Building Meanings: semiotics & experiences of public places in multicultural societies

Presented by Farzad Zarringhalam

12-1pm Thursday 26th March 2015

Oorala Lecture Theatre, UNE

Reviewing texts and resources in the field of urban and architectural design from early twentieth century clearly reflects the growing importance of public place/life studies from different perspectives – including architecture, sociology, psychology, and semiotics. This was a response to the challenges of overpopulated, car oriented, dead cities of the time – mainly caused by the modernist movement and the process of globalisation. The core issue, therefore, has been respect for people, zest for public life, and places for pedestrians. However, following the belief that “the differences between dreams and desires of people in various parts of the world do not vary dramatically,” scholars in the field of urban design and architecture have chiefly disregarded the differences between cultures and ethnic backgrounds. But, studies within other disciplines (the works of Edward T. Hall, for instance, in the field of anthropology) not only have proven that people differ fundamentally from one another, in some aspects, according to their culture, but this plays an important role in shaping their desires, expectations, and actions in different spaces. This is of crucial importance in multicultural societies in which people with different cultures and backgrounds live alongside each other. Designers should take the potential differences between cultural groups into consideration when they intend to design public places in such societies.

This research, thus, studies people’s perception, expectation, and experience of public places (specifically squares, streets, and pedestrian streets) in two different cultural groups, but, without any intention to prioritise human beings over non-human materials. In other words, each cultural group will be considered as just one point in the network of relationships in a public place. For this purpose, the study employs general semiotic theory of Algirdas Julien Greimas (as a comprehensive approach to social action from a semiotic perspective), including “semiotic square,” “actantial model,” and “narrative program,” and tries to incorporate some principles of “actor-network theory” in this context – especially its open-ended model as regards the types of actants, and the lack of bias between human and non-human entities.

Launch seminar recording