Tourists, Signs, and the City: The Semiotics of Culture in an Urban Landscape

By Reddleman, Claire | Journal of Cultural Geography, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Tourists, Signs, and the City: The Semiotics of Culture in an Urban Landscape


Reddleman, Claire, Journal of Cultural Geography


Tourists, Signs, and the City: The Semiotics of Culture in an Urban Landscape, by Michelle M. Metro-Roland Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012. x + 171 pp. US $89.95 (hardback), ISBN: 978-0-7546-7809-0

The thesis of the book is that an idea of the 'tourist prosaic' is valuable in interpreting how the tourist makes meaning through the activity of being a tourist in an urban environment. The 'tourist prosaic' arises from a combination of the cityscape and the touristscape, terms Metro-Roland uses to characterise the contrast that she proposes in the activities of the tourist and the local as they undertake their activities in the same city. Metro-Roland applies Charles Peirce's semiotic theory to a close analysis of how tourists in Budapest encounter the notion of 'Hungarianness' in the city's landscape. The fieldwork involved three stages: 103 people were interviewed at popular tourist sites in Budapest; 'visitor employed photography' asked participants to photograph aspects of the environment that they felt conveyed 'Hungarianness'; and 109 people were interviewed at the Central Market Hall, a location Metro-Roland puts forward as an emblem of the 'tourist prosaic'.

This practical side of the research is introduced through Peircean semiotics, which is used as a method for explaining the interpretation of landscape in the city. The heart of Peirce's sign system is the tripartite sign unit consisting of an object, a sign or representamen, and an interpretant. Peirce used sign and representamen to mean the same thing at different times in his writing, and Metro-Roland usefully clarifies his plentiful terminology. In the context of the tourist's experience of interpreting Budapest as a place of Hungarianness, Metro-Roland applies Peirce's system to analysing how tourists interpret objects in their environment and go on to act on the beliefs they have formed. Hungarianness, it is concluded, is possible to identify in the tourists' interpretation of this particular place, and forms a part of the idea of 'destination' on which tourism depends: "in the end we want to feel like we have been somewhere, a destination" (p. 147).

Tourists, Signs and the City provides some discreet studies within the larger whole that may be useful to researchers: a close focus on guidebooks to the city in both English and Magyar; the introduction to Peirce's semiotics; and a detailed ethnographic study of the Central Market Hall as a multi-functional site. More broadly, the direct application of Peireean semiotics is a useful attempt at bringing an essentially nineteenth-century philosophy into analysis of contemporary urban experience. …

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