Deep Word Play: Signs of Distinction and Exclusion in Gentrifying Brooklyn

Deep Word Play: Signs of Distinction and Exclusion in Gentrifying Brooklyn

Deep Word Play: Signs of Distinction and Exclusion in Gentrifying Brooklyn
March 3, 2017. 12:00pm – 2:00pm
Room C201 – The Graduate Center, CUNY (365 Fifth Ave., New York)

Public signs are profoundly political spaces. As part of our broader research on urban change and redevelopment in Brooklyn, this paper explores shop signs as public texts that both shape and are shaped by struggles for place.

Our data show how Brooklyn storefront signs operate as registers of place that reflect and reproduce the U.S. cultural organizing principles of race, ethnicity, sexuality, and class. We first introduce what we term Old School Vernacular signage as a non-hierarchical ‘pre-gentrification’ place register that never risks meaning and is open to all. We then focus on how new Brooklyn signs for upscale establishments frequently incorporate, among other features, word play and polysemy. While polysemy serves, in a Geertzian way, to construct intimacy, these new signs of gentrification also create exclusion and assert status hierarchies in places previously open to all.

Shonna Trinch is Associate Professor of Linguistic Anthropology at John Jay College who studies language, law, gender, violence and Spanish in the U.S. She has published widely in the fields of sociolinguistics, forensic linguistics and discourse analysis. In addition to her research with Ed Snajdr on urban change, she is collaborating with John Jay Prof. Barbara Cassidy on the student-led social justice theater program Seeing Rape (March 17,18, and 19 Gerald Lynch Theater, John Jay College).
Edward Snajdr (Associate Professor, John Jay College) is a political anthropologist whose research on social justice includes gender violence, trafficking, political ecology and urban transformations. He has conducted field research in interests include urban redevelopment, violence, ethnicity, gender, human trafficking, and environmentalism and the intersections of development, law and social justice. He is currently working with Shonna Trinch on two book projects on urban redevelopment and gentrification in Brooklyn


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