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Must hipsters die? Class and the middle-class metropolis


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At the website of Salvage magazine, a new radical journal out of the UK, Lewis Bassett discusses the difficulties posed to anti-gentrification efforts by the blurring of class distinctions in the modern metropolis. Focusing on London, Bassett points out that metropolitan hipsters who work in the affective economy, most of whom are working class in terms of their income, nonetheless identify with middle class taste and lifestyle, since they cater to the middle classes in their jobs. This makes it hard to build anti-gentrification alliances between hipsters and other sectors of the working-class, such as immigrants. Here’s a excerpt from Bassett’s piece:

The growth of service sector employment accompanying London’s rentier economy draws subjects from the non-propertied classes into the cultural orbit of middle-class distinction. Miscomprehension as to the meanings of an expanding middle-class habitus has been one factor inhibiting a response to gentrification that accurately corresponds with London’s contemporary class reality. To be a hipster is not simply to be middle-class in the objective, property owning sense – in fact, adopting aspects of middle-class taste can be a prerequisite for employment in London’s service sectors.

Responses to gentrification are needed which eclipse a cultural relativist understanding of class; not because quotidian reality has no bearing on politics, but because it does. Here I plot the development of conditions which have enabled current levels of rent seeking before theorising the typical consciousness of those employed in London’s related affective industries. In doing so I outline the necessity by which working-class subjects are familiarised with middle-class taste, often to the point of subjective endowment. Simple cultural responses to gentrification which target signifiers of middle-class taste therefore split those affective labourers from their objective allies among others in the non-propertied classes, placing them instead in defence of cultural interests which form the basis of a hegemonic bond with the landed consumer classes.