Dissertation Abstracts

A Sociology Of Strangership: Urban Social Relations From Classical Social Theory To Contemporary Gentrification

Author: Horgan, Mervyn P, mhorgan@uoguelph.ca
Department: Sociology
University: York University, Canada
Supervisor: Fuyuki Kurasawa
Year of completion: 2010
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Strangers , Social Theory , Urban Sociology , Gentrification
Areas of Research: Theory , Regional and Urban Development , History of Sociology

Abstract

This dissertation seeks to found a sociology of strangership. Just as friendship refers to the form of relation between friends, rather than to the particular characteristics of any given friend, strangership refers to the form of relation between strangers, rather than the characteristic of any given stranger. Strangership is nowhere more prevalent than in the city. Classical social theory is animated by a mixture of hope and fear around the growth of the modern metropolis. Early theorists were concerned that the city threatened to fragment the social order and diminish social solidarity, while also recognizing that the increased urbanization of society made possible new forms of solidarity between people who shared little in common besides copresence in space. Thus, as a site where strangership is present across the social space, the city provides an ideal case for studying this form of social relation.

Having drawn out the theoretical basis for the study of strangership from classical social theory, this dissertation then examines the production of strangership in the contemporary metropolis through a case study of the area surrounding the western stretches of Queen Street West in Toronto, Canada. Since the mid-1990s, this neighbourhood has been undergoing the process of gentrification. Interview data, observations and archival resources are used in a case study of this area to show how gentrifying zones—places that bring socially distant populations into close proximity—magnify strangership. Findings indicate that the attempts to physically displace poorer residents characteristic of the gentrification process are both supplemented and driven by the concurrent symbolic transformation of the neighbourhood, such that the construction of new symbolic boundaries by gentrifiers both legitimates the process of gentrification and simultaneously intensifies strangership.

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