On Thursday, June 30, 2022, Freek de Haan successfully defended his PhD thesis on ‘Counter-actualizing Gentrification: A study of the problems and practices of displacement in Arnhem, Vienna and Istanbul‘ (click on the picture to download the whole thesis). Gentrification is not a new phenomenon. It has been researched for several decades already and one might wonder what new aspects can be discovered about it. Traditionally there have been two different and opposing opinions of what causes gentrification. On the one hand, there were those scholars who believed it was mainly driven by speculative capitalist interests related to the rent-gap theory. One might label these as the ‘it is the economy stupid’-camp. On the other hand, we had those who believed it was much more driven by the cultural dynamics, which made certain run-down parts of the city attractive again for specific groups of creative and better-to-do people. This might be labelled as the ‘it is the culture stupid’ camp. Much of the research on gentrification did only seem to reproduce those insights and add only marginally to radical new insights. Freek de Haan, however, tried to develop a totally new way of looking at this phenomenon. Instead of looking at gentrification with the usual concepts, he tried to trace down, how these concepts emerged and were actualised in the everyday practices on the ground in gentrifying parts of the city, and how alternative ways of looking and conceptualizing were pushed aside while continuing to loomingly be present. This did not only include the everyday practices of the different groups of inhabitants but also of the related policymakers, the real-estate entrepreneurs and associations, etc. Gentrification seen in this way is not pre-given, and especially also not in the way it performs and is assembled in the many diverse forms in the different cases investigated. This thesis tries to conceptualise the process of gentrification from a perspective mainly inspired by the work of Gilles Deleuze, to fully grasp its complexity and contingency. Taking that complexity into account, also implies that there are no simple solutions and quick fixes for the problems and opportunities related to gentrification. This was, both empirically and theoretically a grand endeavour, resulting in a 523 p. long PhD thesis, which excels in how Freek de Haan persistently and consistently applied his approach to re-construct the actualisation, or to retrospectively ‘counter-actualise’, gentrification, to derive a radically new understanding of gentrifcation. A real tour de force… for which he was honoured with a cum laude graduation.
This is not self-evident and also not just a kind of political decision of the supervisors, but a thorough procedure with an extra committee of independent experts reviewing the thesis, and also the panel of opponents judging the public defence itself so that only at the last minute of the deliberations the final decision is made to award the cum laude, so that the diploma without the cum laude was shredded by the beadle (see pictures) and the one with the cum laude signed by the supervisors. In that respect, we are grateful to all the reviewers and panel members (Prof. Ed Vosselman, Prof. Ignacio Farias, Prof. Martin Müller, Prof. Tuna Tasan-Kok, Prof. Willem Schinkel, Prof. Loretta Lees, Prof. Justus Uitermark) to be part of this.
Cum laude PhD graduations are rather seldom, and of course also should be, as proof of extraordinary achievement. Especially also in our faculty, it does not occur very often, and that makes us as supervisors (Huib Ernste, Arnoud Lagendijk and Rianne van Melik) extra proud, that this is already the second in a row, within one month based in the geography department. This also shows that the placemaking of our group, has been successful in making it a breeding ground for great and challenging research.