Infoscience

Presentation / Talk

"They're Building Villas On the Roofs": Encountering Transnational Elites In a Geneva Central Neighborhood

In the literature on cities and elite migration, the processes through which gentrified neighborhoods emerge and effect on urban life in terms of segregation have been widely studied. However, studies on how host societies negotiate the encounter with elite migrants in everyday life remain insufficient. Based on ethnographic work in a central neighbourhood of Geneva (Switzerland), this presentation argues that the urban footprint of United Nations expatriates is discursively contested by residents of the host society struggling against gentrification and the fear of eviction. I focus on a residents’ association located in the city center. These residents organize actions to counter the spatial impact of the expatriates that they categorize as “internationals” and whose presence is seen as a threat for their neighborhood. Expatriates’ residential choices and cosmopolitan narratives restructure the urban morphology of the city according to transnational patterns of housing architecture. The development of luxury furnished penthouses for short-term residents is contentious for members of the residents’ association. In response to these so-called “villas on the roofs”, they negotiate the encounter with the transnational elites by setting boundaries relying on spatial categorization and the affirmation of “a different housing culture”. At the crossroads of anthropology and architecture, these results not only shed light on expatriates’ impact on the urban fabric of cities where international institutions are located, they also allow for broader consideration of ideological boundary setting and the forms of resistance against cosmopolitan narratives held by transnational elites in contemporary cities.

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