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Journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies / Revue de l'Association Internationale de Sémiotique

Editor-in-Chief: Danesi, Marcel

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Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2018: 0.478

Agenzia Nazionale di Valutazione del Sistema Universitario e della Ricerca: Classe A

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Volume 2009, Issue 173


The social semiotics of space: Metaphor, ideology, and political economy

Alexandros Ph. Lagopoulos
Published Online: 2009-02-12 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/SEMI.2009.007


The aim of the present article is the study of the connotative meaning of space, but special theoretical attention is given to the wider theoretical context of such an enterprise. I argue that the whole domain of spatial studies is split between two major and conflicting epistemological paradigms: ‘objectivism,’ which studies ‘space’ as an external object, and ‘subjectivism,’ which approaches space as ‘place,’ that is, as a meaningful, semiotic entity. The existence of these two parallel orientations, both legitimate, points to the need for a holistic approach, allowing the articulation of semiotic phenomena with social structures. The holistic approach helps to clarify three different semiotic approaches: the immanent, the Greimasian sociosemiotic, and the holistic social semiotic approach.

The relationship between space and meaning is a metaphorical one, and metaphor belongs to the semantics of connotation. The whole connotative field of a society constitutes its world view or ideology, which is structured by a classification system. The study of the metaphorical meanings of space is set in this article against three different social backgrounds. The first are precapitalist societies. As a case study, I use the example of the Sudanese Dogon of southern Mali and show that cosmogony and cosmology, inextricably linked to an anthropomorphic code, constitute the nucleus of their world view and preside over the organization and morphology of space. The second is western modernism. I conclude that the major ideological urban models of modernism are ruled by an organicist code. The last context studied is western postmodernism. I argue that the postmodern approach to space (which is not a radically new phenomenon) adopts a pseudo-historical stance and uses the overarching metaphor of genius loci. In the context of postmodernism, the ‘metaphorization’ of built space goes hand in hand with its ‘Las Vegasization’ and ‘Disneylandization,’ and meaning, spatial experience, and the search for identity are integrated into the circuit of capitalist profit.

Keywords:: social semiotics; ideology; connotation; metaphor; code; modernism; postmodernism

About the article

Published Online: 2009-02-12

Published in Print: 2009-02-01

Citation Information: Semiotica, Volume 2009, Issue 173, Pages 169–213, ISSN (Online) 1613-3692, ISSN (Print) 0037-1998, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/SEMI.2009.007.

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