Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Dishing it out on gentrification: Tracking narratives of urban redevelopment through Detroit restaurant reviews 

Dishing it out on gentrification: Tracking narratives of urban redevelopment through Detroit restaurant reviews 

Juliette André

Much has been written about how journalistic discourse analysis can be a useful tool in understanding how gentrification is conveyed through mass media, how it is perceived by the public, and ultimately how it impacts an urban environment. There is a gap in the current body of research, however, on the ways in which restaurant reviews specifically act as a mechanism of gentrification’s critique or promotion. Using published single-critic restaurant reviews as a foundation for analysis, this paper aims to illuminate the shifting discourse surrounding the gentrification of Detroit and more broadly its redevelopment over a 10-year span (2010-2020). Shaping public perceptions, restaurant reviews not only alter the ways in which readers view and value the experience of dining out more broadly, but it is their purpose to dictate to readers which businesses to patronize, which ones to avoid, and why. Thus, they play a powerful role in constructing the physical urban landscape. Reviews invite, encourage, and validate certain narratives surrounding redevelopment, thereby positioning themselves as mechanisms of economic and political influence. By critically engaging in a temporal analysis of restaurant reviews, another way of understanding how gentrification is perpetuated is examined, allowing for more opportunities for the inequalities it may actualize to be mitigated.

April 16, 2020 - Posted by | abstract


  1. This is such a great topic – you are providing a focused contribution to the subject of gentrification through a perhaps more unexpected and ignored dimension, restaurant reviews. Admittedly, when I think about or look for a restaurant review, the more informal social media review sites come to mind – Yelp, Google, Facebook. I wish I read more “traditional” or “formal” reviews written by critics. But this distinction makes me wonder, does the type of restaurant that is given a detailed review in a newspaper itself constitute a mechanism of gentrification? Or does every newly opened restaurant receive a review? Additionally, are certain types of restaurants more frequently portrayed as “authentic” Detroit (as opposed to a redeveloped Detroit)? I like how your project connects something as seemingly innocuous as a city’s food culture to political and economic narratives of gentrification through the way food is talked about and written about.

    Comment by Elizabeth Watson | April 22, 2020 | Reply

  2. This is an interesting topic! I’ve never really considered how much restaurant reviews affect whether or not people will go there to eat or not-I’d love to read what you’ve found! I also don’t know what is looked at in a restaurant review-is it presentation of food that affects people’s decision, or the ‘ambiance’ of the restaurant?

    Comment by Mikayla | April 22, 2020 | Reply

  3. I would be really interested to hear about what you found in the reviews and what kinds of evidence there was in the Detroit restaurant reviews. I imagine this would be a rich and interesting discussion.

    Comment by Shannon Yee | April 22, 2020 | Reply

  4. This is really an innovative way to approach discourses of gentrification, their consequences, and potential mitigation of harm. I think that your findings will have a lot to offer to the broader conversation.

    Comment by Laura Sutherland | April 27, 2020 | Reply

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