[Multimodality Talks series] Sculptural Place Names: Between Elitism and Egalitarianism in Gentrified Urban Spaces

Date and Time: Fri, March 3, 2023, 12:00 PM – 1:30 PM GMT

Place: online via Zoom

Speaker: Adam Jaworski, The University of Hong Kong

To attend the talk please register here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/adam-jaworski-multimodality-talk-series-tickets-468327168167

To watch the recorded talk, please see here later


Sculptural place names are large, typically human size, free standing, three-dimensional letter forms designating buildings, institutions, cities, countries, and other locations. They are commonly found in high value, gentrifying urban areas or transportation hubs associated with social mobility and elite lifestyles. Yet, their street-level emplacement, easy accessibility, and frequent engagement with visitors, who interact with the signs and use them as backdrops for photos, suggest a more egalitarian ethos. Thus, sculptural place names present a paradox, on the one hand signifying exclusivity, while on the other hand inviting ludic performances of place. The present paper, developed in collaboration with Tong King Lee, explores this paradox by engaging in a social semiotic analysis of three-dimensionality and object emplacement. It first looks at the emergence of text-based public art as an urban genre, then it examines the meaning potentials of sculptural place names, with an eye to the embodied performances of visitors who interact with these language objects. Finally, it is proposed that sculptural place names be seen as mediators of elitism and egalitarianism, with implications for how we understand gentrified urban spaces.


Adam Jaworski is Emeritus Professor at the University of Hong Kong and an Honorary Research Fellow at Birkbeck, University of London. His research interests revolve around text-based art and public displays of discourse. He is editor of the book series Oxford Studies in Sociolinguistics.


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