Shitholes and Slumburbs

I have a long-standing interest in urban discourse, and in particular how and why and to what end we say mean things about places. I am thrilled to have published a recent article in Transactions  led by Alice Butler, which examines what people in the UK mean when they call a place a “shithole”. The work was featured in an article in The Conversationand we are currently working with our colleague Lex Comber to see if machine learning can build on this research. I also recently published a collaborative piece (including Leeds’ Giorgia Aiello) in the French bilingual journal Metropolitiques  which looks at race and visual representations of new housing developments in French cities.

All of this builds on a piece in CITY from 2013 focused on ‘slumburbia’ and emerging discourses of denigration in American suburbs.

Alice Butler, Alex Schafran & Georgina Carpenter, What does it mean when people call a place a shithole? Understanding a discourse of denigration in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, DOI: 10.1111/tran.12247

Read the journalistic version from the Conversation here.

This paper investigates what people mean when they engage in the discourse of denigration. Building on existing literature on territorial stigmatisation that either focuses on macro‐scale uses and effects of territorial stigmatisation or micro‐scale ethnographic studies of effects, we develop a novel approach that captures the diverse voices that engage in the discourse of denigration by tracing the use of the word and hashtag “shithole” on the social media platform Twitter in order to examine who is engaged in the stigmatising discourse, the types of place that are stigmatised and the responses to stigmatised places. Using a robust data set, we highlight two key findings. First, the majority of tweets were aimed at places where the tweeter was not from, a form of othering consistent with how territories are stigmatised by those in positions of power such as policymakers, politicians and journalists. Second, we note that an important and gendered minority of tweets can be characterised by a “cry for help” and powerlessness, where the stigma is aimed at their own places. We offer an interpretive lens through which to understand and frame these minoritarian voices by engaging with theories of abjection that allow us to see how minoritarian voices relate to place.

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