Presented by Dr Petter Törnberg, University of Amsterdam
Airbnb has recently become growing a topic of concern for urban researchers, policymakers, and activists. While previous research has emphasized Airbnb's economic impact and as driver of residential gentrification, Airbnb can also be seen as part of a new phase of urban neoliberalism, fostering citizens into place entrepreneurs geared to extract value from a global symbolic economy by marketing the urban frontier to a transnational middle-class. This puts emphasis on the cultural impact of Airbnb on cities, with the power of symbolising and communicating who belongs in specific places — responding to questions of class, gender, and ethnicity, and thus potentially driving cultural displacement.
Coming from this perspective, this research project uses eg Machine Learning and computational Critical Discourse Analysis to study how white and black hosts market black-majority neighbourhoods in New York City on Airbnb, and how guests describe their consumption experience.
The analysis shows how white entrepreneurs attempt to attract guests by exoticizing difference, emphasising foreignness, and treating communities as consumable experiences for an outside group. White visitors in turn consume these cultural symbols to decorate their own identities of touristic consumption, describing themselves in colonial tropes of brave white adventurers exploring uncharted territories: glorious conquests no longer over gold and ivory, but over sandwiches at a local bodega. This situates Airbnb's marketing at the urban frontier in a longer history of colonialism and racialised expropriation.
About the presenter
Dr Petter Törnberg is based in the University of Amsterdam. His research lies on the boundary between social science and complex systems, with a focus on conflict, power and identity through the lens of digital trace data, combining computational methods with interpretative approaches to contribute to sociological theory. Petter has a fascinating paper on fake news and viral misinformation that appeared in PLOS: paper.
More information on Dr Petter Törnberg.
For further information about the talk, please contact Dr Marcus Bussey.