Hipsterification and capitalism: A digital ethnographic linguistica landscape analysis of Ghent

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This working book is part of an ongoing dialogue with my colleagues at the University of Tilburg and it focusses explicitly on the connection between people, culture, identity, language and semiotic material in a post-digital context. Or more concretely, it analyses how the symbolic economy of Ghent, Belgium is constructed in the neoliberal and post-digital 21st century. The online, global and mobile dimensions of the contemporary material world pose important methodological and theoretical challenges. The research presented here not only makes an empirical, but also a theoretical and methodological argument. I have the explicit aim to contribute and stimulate further interdisciplinary research on social groups and space in the post-digital constellation that characterizes superdiversity. Throughout this working book, I will address these challenges. I will start by tackling the methodological issues in the next chapter where I will introduce my methodology: Digital Ethnographic Linguistic Landscape Analysis or ELLA 2.0. This methodology puts space, or more precisely the geosemiotic landscape and the symbolic economy of spaces central. Space is analysed as constructed through (digitally mediated) social action in context. In Chapter 2, I will introduce the field. I will understand hipster the hipster as a translocal, layered and polycentric micro-population manifesting itself through a very specific style and identity discourse. And just like the hipster is a translocal phenomenon, we see that the hipster- city is also found all over the world. From this translocal introduction of the field, I will zoom in on the process of hipsterification in Ghent Belgium in the 21st century. In Chapter 3, I go back in time to the beginning of the 21st century and analyse the party scene in Ghent as a process of meaning making in the context of neoliberal capitalism. The identity discourse of the Culture Club as edgy, cosmopolitan and hip, created added value for all kinds of big brands. The hipster is not only a transnational, polycentric cultural phenomenon, or a consumer, but also a producer. The identity discourses and semiotizations of the hipster create added value which not only shape micro-enterprises but also cities and platforms. The imagination of Ghent as a hip city is therefor only partly the effect of the presence of hipsters, it is also the effect of neoliberal urban policies. In Chapter 4, I will show how the hipsterification of the historical centre of Ghent is expanding and how new hip infrastructures contribute to the understanding of Ghent as a hip city. At the same time, I will show how the construction of local hipness and originality cannot be understood in full without looking at the higher scales. Hipster culture is a niched, layered and translocal phenomenon and the cultural products and strategies of hipster entrepreneurs, seen from a global scale fit a genre or a format. In Chapter 5, we move from the centre of the city, to a poor and ‘superdiverse’ neighbourhood in the 19th century belt and show how ELLA 2.0 allows us to describe the changes in the social composition of the neighbourhood and the process of hipsterification. In Chapter 5, we move attention to two other sites in the 19th century belt – The Old Docks and the Watt complex – to show how authenticity discourses and hipster semiotics are used to start up a process of hipsterification. I end with a more general reflection and conclusion on the relation between people, cities and capitalism in post-digital Ghent and on the theoretical and methodological impact of the findings. I will explicitly do this from the ethnographic perspective on social space, social groups and social action I developed throughout the book. Maybe even more than a mere methodological contribution, I hope that this book can help to get the conceptualization of superdiversity ‘out of sociolinguistics’ that Arnaut (et al., 2017: 4) hopes for.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages157
Publication statusPublished - 11 Nov 2019

Publication series

NameTilburg Papers in Culture Studies


  • hipsterification
  • hipster
  • Linguistic landscaping
  • ethnography
  • digital ethnography
  • urban studies
  • capitalism
  • gentrification
  • digital culture
  • memes
  • style
  • fashion
  • culture
  • culture studies
  • digital culture studies


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