A theory of signs in two city meeting places
The UK is in the midst of an era of demographic shift, driven by globalisation and changing patterns of migration. Many UK cities are now characterised by ‘superdiversity’, in which not only ‘ethnicity’, but other variables (e.g. legal status, immigration history, educational background, socio-economic status) influence the composition and trajectories of urban centres. Our research investigates how people communicate in these changing conditions.
We investigate the ‘spatial repertoires’ (Pennycook and Otsuji, 2015) of the Birmingham Bull Ring Indoor Market and the Library of Birmingham (LOB), and describe the discourses particular to these environments. Taking as our main focus a butcher’s stall in the Birmingham markets run by a husband and wife team from Fujian and Malaysia respectively, and a public relations officer in the LOB with origins in Hong Kong, we consider how interaction occurs within ‘contact zones’ (Pratt 1991), or ‘translation zones’ (Apter 2006). Our interest is in the everyday communicative practices of contemporary life in two of the city’s best-known meeting places. We investigate how social relationships are kept in good repair (Goffman, 1981) as market traders and their customers, and library staff and visitors negotiate, mime, point, tease, compliment, joke, laugh, haggle, inform, misunderstand, complain, argue, and so on. We describe the relational dimension of communication in the workplace and at home, through social media, and face-to-face interactions.
The market and the library are spaces characterized by communal relations where social contact becomes habitual and frequent. In our analysis of such contact we generate theory out of signs in use and action in superdiverse urban environments.
Apter, E. (2006) The Translation Zone: A New Comparative Literature. Princeton University Press.
Goffman, E. (1981). Forms of Talk. Oxford: Blackwell.
Pennycook, A. and Otsuji, E. (2015) Metrolingualism. London / New York: Routledge
Pratt, M. L. (1991) Arts of the contact zone. Profession 91: 33–40.
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