En­vi­ron­ment-lov­ing, nos­tal­gia-crav­ing hip­sters face the paradox of ‘re­gen­er­at­ing’ de­prived ar­eas, while dis­plac­ing low-in­come res­i­dents, says Melissa Tandiwe Myambo

The Independent - - The New Review / Lifestyle -

From Mabo­neng in Jo­han­nes­burg to Ban­dra in Mum­bai, Neukölln in Ber­lin to Gu­lou in Bei­jing, and Crown Heights in Brook­lyn to Hack­ney in Lon­don, hip­sters are ev­ery­where.

Their dis­tinc­tive look (beards for the men and ironic retro cardi­gans for the women) and very par­tic­u­lar con­sumer tastes (most re­cently, a com­bi­na­tion of cream cheese and food colour­ing that’s called uni­corn toast – yes, re­ally: it looks good on In­sta­gram) make them a highly vis­i­ble sub­cul­ture.

Hip­sters are of­ten as­so­ci­ated with art, mak­ers, other cre­ative fields and the tech in­dus­try. They’re mostly

mil­len­nial mid­dle-class pro­fes­sion­als.

They are also, as I’ve found in my re­search, con­sid­ered so­cially pro­gres­sive. That’s be­cause they’re of­ten af­fil­i­ated with pro­gres­sive po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural move­ments built on so­cially lib­eral ideals like anti-racism.

They are en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists. They cham­pion women’s rights and queer rights. Many fol­low ve­gan di­ets.

But, my field­work also shows that hip­sters are a paradox. They ap­pear pro­gres­sive, but they ac­tu­ally demon­strate some par­al­lels with the prac­tices and ide­olo­gies of the set­tler-colo­nial­ism of ear­lier cen­turies.

My re­search on global hip­ster­fi­ca­tion – hip­ster-led gen­tri­fi­ca­tion – fo­cuses on what hap­pens when hip­sters move into lower-in­come ur­ban neigh­bour­hoods. When th­ese ar­eas are “re­gen­er­ated” by hip­sters, real es­tate de­vel­op­ers come too. Th­ese ar­eas be­come more ex­pen­sive and the orig­i­nal res­i­dents are pushed out, of­ten caus­ing con­tro­versy. This is hap­pen­ing in both de­vel­oped and de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

The link be­tween hip­sters and set­tler-colo­nials, then, is more than metaphor­i­cal. Both th­ese groups lit­er­ally dis­place less pow­er­ful oc­cu­pants.

In the case of hip­sters, th­ese dis­place­ments are of­ten hid­den be­hind their oft-stated claims of ad­vo­cat­ing in­clu­sive ur­ban re­newal. But there is a vast di­ver­gence be­tween hip­ster pro­gres­sive rhetoric and the re­al­ity of how much they con­trib­ute to gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and dis­place­ment. And they ex­hibit a nos­tal­gia for the past that goes beyond their sar­to­rial choices and ac­tu­ally echoes the hear­ken­ing back to the past seen in con­tem­po­rary right-lean­ing po­lit­i­cal move­ments around the world.

Evok­ing the past

Glob­ally, nos­tal­gia is a gen­eral fea­ture of our cur­rent po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural land­scape. Sup­port­ers of the UK’s Brexit want Bri­tain to go back in time to a pe­riod be­fore im­mi­gra­tion sup­pos­edly “ru­ined” the coun­try. US Pres­i­dent Donald Trump’s cam­paign slo­gan “Make Amer­ica Great Again” nos­tal­gi­cally refers to an era some time in the past when Amer­ica was os­ten­si­bly “great”.

In­dia’s rul­ing Hindu na­tion­al­ist party re­lies on the evo­ca­tion of “past In­dian glory” to gain sup­port for its pro­grammes. And Europe’s right-wing na­tion­al­ist par­ties traf­fic in xeno­pho­bic no­tions of a past Europe which was sup­pos­edly bet­ter be­cause it was more cul­tur­ally ho­mo­ge­neous.

Hip­ster cul­ture also demon­strates th­ese nos­tal­gic ten­den­cies. Quite of­ten it harks back to the colo­nial pe­riod, and par­tic­u­larly the Vic­to­rian era.

This man­i­fests in sev­eral ways. When it comes to ar­chi­tec­ture, hip­sters grav­i­tate to­wards city neigh­bour­hoods with Vic­to­rian-era build­ings. Cafes and co-work­ing spaces that are “hip­ster­i­fied” tend to

have a very dis­tinct aes­thetic. This in­cludes 19th-cen­tury mem­o­ra­bilia and an­tique in­dus­trial ma­chin­ery like pedal-driven sewing ma­chines as dé­cor.

Even when they don’t use vin­tage cam­eras to take pho­tos, they use photo edit­ing apps on their smart­phones to give pic­tures a retro sepia-tinted look. Steam­punk – a trend that fuses Vic­to­ri­ana with tech­nol­ogy, film, lit­er­a­ture, fash­ion and so on – is very pop­u­lar. The founders of a food com­pany even named their brand af­ter Sir Kens­ing­ton, an imag­i­nary Vic­to­rian coloniser they made up to give their startup an ex­cit­ing ori­gin story.

When hip­sters’ nos­tal­gia for the past com­bines with gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, it ac­tu­ally places oth­ers at risk

Hip­sters are also known for their eclec­tic fash­ion. Many of th­ese cloth­ing choices are throw­backs to the colo­nial pe­riod. It isn’t un­com­mon to see South African hip­sters wear­ing sus­penders and veld­skoene, which was for­merly a shoe as­so­ci­ated with the lifestyle of the old-fash­ioned white farmer.

In the US, hy­per-mas­cu­line fron­tiers­men-style cloth­ing con­sist­ing of work boots, dis­tressed denim and checked plaid lum­ber­jack shirts, con­sti­tute one hip­ster look known as the “lum­ber­sex­ual”. And that brings us back to male hip­sters’ gen­eral ob­ses­sion with beards, an­other po­tent sym­bol of the rugged 19th-cen­tury fron­tiers­man. This may all seem fairly harm­less. But when hip­sters’ nos­tal­gia for the past com­bines with gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, it ac­tu­ally places oth­ers at risk.

A dan­ger­ous trend

Gen­tri­fi­ca­tion can be ro­man­ti­cised by hip­sters as liv­ing on the edge. As they move into the “Wild West” of lower-in­come neigh­bour­hoods, dressed like 19th-cen­tury colo­nials, hip­sters of­ten think of them­selves as “ad­ven­tur­ers” or “pi­o­neers” who are striking out into the ur­ban jun­gle’s “un­set­tled fron­tier”.

But this masks its less than ro­man­tic con­se­quences for lower-in­come res­i­dents who are dis­placed from their homes and neigh­bour­hoods.

Many hip­sters don’t recog­nise the colo­nial over­tones of their “hip­ster­i­fy­ing” prac­tices. Even when th­ese are pointed out, some refuse to ac­cept “gen­tri­fi­ca­tion guilt”. But that’s an­other man­i­fes­ta­tion of their rel­a­tive priv­i­lege. The lower-in­come res­i­dents who are dis­placed don’t en­joy this lux­ury – they might only

be left with nos­tal­gia for their for­mer homes.

This ar­ti­cle is based on a new book, ‘Re­vers­ing Ur­ban In­equal­ity in Jo­han­nes­burg’, edited by the au­thor. It will be pub­lished in pa­per­back in November 2018 by Jonathan Ball

Melissa Tandiwe Myambo is a re­search as­so­ciate at the Cen­tre for In­dian Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand. This ar­ti­cle was orig­i­nally pub­lished on The Con­ver­sa­tion (con­ver­sa­

New wave: Shored­itch has long since been gen­tri­fied (Getty)

John­nes­burg’s Mabo­neng district has fast be­come the cen­tre of cre­ative en­ergy (Getty)

Ber­lin’s Neukölln has the high­est per­cent­age of im­mi­grants in the city (Getty)

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