Linguistic landscape
: an interactional perspective

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In recent years, research in Linguistic Landscape Studies (LLS) has demonstrated increasing interest in people and practice around signs, investigating signs through the lens of everyday activities such as walking and tattooing (see e.g. Lou 2016, 2017; Peck and Stroud 2015; Stroud and Jegels 2014). While the field already provides an interactional framework for analysing here-and-now action around signs – geosemiotics (Scollon and Scollon 2003) – there are empirical steps still to go to capture and interrogate the social interactions in which the everyday formation and experience of Linguistic Landscape (LL) are embedded.

This thesis focuses on struggles around signs in the Bahnhofsviertel, Frankfurt. Based on 6 months of ethnographic fieldwork in the Bahnhofsviertel, it provides a panorama of processes of social change in the district and their manifestation in public signage, including demographic shifts and tensions and hostility regarding perceived gentrification. It then focuses in on a particular aspect of the scene – struggles around stickers. Putting up stickers in public space is a civil offence in Frankfurt and, as part of a broader urban development plan for the Bahnhofsviertel, local authorities have been cleaning away stickers from public fixtures in the district since 2014.

The thesis generates an interactional perspective on LL focused on these struggles around stickers. Observations of stickerers, their metacommentary, and official documentation on signage are drawn together in an analysis guided by Interactional Sociolinguistic theory and Goffmanian interactional theory. The analysis focuses on two main dimensions of struggles around stickers: the motivations behind stickering and sticker removal; and sticker emplacing as an interactional accomplishment.

With regard to the first dimension, the stickerers and the local authorities are found to have two separate kinds of main concern: the stickerers want to communicate social, political and commercial messages and bring them to the foreground of people’s attention, while the local authorities want to generate a particular environmental style and congenial background to people’s everyday tasks. The incompatibilities between the two parties and their projects lie in their differing visions of how people move through space and cognise the material environment.

With regard to the second dimension, sticker emplacing is found to be guided by two main interactional concerns. On the one hand, stickerers choose a time and place for their messages, and monitor their stickers once in place, in anticipation of the moves of cleaners and political/commercial rivals. On the other hand, in the moment of emplacing, stickerers orient to different moral accountabilities, including the possible activation of ‘remedial interchange’ (Goffman 1971) by CCTV operators and other observers.

The data and analysis have implications for the concepts of ‘transgression’ and ‘emplacement’ in LLS. Approaching the emplacing of stickers as interactional activity points to various contingencies influencing how, where, and by whom signs get put up in public space that a post hoc interpretation of a sign’s location would miss. Moreover, it is shown that transgression is not a clear-cut distinction to be applied uniformly to signs like stickers, rather transgressiveness is decided in interaction, in the ritual work performed by social actors.
Date of Award1 May 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorBen Rampton (Supervisor) & Alexandra Georgakopoulou-Nunes (Supervisor)

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