Bio-Gentrification: Vulnerability Bio-Value Chains in Gentrifying Neighbourhoods Forthcoming in

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This paper has argued that critical gentrification studies can be significantly extended by including assessments of urban biopower as an integral part of capitalist urbanization. Such a task requires more systematic investigations into knowledge production and the milieus they help to shape, with specific attention paid to the ways in which populations are singled out for analysis and interventions. The findings herein raise questions about gentrification struggles trained solely on questions of land and property. As this evaluation has shown, gentrification pressures in the east end have been met, as is the case in many parts of the world, with sustained resistance against corporate and state interests, but these struggles have not extended to human development milieus. And yet, as the example of Vancouver points out, the latter have been, at least in one case, integrated into a fully funded state-funded and corporate friendly research endeavour. Even more problematic, human development research has remained almost completely beyond critique and embraced in a manner transcending ideological differences.

The disruption of the hierarchies of power shaped through bio-gentrification would require attention to human development lexicons, practices, and milieus – both within and beyond the state -- that have become so ordinary as to be beyond concern. Such a task would train attention on human development domains for governing reproduction and parenting that have taken shape in tandem with gentrification; it would also more thoroughly examine spheres of urban biopower relating to food relief and medical interventions, which similarly target populations as biological beings, as well as the cottage industry of research on the urban disadvantage that flanks these activities (Elliott 2007; Fairbanks 2009; Murray 2011; Willse 2010). The vulnerability bio-value chain comprises a broad set of practices that assign value to people’s minds, bodies, and souls in complex ways. To investigate these in depth is to take up fundamental questions about the types of humans we are collectively becoming when whole swaths of people are not only or necessarily threatened with physical removal but also with the much quieter and less visible techniques that turn their very humanity into raw material for profit. To ignore urban biopower and its relationship to gentrification is not only to miss a fundamental aspect of capitalist urbanization, but also to entrench its naturalization and the profiteering it creates.

For sharing their thoughts on this paper’s development, appreciation is extended to Laam Hae, Leslie Kern, Vannina Sztainbok, and students in my graduate seminar on Governing Urban Poverty: Kurtis Adams, Annelies Cooper, Karl Gardner, Ryan Kelpin, Nicolas Lux, Wiliam Mccullough, Jenna Meguid, Luckshi Sathasivam, and Vanesa Tomasino Rodrigruez. As the paper entered its final stages, two anonymous reviewers offered generous and thoughtful feedback that significantly enhanced the analysis herein. All mistakes are, of course, my own. This research could not have been completed without the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (Grant number: 832-2002-0114) and York University.

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Table 1
Vancouver’s Vulnerability Bio-Value Chain



Attracts highly skilled labour force needed for knowledge production, while promoting urban consumption.


Reinforces ideal of responsible reproductive choices and good parenting based upon individual self-sufficiency, thereby supporting limited public funding for collective goals in alignment with privatization, deregulation and marketization.


Renders gentrification and its attendant land and property value feasible not exclusively through displacement, but also through regulating people deemed diseased, disruptive, and disorderly



Calculative milieu produces knowledge about people and places


Vulnerable milieu produces and reproduces conditions of poverty and disadvantage

Raw Material


Clustered Vulnerable Populations

- Racialized -

- Gendered -

- Classed -

Table 2
Selected Human Development Programs, Totals for Vancouver and East End as at 2013, by Year of Creation

and Lead Organization

Federal Government


East End


Community Action Program for Children




Canadian Prenatal Nutrition Program




Aboriginal Head Start



Provincial Government


Aboriginal Infant Development Program




StrongStart BC



Non-profit Agencies


HIPPY Canada




Urban Aboriginal HIPPY






Sources: Table compiled from British Columbia 2008; Canada 2010; HIPPY Canada 2010; Office of the Provincial Advisor for Aboriginal Infant Development Programs 2013; Tarbell nd.

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