Doctor of Philosophy
Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies
Dr. Jessica Polzer
In this thesis I present a critical discourse analysis that examines the ways in which people, places, and populations are managed through the gentrification of London Ontario’s Old East Village (OEV). In particular, I am concerned with the manner in which gentrification of this poor, post-industrial neighbourhood mobilizes discourses that stigmatize disenfranchised people and discard populations in order to “revitalize” disinvested places and re-form cities in ways that valorize a particular kind of personhood, one that contributes to economic and social recovery through neoliberal notions of entrepreneurialism and communitarianism. My concerns are informed by theoretical notions of stigma power, biopower, and biopolitical racism, which I use to frame gentrification as a biopolitical undertaking that aims to devalue, dehumanize, and displace stigmatized groups who are constructed as threatening the area’s economic vitality and the well-being of the general population. Drawing on multiple sites of discourse production (municipal policy and planning documents, local news media, interviews, streetscapes), my analysis attends to the ways in which this area and the people who inhabit and occupy this space are reimagined and re-membered through discourses of nostalgia, sanitization, and community, which excavate and redefine the city’s core, securitize the neighbourhood from constructed threats, and reconstruct belongingness as defined by civic responsibility and embodied by entrepreneurs and communitarians. I also explore how contestations about revitalization are articulated within these discursive re-imaginings and re-memberings. My findings illuminate the ways in which the discursive rebirth of London’s OEV cleaves from belonging old life, Indigenous life, and poor life: senior lives are rendered obsolescent through prospective nostalgia; Indigenous lives are erased through a selective remembering of the area’s white settler heritage; and poor lives (those who are unhoused, substance-addicted, and/or mentally ill) are expelled through discourses of de/stigmatization and sanitization that amplify the threat they pose to the reimagined space. Within this process of revitalization, reimagining is a practice of violence enacted through biopolitical measures to install a preferred population for whom civic and economic contribution are prerequisites for community belongingness.
Summary for Lay Audience
This project examines how the Old East Village (OEV), one of London Ontario’s poorest and most stigmatized areas, is reimagined by urban development projects that aim to revitalize and improve the area. This entailed close readings of how “revitalization” of the neighbourhood was presented in the city’s planning documents, in news media, through visual images (posters, banners) in the area, and by everyday people who live, work and visit the OEV. My results show how ideas about heritage, waste and sanitation, and community are used in these documents, visual images, and everyday talk to re-imagine and re-member the OEV in particular ways. Ideas about heritage express a nostalgia for white settler permanence that erases Indigenous life. Ideas about waste stigmatize the poor, unhoused, and substance-dependent and justify the surveillance and “thinning out” of these populations. Ideas about community express value for a desired population of entrepreneurs (those who start up and invest in business), communitarians (those who give to the community by volunteering), and able-bodied consumers. These findings illustrate how language is used to shape how urban spaces are remade to welcome some people into the reimagined community and exclude, forget, or remove others. In the reimagined OEV, there is little to no room for old life, Indigenous life, and poor life. My study provides evidence of how seniors on a fixed income are designed out of the OEV by shops and services that cater to a younger, richer, group of consumers, Indigenous life (past and present), is erased by glorifying white settler heritage, and poor life is presented as dirty and threatening to the desired population to gain support for their removal. The results also show how the change in name from “East of Adelaide” to “Old East Village” helped to rebrand the area to reduce the stigma associated with its reputation for poverty and crime. This name change was challenged by some who demanded that the diverse range of people who live in and occupy the area, including those who are street-involved deserve to be seen and respected. My work shows that the use of stigmatizing and destigmatizing language in urban development projects provides a way to manage who is included and excluded from reimagined communities and urban spaces.
Brocklehurst, Stephanie, "The Biopolitics of Gentrification:Re-imagining and Re-membering London, Ontario's Old East Village" (2023). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 9643.
Available for download on Sunday, August 31, 2025