Village People: Signs of Capitalism, Control, and Queerness in Urban Landscapes

Authors: Greg Niedt*, Drexel University
Topics: Urban Geography, Communication, Sexuality
Keywords: discourse analysis, gentrification, LGBT, linguistic geography, linguistic landscapes, Philadelphia, queer geography, signage
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Embassy Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

As the acceptance of queer identities has proceeded in fits and starts over the last few decades, the question has been raised, is it still necessary to have dedicated queer spaces? (Lewis 2014) City dwellers often reason that with supposed improvements in safety and social mixing, the “gay ghettos” that form a transitional stage in neighborhood revitalization should now become common areas. Yet as several scholars have pointed out (Doan and Higgins 2011, Ghaziani 2014), the capitalist logic that drives this thinking often trades the physical threat of exclusion or violence for an existential one, jeopardizing a distinctive local culture that remains valuable in the self-realization process of an urban area’s queer citizens.

This paper examines how public signs and artifacts reify and sustain competing narratives of a single central Philadelphia neighborhood in transition: the traditionally queer “Gayborhood,” the officially municipal “Washington Square West,” and the recently gentrifying “Midtown Village.” For passerby or residents of the same collection of city blocks, focusing on particular businesses and instances of text in the landscape allows them to inhabit any or all of these discursively constructed spaces. Combining observational data and critical discourse analysis within the linguistic/semiotic landscapes paradigm (Jaworski and Thurlow 2010, Shohamy et al. 2010), the paper presents a critique of the presumed inevitability of queer erasure. A change in urban scenery only masks the fact that these spaces, marked by their eroding distinctiveness rather than their deviance, are still needed.

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