Nina Medvedeva is a graduate student in Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. She joins the IAS as an interdisciplinary doctoral fellow (IDF) for 2021–2022.
Nina is at work on a project titled "Home in the Sharing Economy," that traces short-term rental (STR) debates and regulations in Boston, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. (a) change residents’ understandings of home, (b) impact access to housing stock, (c) create government regulatory structures, and (d) operate within structural systems of race and gender under capitalism. Nina’s dissertation asks: What are the impacts of STRs on differently racialized, classed, and gendered residents? How do city residents politically mobilize to manage these impacts through STR regulation?
Read on to learn more about Nina’s project, and what she hopes to achieve during her residency at the IAS.
IAS: A lot of people see that you’re researching short-term rentals (STRs) such as Airbnb and immediately just want to know if STRs are good or bad—that is, if they should use them or not. But it can’t possibly be that simple, can it? What do you hope readers will gain from your research?
Nina Medvedeva: I think people are asking an important question here. In capitalist societies like ours, consumption is one of our primary forms of political involvement and people are anxious about consuming in ways that align with their values. “Good” and “bad” consumption are incredibly dense concepts that differ from person-to-person. Are you trying to figure out if Airbnb is safe for travelers of color? Do you care about going to an Airbnb with a “real” local? Do you care about the impact Airbnb is having on housing in the area? I can’t answer these questions everywhere where STRs pop up. It really does depend on a person’s political compass.
The consumption question opens up all these other considerations about the type of economic activity you want to support in the city. My research focuses on the underlying social and political processes that create, regulate, and justify the commodity of the STR, what researchers like me call “political economy.” I’m interested in why the debates around regulating STRs made as big of a splash as they did. It’s not every day that you see hotel unions, hotel owners, tenants rights activists, and landlord associations on the same side of an issue. In looking at these complications, I hope that my research can help people think more critically about the taken for granted concept of home, as well as to consider the racialized and gendered history of urban development.
IAS: I love that you’re framing this project within the changing nature of home. Can you talk a bit more about this?
NM: On some species-level, humans probably share a need to “dwell.” Evolutionary biologists find common “nesting” behaviors in homo sapiens and our evolutionary relatives. However, our concept of home today is wildly different from what it was two hundred years ago. Looking purely at architecture and furnishing, things like separate rooms, comfortable furniture for sleeping and eating, electricity, and plumbing are new in the history of home. Our cities looked fundamentally different—there were no highways, no specialized zoning for housing and business districts, and a plethora of different housing options including rooming homes and monthly hotels. In the United States, the government, developers, and other private entities had to do a massive project of restructuring in order to create the cityscape we live in today. This restructuring is mired in the U.S.’s long legacy as a settler colony premised on racialized exclusion and dispossession, land theft, and gendered systems of social control and reproduction.
What makes STRs interesting is that they index a new shift in the landscape of housing. Buying and paying off a house has become increasingly difficult and people who do own homes have to turn to gigs like Airbnb to pay for their cost of living. Wall Street has become invested in rental housing—buying up large swaths of single-family homes and multi-unit buildings, securitizing rent checks, and evicting residents then renting out buildings at higher prices. STR platforms thrive in this landscape as they present a solid way for homeowners, landlords, distressed renters, and investors to make more money than they could with long-term rentals.
IAS: This is a wonderfully interdisciplinary project. How are you working across disciplines to talk about race, class, gender, the economy, housing, politics, and everything this project encompasses?
NM: The interdisciplinarity of this project is in part due to my education. I was trained in Feminist Studies for my PhD and American Studies for my Masters. Both fields are founded on interdisciplinary knowledge production and I was fortunate to work in departments that center Black Studies, Indigenous Studies, post-colonial theory, Third World feminism, queer of color critique, and critical ethnic studies. At the University of Minnesota, I’ve worked with anthropologists, geographers, critical theorists, sociologists, and communication studies scholars through my coursework, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Race, Indigeneity, Disability, Gender & Sexuality Studies, and the Sawyer Seminar on the Politics of Land: Colony, Property, Ecology. The interdisciplinarity of my project comes from the conversations I’ve had in all these spaces and the materials people have shared with me. All these fields have taught me a lot about race, class, gender, the economy, housing, and politics. It’s been really generative to see how scholars are talking about these issues within and across their fields.
I also owe my interdisciplinarity to social movement organizing. I found out about the STR debates through a labor organization I used to work for and saw how movement organizers, statisticians, economists, legislators, city residents, hotel workers, and geographers all came together to use quantitative and qualitative methods to produce knowledge about what was, at the time, an opaque issue. Given my research topic, it became impossible for me not to pay attention to these interdisciplinary discussions.