Feminist Urban Theory

My work on gentrification is driven by feminist analyses of power and intersectionality, everyday life and political economy, bodies and discourses. These papers represent specific engagements with the contributions of feminist theory to the study of gentrification.

Even newer paper!

Kovesi, Caroline, and Kern, Leslie. (2018) ‘I choose to be here.’: Tensions between autonomy and precarity in craft market vendors’ work. City and Community Online first:  DOI:10.1111/cico.12273

Abstract: Outdoor markets have emerged as key nodes in cities’ attempts to revitalize downtown areas through culture and consumption. However, few studies have investigated urban markets as sites of labour, or explored work conditions from the perspective of vendors themselves. As self-employed creative workers in a seasonal industry, artisan vendors experience various forms of economic insecurity related to precarity inherent to their line of work. This article investigates the experiences of artisan craft vendors in Ottawa’s popular ByWard Market. Through interviews with vendors, we explore themes such as artisan identity, relationships in the market, and economic and labour conditions. We argue that while precarity seems to be inherent in the vendors’ work conditions, it does not undermine their identities as artisans, in part because of the strong value attached to autonomous, creative work. This attachment may, however, hinder artisan vendors’ abilities to organize for structural changes that would mitigate their economic precarity.

New paper!

Kern, Leslie and McLean, Heather. (2017) Undecidability and the urban: Feminist pathways through urban political economy. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 16(3) 405-426.

Abstract: There is a well-established body of feminist scholarship critiquing the methodological and epistemological limits of an “objective” view from nowhere in urban research and political economy frameworks. Recent developments, such as the planetary urbanization thesis, have reignited feminist efforts to counter patriarchal, colonial, and hegemonic ways of knowing. Here, we recount our frustrations with the reproduction of dominant political economic modes of “knowing” urban processes such as gentrification and culture-led regeneration in research that seeks to uncover the production of neoliberal spaces and subjectivities. We argue that this narrow approach forecloses the possibility of observing or working with radical world-making projects that stand outside of traditional understandings of the political. Thus, we heed our feminist colleagues’ call to foreground the undecidability of the urban, allowing ourselves and our subjects to express uncertainty about the causes, outcomes, and impacts of urban processes. In what follows, we share short research vignettes from our projects in Toronto and Glasgow and discuss the implications of forging unexpected solidarities, engaging in embodied, participatory knowledge production, and reading urban politics off of persistent, uncertain, under-the-radar projects. We maintain that working from a position of undecidability yields greater potential for renewing our political imaginations beyond neoliberalism.

On yoga and gentrification:

Kern, Leslie. 2012. Connecting emotion, embodiment and gentrification: An exploration through the practice of yoga. Emotion, Space and Society 5(1) 27-35.

Abstract: Emotion and embodiment have rarely been identified as dimensions of gentrification processes, despite greater attention to the role of emotions in urbanization and to the mutual constitution of bodies and cities in geographic literature. This paper has two aims: to chart the ways that emotion and embodiment have been considered in gentrification research and theory to date, and to suggest further theoretical strategies for attending to the role that embodied practices and emotions play in marking, reproducing and consolidating gentrification. The latter aim is pursued through a personal reflection on the experience of yoga e as a practice that calls explicit attention to the body and its feelings in place in Toronto, a city that is no stranger to gentrification. While this paper will not attempt to document in general how yoga and gentrification may be linked in Toronto or other places experiencing gentrification, it will suggest that as an increasingly popular embodied practice tied into middle-class consumption patterns and present in landscapes of urban revitalization, yoga practice affords relevant moments of reflection through which the embodied and emotional dimensions of gentrification can be clarified and/or problematized. My argument is that the body and its emotions are critical sites for the study of gentrification as a complex social and economic process. Embodied practices define the landscape of reproduction; bodies form a symbolic terrain over which struggles for urban space are fought; and the dynamics of emotional, embodied contact produce geographies of social and spatial exclusion.