From boutiques and Airbnb to surging rents and local displacement, gentrification has come to negatively represent the classed effects of in-migration. As an explanatory concept, gentrification attends to the comprehensive transformation of demographics and services once a neighbourhood becomes aspirationally desirable. Meanwhile, current policy orthodoxies presume a steady population flow from outlying regions to urban employment centres. In either view, ‘successful’ places and spaces exert a prestigious pull. Yet internal migrants do not always seek to spatially upgrade – there are alternative migration flows which neither transform neighbourhoods nor follow income. In this paper, we offer a new concept to the internal migration lexicon: ‘affordification’. Focusing on the underexamined phenomena of middle-class (defined by economic, social and cultural capital) migration to so-called ‘left behind’ regions, we argue that seeming socio-economic downgrades reveal how quality of life and spatial inequalities intersect. Drawing from a qualitative case study of the primarily rural and post-industrial West Wales and the Valleys region, we demonstrate: how spatial inequalities can offer those in insecure class positions the ability to afford aspirational lifestyles; how career opportunities become traded for affordability; and, how a ‘middle-class gaze’ turns peripherality into cultural capital. Arguing that these empirical observations can be understood as affordification, we distinguish the concept from gentrification in five key ways: 1) scale; 2) transformations; 3) prestige; 4) co-existence with other forms of in-migration, especially welfare migration; and, 5) relationship to out-migration. By profiling affordification, we seek to move beyond limited understandings both of rural regions as caught between depopulation or gentrification, and ‘left behind’ places as primarily sites of working-class discontent.
Published: July 2020