Commemorative Cityscape

Understanding Practices of Street Renaming in European and Non-European Locations (COCIENEL)

Professor Małgorzata Fabiszak
Adam Mickiewicz University
Professor Isabelle Buchstaller
University of Duisburg-Essen
RESIDENTIAL RESEARCH PROJECT: AUGUST 2019

Abstract

At a very mundane level, street names provide the daily spatial framework for human activities so that cities can function. But beyond their indexical importance as spatial reference landmarks, street names are inevitably loaded with history and ideology, reflecting the present and the past of people, places and nations.

As Moszberger et al. (2002:5) point out, street names are particularly revelatory for tracing changes in representational politics. In cases of massive renamings, there is often a breach in the cultural transmission of collective memory, when younger generations treat the reworked cityscape as timeless and natural (Fabiszak & Brzezińska 2016). What for older generations is a revolutionary wiping out of old heroes and values they stood for, for the younger generation becomes a “natural order of things”(Fairclough 2003:2).

The aim of this project is to develop a new approach of researching ideological power struggles between various stakeholders over the symbolic appropriation of the semiotic fabric of the city. This will be achieved through the application of a mixed-methods approach to four European and four non-European locations. The proposed multi-disciplinary research residential will bring together a number of key scholars to investigate different ways in which urban conurbations instigate, negotiate and make sense of commemorative practices, focusing on street renaming as eight illustrative case studies.

By integrating findings from a wealth of theoretical and methodological perspectives and by transcending epistemological boundaries, our international cross-disciplinary project proposes to develop a coherent theoretical framework for understanding recent changes in the commemorative cityspace from a global heuristic perspective.

Throughout the residential, participants will work on case studies, exchange methodological and theoretical approaches and deliver daily presentations reporting on progress of the research. The writings resulting from the residential will be published as a Special Issue in a peer-reviewed journal.

The Research Idea

We propose to bring together researchers from linguistic landscape (LL) research and neighbouring disciplines (social geography, critical discourse studies, collective memory inter alia) to reflect upon street renaming as a consequence of recent changes in state ideology as well as bottom-up processes that resist prevailing representational politics. More specifically, our interdisciplinary multi-local research design allows us to explore the ways in which politically-driven changes in urban semioticisation influence the “ideological robe of the city”(Zieliński 1994).

The innovative aspect of this proposal is the application of the same mixed-methods approach to a global selection of urban streetscapes in order to develop a comparative analysis of politically-motivated street renaming practices in European and non- European cities. Cross-fertilisation across disciplines allows us to expand the remit of our analysis to explore “the function, authorship, materiality”and the discourses surrounding (Blackwood 2015:51) the ongoing semioticisation of the urban streetscape.

The proposed meeting functions as a test site for results of our ongoing project “Memory and ideology in the linguistic landscape: Commemorative (re)naming in East Germany and Poland 1916-2016”employing quantitative and qualitative methods to identify patterns of ideological street renaming in East Germany and in Poland. The residential will expand the methodological tool-kit of our analysis and enlarge the geographical scope to Western European and non-European locations. Our multidisciplinary multilocal analysis therefore puts us in the unique position to comparatively explore the semiotic effects of contemporary nationalist tendencies – and associated resistance movements – on the linguistic landscape across a wealth of urban settings.

Background

While street renaming appears to be a bureaucratically simple and inconspicuous act, it can be a fundamentally hegemonic process serving as a public demonstration of changes in political identity while at the same time being part of it. “Street names …are carriers of the collective memory of our city, of its past and its destiny. Whether they remind us of activities since disappeared, …commemorate important events in our history or pay homage to exceptional people, street and square names are fraught with significance”(Moszberger et al. (2002:5), translation ours).

To date, research on street name changes has been conducted in different academic disciplines with little cross-pollination. LL studies and historical geography document and analyze commemorative renaming of streets following ideological shifts in recent history (Borowiak 2012, Karolczak 2005). Critical toponymy explores “power relations, public memory [and] identity formation” in commemorative renaming (Azaryahu 2012: 388). More recently, researchers in collective memory have appealed for research to transgress disciplinary boundaries (Kaltenberg-Kwiatkowska 2011:138, Brzezińska & Chwieduk 2012:20-23). Similar calls for a rapprochement between research traditions have been voiced in LL research (Soukup & Amos 2016, Buchstaller & Alvanides 2016) and critical geography (Azaryahu 2011). As a result of disparate research foci and differences in data collection and analysis, however, integrated interdisciplinary studies remain rare (Rose-Redwood et al. 2010).

Our project proposes to develop a mixed-methods approach that draws on the expertise of the invited participants, which allows us to develop a coherent comparative perspective on practices of commemorative street renaming.

The Focus

LL studies go back to Landry and Bourhis (1997); research on street name changes as a result of “ruptures in political history”started with Azaryahu (1997:481). At the time of writing this proposal, commemorative street renaming has seen a renewed interest, due to:

(i) the much-publicised guerilla activities to commemorate populations that are under-represented in the streetscape (i.e. in the Netherlands and France to name more streets after women, in the Berlin area “Afrikanisches Viertel”to commemorate African dignitaries),

(ii) ongoing struggles between the representative needs of different ethnolinguistic groups (i.e. in Canada, South Africa)

(iii) as well as the ascendance to power of nationalist governments that foster hegemonic commemorative practices (i.e. in Poland, the United States or in India). The current debates that accompany ongoing commemorative semiotic practices, however, tend to be historically shallow and geopolitically restricted, juxtaposing political (top-down) decision-making processes with public advocacy or the angry responses of citizens (bottom-up).

The ISRF support will enable us to bring together researchers from across the world who share with each other both their localised ethnographic knowledge about the mechanisms of change in the semiotic LL of their particular study site, as well as their individual methodological expertise. The remit of our project covers both European and non-European locations (Canada, India, Israel inter alia). This multi-method, multi-local analysis provides us with a solid interdisciplinary basis for comparative analysis. As such, the COCINEL project allows us to formulate both over-reaching trends and local particularities in contemporary commemorative (re)naming practices.

Theoretical Novelty

As Moszberger et al. (2002:5) point out, street names are particularly revelatory for tracing changes in representational politics. In cases of massive renamings, there is often a breach in the cultural transmission of collective memory, when younger generations treat the reworked cityscape as timeless and natural (Fabiszak & Brzezińska 2016). What for older generations is a revolutionary wiping out of old heroes and values they stood for, for the younger generation becomes a “natural order of things” (Fairclough 2003:2).

The application of a mixed-methods approach to a wealth of European and non-European locations provides a novel perspective on the ideological power struggles between various stakeholders over the symbolic appropriation of the semiotic fabric of the city. The synopsis of the week-long discussions between researchers from fields which share a research interest in the LL but which have not traditionally been working together (geo-spatial visualisation, critical discourse analysis, memory studies, LL analysis, historical geography, urban ethnology) means that spatio-temporal analysis can provide a basis for generalizing trends in commemorative (re)naming practices, while discourse-analytic and ethnographic methods supply insights into the socio-political context of the renaming, the motivations of the individual stakeholders and the reactions to such changes amongst the people who live in and try to make sense of the changing semiotic landscape.

By integrating findings from a number of theoretical and methodological perspectives and by transcending epistemological boundaries, our international cross-disciplinary project proposes to develop a coherent theoretical framework for understanding recent changes in the commemorative cityspace.

Methodology

To date, the lion’s share of linguistic research on the urban landscape is descriptive/qualitative in nature and concentrates on individual case analyses. Only recently has LL research incorporated statistical methods and geographical visualisation to explore trends in urban semioticisation. Systematic comparative research remains scarce and crossfertilisation between European and non-European countries is almost non-existent. Our mixed-methods approach to commemorative landscaping is innovative by its fundamentally interdisciplinary nature, which draws on the quantitative geolinguistic, descriptive and critical research expertise of the members of the project. Diachronic research on the toponymic traces of “ruptures in political history” (Arazyahu 1997:481) can benefit from methods developed in quantitative geolinguistics (Buchstaller & Alvanides 2013), and geospatial visualisation techniques (Oueslati, Alvanides, Garrod 2015). This is because detailed spatiotemporal analysis (Buchstaller & Alvanides 2017, to appear) allows innovative visualisation of the urban study areas to identify and comparatively examine patterns of renaming practices. Qualitative methods build on these findings to provide a contextualisation of the quantitative results through the analysis and interpretation of data collected from the mass media and/or ethnographic interviews (Fabiszak 2007, Bennett et al. 2013, Fabiszak & Brzezińska 2016).

This triangulation of research methods capitalizes on the strengths of the quantitative and qualitative approaches represented by the invited participants to this workshop while circumventing their weaknesses (Rose-Redwood et al. 2010). As such, the interdisciplinary research team proposes to develop a coherent heuristic framework for the understanding of the changes in the commemorative cityspace by integrating findings from different methodological perspectives.

Work Plan

Prior to the meeting, participants will prepare (i) a short presentation illustrating their heuristic and theoretical approaches and study area, (ii) pedagogical materials to be used in miniworkshops to assess the strengths of the respective method as well as its points of compatibility with heuristics from the neighbouring disciplines represented in the research group.

The proposed residential meeting thus consists of a series of workshops dedicated to:

(1) the presentation and sharing of methodological expertise, resulting in the development of a unified mixed-method approach to be used across all locations for analysing the commemorative cityscape (Monday 05/08/2019);

(2) workshops introducing participants to the analytic methods and its application (Monday-Wednesday 05-07/08/2019);

(3) a fieldwork trip to pilot the mixed-methods approach in the commemorative cityscape in Berlin, followed by a discussion of observations and foreseeable problems for its application to individual data-sets and refinement of methods (Thursday 08/08/2019);

(4) the drafting of thematic issue proposal for the Journal Language and Communication or similar journal to be identified (Friday 09/08/2019).

The experts participating in this residential will:

  • contribute to the development and refinement of the mixed-methods approach,
  • attend to the training needs of fellow researchers, esp. regarding those aspects of the mixed-methods approach some of them are unfamiliar with,
  • apply the unified approach to data from their research location(s) and critically discuss the results of their case study in the form of a 7000-word article,
  • contribute to the formulation of an introductory article which comparatively synthesises results across localities.

Work Plan

The intended outcomes will address a number of academic and non-academic audiences. We discuss our output strategy by dissemination strand:

Special issue: The residency will result in a draft proposal for a special issue of the journal Language and Communication (to be confirmed with the editor post-award). This volume would constitute the first ever venue hosting research that applies a consistent mixedmethods approach to the analysis of commemorative street naming. What is particularly innovative about the project is that the volume presents case studies from around the world whose authors have spent a consolidated amount of time discussing their research comparatively and are thus in a unique position to contextualize localised patterns and present them from a holistic perspective. The volume will thus constitute a one-of-a-kind go-to volume for work showcasing contemporary trends in ideological semioticization.

Conference presentations: The consolidated results of the residency will result in a panel proposal to the 12th Linguistic Landscape Workshop, which will take place in 2020. Individual authors will also present their research at conferences relevant to their discipline (approx. 12 presentations).

Outreach and transfer: The relevance of the ongoing changes in urban semiotics is illustrated by the ample press coverage on the issue. The residency will allow us to disseminate objective, accurate and comparative information to the national and local press. Applicants have started engaging with the German press (die Zeit online) and we will encourage all participating researchers to forge links with newspapers and other news outlets, such as The Conversation.

References

Azaryahu, M. 1997 “German Reunification and the Politics of Street Names: The Case of East Berlin”. Political Geography 16: 479–93

Azaryahu, M . 2011b. “The Critical Turn and Beyond: The Case of Commemorative Street Naming”. ACME. An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies 10: 28-33

Arazyahu, M. 2012. “Hebrew, Arabic, English: The politics of multilingual street signs in Israeli cities”. Social & Cultural Geography 13:1-19.

Bennett, S., Ter Wal J., A. Lipiński, M. Fabiszak & M. Krzyżanowski. 2013. “The representation of Third Country Nationals in European news discourse: Journalistic perceptions and practice”. Journalism Practice 73: 248-265.

Blackwood, R. 2015. LL explorations and methodological challenges: Analysing France’s regional languages. Linguistic Landscape, 1: 38-53.

Borowiak, P. 2012. “Nazewnictwo miejskie Poznania na tle urbonimii bułgarskie”. In A.W. Brzezińska & A. Chwieduk (eds.) Miasto Poznań w perspektywie badań interdyscyplinarnych. TIPI. 55-60.

Brzezińska, A. W. & A. Chwieduk. 2012 „Poznań w narracjach jego mieszkańców czyli strategie badacza miejskiego”. In A.W. Brzezińska & A. Chwieduk (eds.). Miasto Poznań w perspektywie badań interdyscyplinarnych. TIPI. 15-28.

Buchstaller, I. & S. Alvanides. 2013. “Employing Geographical Principles for Sampling in State of the Art Dialectological Projects”. Journal of Linguistic Geography 1, 96-114

Buchstaller, I. & S. Alvanides 2017. “Mapping the linguistic landscapes of the Marshall Islands”. Journal of Linguistic Geography 5, 67-85

Buchstaller, I. & S. Alvanides. 2018. “Investigating the bilingual landscape of the Marshall Islands”. In M. Pütz & N. Mundt (eds.) Expanding the Linguistic Landscape. Bristol: Multilingual Matters, 203-228.

Fabiszak, M. 2007. A Conceptual Metaphor approach to war discourse and its implications. Poznań. Wydawnictwo Naukowe UAM.

Fabiszak, M & A.W. Brzezińska. 2016. “Żydzi i Niemcy w Poznaniu – (nie)pamięć w krajobrazie miejskim. Analiza korpusu prasowego i wywiadów grupowych”. Studia Socjologiczne 2:217- 41.

Fairclough, N. 2003. Analysing discourse: Textual analysis for social research. Routledge. Kaltenberg-Kwiatkowska E. 2011. “O oznaczaniu i naznaczaniu przestrzeni miasta”. Przegląd Socjologiczny 60: 135-165.

Karolczak, W. 2005. Ulice i zaułki dawnego Poznania. Muzeum Historii Miasta Poznania. Landry, R. and R. Y. Bourhis. 1997. “Linguistic landscape and ethnolinguistic vitality: An empirical study”, Journal of language and social psychology 16(1): 23-49.

Moszberger, M., T. Rieger & L. Daul. 2002. Dictionnaire historique des rues de Strasbourg. Illkirch. Verger.

Oueslati W., S. Alvanides & G. Garrod. 2015. “Determinants of urban sprawl in European cities”. Urban Studies 52: 1594-1614.

Rose-Redwood, R., Alderman, D., and Azaryahu, M. 2010. “Geographies of Toponymic Inscription: New Directions in Critical Place-Name Studies,” Progress in Human Geography 34(4): 453-470.Skoczylas, Ł., M. Fabiszak & A. W. Brzezińska. 2016. “Zastosowanie wywiadów fokusowych w badaniach nad pamięcią zbiorową”. Przegląd Socjologii Jakościowej 12(4): 56-77.

Soukup, B. & H. W. Amos. 2016. Quantitative 2.0: Towards Variationist Linguistic Landscape Study (VALLS) and a standard canon of LL variables. In: David Malinowski and Stefania Tufi (eds.), Questioning Boundaries, Opening Spaces: Reterritorialising Linguistic Landscapes.

Yeboah, G., S. Alvanides, & E. Thompson. 2015. “Everyday cycling in urban environments: Understanding behaviours and constraints in space-time”. Computational Approaches for Urban Environments. Geotechnologies and the Environment 13: 185-210.

Zieliński, F. 1994. “Szata ideologiczna miasta. O przemianowywaniu ulic i placów. In E. Kaltenberg-Kwiatkowska (ed.). Miasta polskie w dwusetlecie prawa o miastach. Polskie Towarzystwo Socjologiczne. 189-199.

  • Professor Małgorzata Fabiszak, Adam Mickiewicz University
  • Professor Isabelle Buchstaller, University of Duisburg-Essen
  • Dr Seraphim Alvanides, Northumbria University
  • Professor Maoz Azaryahu, University of Haifa
  • Dr Christoph Purschke, University of Luxembourg
  • Dr Rani Rubdi, Independent Researcher
  • Dr Peter K. W. Tan, National University of Singapore
  • Dr David Wrisley, NYU Abu Dhabi