent theory in general. It's a valuable work on many levels - for its concise elaborations of the different theoretical traditions of interpreting land rent from Von Thunen to Ricardo to Marx; for its serious operational deployment of Neil Smith's rent gap thesis; and particularly because it contains many valuable lessons for newcomers to gentrification debates. For example, on page 81, there is an astute, powerful reaction to one of the main criticisms of rent gap theory:
"The fact that rent gap theory cannot fulfil the dubious wish for a catch-all explanation of various forms of urban redevelopment can, however, hardly be held against it."
Eric Clark's book will stand the test of time - it shows how speculative landed developer interests (which today are visible in mega-events like Olympic Games) result in dislocation and dispossession for people living at the bottom of the urban class structure. If you want to understand how disinvestment and reinvestment in the built environment (via the deployment of powerful legal instruments procured from the state) result in enormous social costs (the symptoms of urban 'regeneration' policies that favour the creation of urban environments to serve the needs of capital accumulation at the expense of the needs of home, community, family), then this is the book to read.
My pedagogical approach is guided by a very strong belief that teaching and research cannot be usefully separated - I love it when students engage with the theories, concepts and debates that I have the privilege of introducing; when they respond with questions, comments and reactions; and when some produce work bursting with research ideas, thoughtful insights, and a geographical imagination. Academic life doesn't get any better than that.
I'm proud of the two teaching prizes I won when I was at the University of Bristol, but they pale in comparison to this nomination I received in 2010 for a EUSA Teaching Award:
"His enthusiasm shines through so much and there is an amazing sense of urgency when he talks about subjects such as divided cities and the inequality of neoliberalism. Tom brings through the sense that, 'yes, this is your problem too. YOU need to sit up and listen and do something – don’t leave it to other people.' He does this whilst also communicating extremely valuable knowledge and ideas. ......Tom makes learning incredibly interesting – and as well as the content on which he lectures, this is predominantly to do with the way in which he communicates."
From 2008-2012 I organised and led the Amsterdam field course for 3rd year students. I enjoy field-based teaching, and now I am course organiser for our new field course to Cape Town for 3rd year students. I continue to run an honours option course entitled Divided Cities, which is everything I know about urban inequality packaged into eleven exhausting weeks for 3rd & 4th year undergraduates. I also make some contributions to our 2nd year core course entitled "Economic and Political Geography". For three years (2012-5) I served as Chair of the Board of Examiners for Geography Degree Programmes (GDP), and for another three years (2015-8) I served as GDP Convenor, leading our Geography programmes to successful RGS-IBG Accreditation.
I've long been bothered by how senior academics in the UK have embraced institutional audit, and acceded to a thorough instrumentalisation of themselves and their colleagues, a process which calls into question their mutual trust in each other's professional competence. It's profoundly sad that institutional audit has become such a dominant force in the day to day workings of vital research universities. To anyone frustrated by the REF and by other threats to scholarship and collegiality, or to anyone viewing it as a comprehensive peer review, it's worth reading the devastating critique by my undergraduate inspiration, David M. Smith:
"[M]ethods of assessment currently adopted in Britain...depend on a deeply flawed model conception of academic activity. Sometimes referred to as the goal attainment model, it bears a strong resemblance to the planning framework of managerial rationality underpinning the social indicators movement.... Individuals, and groups or institutions (academic departments and universities), are supposed to pursue goals (or targets), the attainment of which is somehow measurable. The way they do this is based (usually implicitly) on how the free market is supposed to operate in neoclassical economics, maximizing output for given expenditure. While this model may have validity in some walks of life, scholarship does not actually work this way. Universities are significantly different from factories: the creative process of scholarship is demeaned by the notion that it can be captured by a simple model or metric relating to quality of research or teaching.
"The consequences are both practical and ethical. In practice, we do not know how to maximise research output, even if we knew how to measure it, with the reliability of industrial production theory. Ethically, it is wrong to claim such knowledge, and to run universities as though we had it. What universities should be, and how they should work, is a matter of proper public concern, and it is crucial that we critically engage the forces of darkness seeking to turn academic life into some gross parody of the competitive world of profit-seeking business; and that we do this not only by challenging alien understanding, but also by promoting alternative practice involving reaching out to others who would benefit from our involvement (as we would from theirs), in a spatially expansive and mutual ethics of care."
See "From Location Theory to Moral Philosophy: Views from the Fringe", in R. Lee and D.M. Smith (eds) (2004) Geographies and Moralities (Oxford: Blackwell) p.294
For me, these words pretty much end the debate over institutional audit. I just wish more people in positions of power would read what Smith has to say here, and in many other publications.
My wife Sara and I have a wonderful son, Zach (12). We also have two border collies, Woody (9), and Kelpie (2) who take me on fantastic long walks every day. We feel very fortunate to live in the beautiful county of East Lothian.
"[T]o deprive people of their territory, their community or their home, would seem at first sight to be a heinous act of injustice. It would be like taking away any other source of basic need-satisfaction, on which people depend absolutely. ...But this experience is not simply deprivation: there is a literal necessity to be re-placed. People who have lost their place, for one reason and another, must be provided with or find another. There is no question about it. People need it. They just do."
David M. Smith (1994) Geography and Social Justice (Oxford: Blackwell) p.152Marc Fried article NS on the rent gap Vacant Dwellings SmithEvolution