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A tale of two cities: The discursive construction of ‘place’ in gentrifying East London

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 March 2021

Christian Ilbury*
University of Suffolk, UK
Address for correspondence: Christian Ilbury University of Suffolk Department of English Neptune Quay Ipswich, IP4 1QJ,


In recent years, the East End of London has been dramatically transformed from a poor, working-class area, to one of the most fashionable neighbourhoods in the world. Adding to a growing body of research which examines the sociolinguistic dynamics of gentrifying neighbourhoods, this article draws on data from two ethnographic projects to examine how young people from the gentrified (i.e. working-class) and gentrifier (i.e. middle-class) communities index place attachment in East London. I demonstrate that for the gentrified community, place attachment is related to the ethnic and cultural genealogy of the immediate, local neighbourhood. Whilst for the gentrifiers, place identity is associated with the cosmopolitan economic and social opportunities of the city. I argue that whilst these communities occupy the same physical neighbourhood, these discourses suggest that they conceptually and socioculturally reside in two very different cities. (Gentrification, place, space, East London)*

Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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Special thanks to Jessi Grieser and Kellie Gonçalves for inviting me to contribute to a panel on ‘Language and Gentrification’ at Sociolinguistics Symposium 22, where I presented an earlier version of this article. Thanks also to the audience of SS22 and at Research Seminars at Queen Mary University of London who provided invaluable feedback on this work. I am also extremely grateful to the reviewers and editors of Language in Society who provided detailed and incisive comments on earlier versions of this article. I alone am responsible for any remaining errors or shortcomings.



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