In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gentrification in Latin America

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Resistance to Gentrification

Latin American Studies Gentrification in Latin America
Marina Siqueira, John Betancur
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0269


Gentrification has generated heated debates since Ruth Glass introduced the term to the academic world in 1964 to describe the process of residential succession and displacement of low-income households happening in central London. The reaction was no different in Latin America, even if the concept entered the regional research field much later. The first aspect to notice on the discussions about gentrification in Latin America are the dimensions of colonialism, patrimonialism, and developmentalism, which produced cities marked by great concentration of public and private investments, social segregation, and exclusion. On the one hand, researchers dispute the adequacy of gentrification to explain processes taking place in social and urban structures radically different from those of Europe and North America, where the concept was first coined. On the other hand and exposing a more profound challenge, critical studies and decolonial perspectives advanced by authors such as Quijano, Mignolo, and Escobar have questioned the knowledge produced in global centers of power, arguing that theory-building should be contextualized and territorialized. Along these lines, many Latin American authors became suspicious of the colonizing effect of discourses from the Global North and their appropriateness in the Latin American context. For gentrification studies, these debates would lead some authors to argue for the use of terms such as elitization or ennobltiement to better reflect these processes in local realities. Gentrification, nonetheless, caught additional attention with the neoliberal reforms imposed and adopted in Latin America in the last decades of the 20th century, expanding the use of the concept to explain recent processes of urban change. Meanwhile, although popular discourses and the media made gentrification a common word, scholars have been more careful in its use, calling for careful and systematic scrutiny given the above-mentioned debates. Studies have explored the applicability of the term to local realities and leading researchers have insisted on the need to incorporate contextual factors resulting in new perspectives on mediating structures, displacement, and local geographies of gentrification. It is also important to point out here that Latin America has substantial and dynamic forms of academic activism and social movements that dispute mainstream theories and practices of political, economic, and social development. In this sense, the concept has been incorporated also into political resistance and to counter displacement while academics have highlighted its class-based definition. This annotated bibliography draws from works in Spanish, English, and Portuguese, referring to original studies in Latin America as of fundamental relevance to have situated knowledge and critical perspectives. It includes both general theories addressing gentrification in the region and case studies, mostly from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico. A major challenge in the development of this annotated bibliography came from the difficulty of accessing studies on other cities and countries, exposing an unevenness in distribution, research, and publications across the region. This challenge calls for efforts to expand these studies to other cities and to make existing ones more easily available so that the discussion of gentrification can reflect the diversity of cultures and social, economic, and political environments proper of Latin America.

General Overview

It is possible to divide the debate on gentrification in Latin America between general theories introducing concepts from the Global North to Latin America and contextual and comparative studies exploring the specificity of local processes. The first studies adopt frameworks produced in the Global North that relate gentrification to the expansion of globalization and neoliberal urbanism. Examples of these are Smith 2002, a depiction of gentrification as a global strategy, and Atkinson and Bridge 2005, a characterization of gentrification as a form of colonialism. Also, among these studies are production and consumption explanations of gentrification, including Slater 2017, an expansion of the rent gap to a planetary scale, and the definition in Rofe 2003 of the gentrifying class as a global elite. Regarding the second group, various authors endorse the call in Lees 2012 for comparative studies and the introduction of a postcolonial perspective to the Global South. Various journals have dedicated special issues to gentrification in Latin America. A major example is the issue López-Morales, et al. 2016. These same authors expanded this work in two books, Lees, et al. 2015 and Lees, et al. 2016. For the case of publication in Latin America, besides individual articles on gentrification, the Brazilian journal Cadernos Metrópole dedicated the issue “Desenvolvimento desigual e gentrificação da cidade contemporânea” in 2014 to the topic, and the Colombian journal Bitácora published a first issue, “Transformaciones urbanas (renovación urbana, revitalización, gentrificación, mejoramiento),” in 2018 and a second one on the topic, “Globalización, mercantilización, clusters y gentrificación en la ciudad,” in 2019.

  • Atkinson, Rowland, and Gary Bridge. Gentrification in a Global Context: The New Urban Colonialism. London: Routledge, 2005.

    Atkinson and Bridge characterize contemporary gentrification as a new form of colonialism given its association with economic globalization and transnational elites. Although the focus is not on Latin America, the book explains the expansion of gentrification to this part of the world in terms of waves, similarly to Smith. The last wave has been associated with neoliberal policies and urban redevelopment and has been used as a framework for studies in Latin America.

  • Lees, Loretta. “The Geography of Gentrification: Thinking through Comparative Urbanism.” Progress in Human Geography 36.2 (2012): 155–171.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132511412998

    Against generalist frameworks taking theories from the Global North to the Global South, Lees advocates for comparative studies on gentrification. Encouraging scholars to take on “broad critiques around developmentalism, categorization and universalism” (p. 155), she argues for considering both the spatial and the temporal dimensions of gentrification processes to discover its specificity in different local geographies.

  • Lees, Loretta, Hyun Bang Shin, and Ernesto López Morales. Global Gentrifications: Uneven Development and Displacement. Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447313472.001.0001

    The book critically examines gentrification theory and cases on a global scale. While exploring different cities around the world, the book includes studies on Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico.

  • Lees, Loreta, Hyun Bang Shin, and Ernesto López-Morales. Planetary Gentrification. Cambridge, UK, and Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2016.

    Drawing on previous works and on the comparative urbanism approach, the authors contribute to the understanding of contemporary gentrification by unsettling classical theory from the Global North and Western notions of urban development.

  • López-Morales, Ernesto, Hyun Bang Shin, and Loretta Lees, eds. Special Issue: Latin American Gentrifications. Urban Geography 37.8 (2016).

    This special issue not only explores reinvestment and redevelopment in Latin America, but also “empirically test[s] the applicability of a generic understanding of gentrification beyond the usual narratives of/from the global North” (p. 1091). The issue includes theoretical works and cases in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico.

  • Rofe, Matthew W. “‘I Want to Be Global’: Theorizing the Gentrifying Class as an Emergent Elite Global Community.” Urban Studies 40.12 (2003): 2511–2526.

    DOI: 10.1080/0042098032000136183

    Based on the assumption that gentrification constitutes a strategy of identity construction, Rofe argues that the gentrifying class constitutes a global elite community. As such, gentrifiers project their identity onto the global, emphasizing the symbolic significance of gentrification over its commodification.

  • Slater, Tom. “Planetary Rent Gaps.” Antipode 49 (2017): 114–137.

    DOI: 10.1111/anti.12185

    Drawing from Smith’s rent gap theory, Slater seeks “to expose new geographies of structural violence—planetary rent gaps—where the constitutive power of speculative landed developer interests in processes of capitalist urbanization can be analyzed and challenged” (p. 117). The author uses examples of studies in Chile and Mexico to expose gentrification as a global strategy and to establish connections between the Global North and the Global South.

  • Smith, Neil. “New Globalism, New Urbanism: Gentrification as Global Urban Strategy.” Antipode 34.3 (2002): 427–450.

    DOI: 10.1111/1467-8330.00249

    In one of the most influential pieces on the topic, Smith explores the process of economic restructuring under contemporary globalization and proposes that circuits of global capital and cultural circulation have expanded gentrification globally. Therefore, even if unevenly distributed and with diverse configurations, Smith argues that cities in the South, including examples in Latin America, have been experiencing intense transformations under neoliberal urbanism that lead to gentrification.

  • Special Issue: Desenvolvimento desigual e gentrificação da cidade contemporânea. Cadernos Metrópole 16.32 (2014).

    Based on Smith’s approach to gentrification as a global strategy to capital accumulation, this special issue of Cadernos Metrópole includes theoretical and empirical approaches to gentrification studies. Given the scope and language of the publication (Portuguese), most of the cases focus on Brazil.

  • Special Issue: Globalización, mercantilización, clústers y gentrificación en la ciudad. Bitácora Urbano Territorial 29.1 (2019).

    This special issue relates urban restructuring in Latin America to economic globalization. The editorial denounces gentrification for its role in the intensification of exclusion, segregation, and uneven development in the region’s cities. The issue includes papers in Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and Ecuador.

  • Special Issue: Transformaciones urbanas (renovación urbana, revitalización, gentrificación, mejoramiento). Bitácora Urbano Territorial 28.2 (2018).

    Focusing on the transformation of uses and users of central areas, this special issue discusses the timing, the interests, the politics, and the agents involved in these processes. The publication includes papers on Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, and Venezuela.

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