TRANS Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 17. Nr. September 2010

Sektion 2.2. Identity, Authenticity, Locality, Urbanity and Speech Community: A New Sociolinguistic Perspective | Identität, Authentizität, lokale- und städtische Veränderungen und Sprachgemeinschaften: Eine neue soziolinguistische Perspektive
Sektionsleiter | Section Chairs: Meryem Şen (Kocaeli University, Turkey), İmran Karabağ

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Gentrification in Istanbul:
The emergence of a new speech community

Nazlı Baykal (Süleyman Demirel University, Isparta, Turkey) [BIO]



1.1 Definition:

It is exactly fortythree years since the term ‘gentrification’ was coined by Ruth Glass in 1964 (in Atkinson, 2005). Early definitions like that of Glass, tended to focus on the residential housing  market and the rehabilitation of existing properties. Smith and Williams defined gentrification as ‘the rehabilitation of working-class and derelict housing and the consequent transformation of an area into a middle class neighbourhood’ (Smith and Williams,1986:1).

1.2 Physical Effects of Gentrification

The notions of urban regeneration and gentrification are defined as notions generating each other. Urban regeneration tries to establish four main criteria: 1) to put an end to architectural decay in big cities and to preserve historical texture   2) to liven economic activities   3) to increase living standards in cities and activate cultural dynamics   4) to ensure participation from all those involved during this process. Some who view gentrification as an urban policy, regard the high-middle class inhabitants of gentrified areas to be the active elements for these places to gain a new identity and to become physically in better condition. Physical regeneration is not independent of social and economical dynamics of society. In another view, gentrification emphasizes the effects of global economy on newly found sectors due to financial activities and international job transactions. As a result of this economical reshaping, the formation of new production-consumption habits and jobs being moved to periferies rather than city centers, the areas close to the city center are inevitably subject to gentrification process (Smith, 1979,1987). Our purpose in this paper is then to observe how the process of gentrification has also become effective in the emergence of  a new speech community.

1.3 Social Effects of Gentrification

Hamnett (1984) states that ‘gentrification is a physical, economic, social and cultural       phenomenon. Bondi (1999) have suggested  modification in the socio-cultural structure and residential policies that might lead to a process of gentrification. Gentrification, divides living areas in cities and categorizes city dwellers as ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. Physical structures have priority over human factor. Gentrification process conflicts with the ‘social equality’ notion of urban regeneration. From sociological point of view, topics of discussion like urban development and change, urbanization of different groups of people living in the city, richness/poverty, class, status, life style, cultural identity become highly important. Culture and art have been more evident in the first stage of gentrification: the appearance of artists in these areas has led to the introduction of galleries, coffee houses, rock clubs, and this night life has attracted gentrifiers to the area as well.

Some researchers viewed the characteristics of the gentrifiers (people who are the new owners of gentrified areas) to be of greater importance in the understanding of gentrification. The modifications in the socio-cultural structure mean displacement of the original  occupants of a rehabilitated settlement. Members of the middle-class, working in the city center, want to live in the inner city in order to be closer to their offices and socio-cultural activities and also want to be closer to those similar to themselves. Their areas of interest, habits and demands for setting and keeping a life style at a certain standard, are very important factors in a gentrification process. As a result, low-income workers, immigrants and those generally marginalized have to leave the rehabilitated areas (Ergun,2004). Equally harmful effect of gentrification is the diversion of resources from poor areas to neighbouring wealthy areas. Smith has recently argued that gentrification has widened to become a new form of neo-liberal urban policy (Smith,2002). When examples from abroad and Turkey are examined, it is observed that the previous inhabitants of the historical areas which went through restoration and rehabilitation processes have deserted these places by either selling, renting or being   kicked out by the new owners.

There are both positive and negative aspects to gentrification (Atkinson,2000). Some are     reacting against gentrification in the centers of developed countries. They sometimes go to court, sometimes struggle with the process on the streets. Attempts are intensified to preserve the original characteristics of the settlement, its ethnic differentiation, its small-scale        businesses and affordable rent values.

2.1 Gentrification Process in Turkey

The return to the city center is an established trend in most countries in Europe and in the U.S.(London, New York in 1960’s; Paris,Toronto, Sydney, Mexico in 1970’s and 1980’s). This process started in Turkey during 1980’s. Those years were significant in the lives of Turkish people as many people changed their lifestyles due to the changes in the political and economic world order as well as in the development of foreign commercial relations of Turkey (Ergun, 2004).

2.2 Changes in Economic Structure

During 1980’s, closed market  economy was abandoned and the open market economy which liberalized the import trade totally was taken over (Behar, 2006; Keyder, 1999c in Coskun & Yalcin, 2007:3). The economical development of Istanbul was restructured. The production of many goods were realized according to the demands of world economies. The clearest sign of  this evolution was the increase in the import trade numbers (Islam, 2003).These foreign originated economical activities were mostly hosted in Istanbul. The reputation of Istanbul as a ‘world city’ considering its geographical location and historical background added a new dimension to its popularity for these activities to take place in this city (Coskun & Yalcin 2007). With these new economical activities, there was a need for housing near the city center for people (young professionals) who wanted to work at one of the sectors developed after 1980. These sectors required jobs related with finance, real estate and reassurance and after 1990’s advertising and media works (Coskun & Yalcin 2007)

2.3 Changes in Residential and Social Structure                 

Istanbul entered a process of change both on the residential structure of the city and the social structure of its’ inhabitants with the contribution of the globalizing tendencies.

According to Behar, if one word should be used to describe the process this would absolutely be ‘nostalgia’ (Behar, 2006). May be Behar’s statement can be formulated with these words: all these settlements which confront gentrification are, in fact, characterized by a multi-cultural society who lived on these lands in the past. After 1980, this fact met the desires of the middle class who were trying to gain a new cultural identity related with the ‘place’ (Aksoy, 2001). This new middle class who wanted to distinguish themselves from others discovered the tremendous past of their country which was on the threshold of opening to international market economies (Oncu,1997). Therefore, it has become for some people a frequent tendency to long for  the previous neighbourhood atmosphere which formalized the multi-cultural past of the city and to feel proud of being a resident of Istanbul. With this frame, it is possible to say that Istanbul’s districts where gentrification processes have been effective, are actually preferred due to the cultural background of past residents of these settlements. With the concept of open market economy, Istanbul people got used to living with new cultural and consumer habits.

The result was the formation of a new middle- class demanding to live in the inner city in order to be closer to their offices and socio-cultural activities and people alike. The need for housing resulted in ‘gentrification’ which can be defined as the restructuring and renewal process of residential areas and historical structures in the city. Gentrification took place in different parts of Istanbul in three significant waves:

2.3.1 Three Gentrification Waves in Istanbul

It can be mentioned about the three gentrification waves in İstanbul: Kuzguncuk, Arnavutköy, Ortakoy along Bosphorus at the beginning of 1980’s; Cihangir, Galata, Asmalimescit in Beyoglu at the end of 1990’s; Haliç, Fener, Balat at the end of 1990’s. The newly formed upper class wanted to occupy the housing stock that were already occupied by people who moved there earlier from rural areas with the hope of finding jobs and better living standarts in big cities. The result was mostly the involuntary displacement of the old inhabitants of lower class with this new class of high income and upper class people.

The displacement occurred in different formations :

This displacement leaves these people in a more disadvantaged position by means of allocating available sources from poor to rich (financially advantaged) e.g. These people might loose their contacts with the job opportunities located in the inner areas of the city (Sonmez, 2007). Gentrification does not only displace people but it opens the way for the inner city to be viewed as a desirable place to live. Especially with ‘urban renewal’ programs, infrastructure,parks and schools in poor areas are ignored in order to free up resources for rich neighbourhoods (Shame of the Cities- Gentrification in the New Urban America-Lip Feature. Kari Lydersen, 15.3.1999).

According to another interpretation by Behar & Islam (2006) gentrification (in a broader sense) can be read as an attitude ‘to be different from others’, ‘to belong to a certain class’, ‘to be a member of a distinguished class’. It becomes a symbol for categorizing people (2006:48).

All these factors contributing to the oppositions and uneasiness among people in gentrified areas may find its theoretical frame in the inter-group conflict theory put forward by Cargile (2006).

Viewing each other as belonging to the other group  in more/less advantaged positions composes the reasons of conflict for people living in gentrified areas. They state that all conflict theories view inter-group conflict as instrumental in nature which is caused mainly by an opposition of goals and interests relating to the distribution of resources and view social order as maintained by manipulation and control on the part of dominant groups (Cargile,2006: 48)

In Cargile’s study reasons of inter-group conflict according to social- issue type are given as follows:

The reasons of conflict stated by the participants and ones that are stated by Cargile match to a significant extent.

The data of the present study were gathered by analyzing the personal narratives and questionnaires given by both the gentrifiers and old inhabitants in previously mentioned gentrified areas, which were collected in a book called ‘Istanbul’da Soylulaştırma’(Behar & Islam, 2006). The results of the data were used to categorize the main and common reasons of conflict pointed out by people who have to share a life either voluntarily or involuntarily in those gentrified areas of Istanbul. The aim is to understand whether such conflicts could be interpreted as the emrgence of a new speech community.

The reasons of conflict given by the participants together with some of the noteworthy examples can be examined under following headings :

3.1 Superiority

3.2 Emotional Reaction

3.3 Economic Factors

3.4 Fear

3.5 Deep Differences and Prejudice

3.6 Communication Problems


4. Results

 We have need to have a social psychological perspective in the interpretation of the data as with the gentrification process the life is pluralized consisting of new habituses. The lives of Istanbul inhabitants are transformed in an unavoidable way. The new forms of life bring about a new linguistic perspective or understanding, which linguistic perspective encompasses discoursal expressions of anti-globalist thinking. It is a discourse of protests/conflicts composing of expressions defining ‘we’ and ‘others’ or ‘outsiders’  and  ‘insiders’. The common theme of protests is longing for ‘the good old days’ before the gentrifiers have arrived. Nostalgic symbols characterising the gentrified areas are mentioned very often during interviews by the participants. On the other hand, results seem to be the verification of the emergence of a new speech community.

The reflections of anti-globalist thinking on language lead to communication failures among people who speak the same language. Although the aim of globalism is to form homogeneity in life practices, the result is heterogeneity. We now have a new face in sociolinguistic research not working with traditional methods but with new variables we have not worked before, in this case urban restructuring.



2.2. Identity, Authenticity, Locality, Urbanity and Speech Community: A New Sociolinguistic Perspective | Identität, Authentizität, lokale- und städtische Veränderungen und Sprachgemeinschaften: Eine neue soziolinguistische Perspektive

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TRANS   Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  17 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
Nazlı Baykal: Gentrification in Istanbul: The emergence of a new speech community – In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 17/2008. WWW:

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