Gentrification in Hong Kong? Epistemology vs. Ontology


This article examines the transferability of the concept of gentrification away from its Anglo‐American heartland to the cities of Asia Pacific and specifically Hong Kong. An epistemological argument challenges such theoretical licence, claiming that conceptual overreach represents another example of Anglo‐American hegemony asserting the primacy of its concepts in other societies and cultures. Past research suggests that if gentrification exists in Asia Pacific cities it bears some definite regional specificities of urban form, state direction and, most surprising from a Western perspective, a potentially progressive dimension for some impacted residents. Closer examination of urban discourse in Hong Kong is conducted through analysis of English and Chinese language newspapers. In both instances, gentrification is barely used to describe the pervasive processes of urban redevelopment, which otherwise receive abundant coverage. Interviews with local housing experts confirm the marginality of gentrification in academic and public discourse, and the power of a local ideology that sees urban (re)development unproblematically as a means of upward social mobility. However, in the decade‐long housing bust after 1997, growing inequality has encouraged a nascent class analysis of the property market, an ontological awakening that may prove more favourable to the identification of gentrification in an Asia Pacific idiom.