Call for papers: Lexia 39-40 – “HERITAGE AND THE CITY. Semiotics and Politics of Cultural Memory in Urban Spaces”

Call for papers: Lexia 39-40
“HERITAGE AND THE CITY. Semiotics and Politics of Cultural Memory in Urban Spaces”

Deadline for contributions: January 30, 2021

“Lexia”, the international, peer-reviewed journal of CIRCe, the Center for Interdisciplinary Research on Communication of the University of Turin, Italy, invites contributions to be published in the issue n. 39-40 of the new series.

The topic of the forthcoming issue is:
“HERITAGE AND THE CITY. Semiotics and Politics of Cultural Memory in Urban Spaces”.

Guest Editors: Francesco Mazzucchelli (University of Bologna), Maria Rosaria Vitale (University of Catania), Massimo Leone (University of Turin/University of Shanghai)

Communication and media studies scholars are welcome to contribute to this interdisciplinary issue.

Here is the expected publication schedule of the volume:

January 30, 2021: deadline for contributions

February 28, 2021: deadline for referees

April 15, 2021: deadline for revised versions of contributions

June 30, 2021: publication of “Lexia”

Contributions, 30,000 characters max, MLA stylesheet, with a 500 words max English abstract and 5 English key–words, should be sent to: (francesco.mazzucchelli /at/ (maria.vitale /at/ (massimo.leone /at/ Languages/lingue/langues/lenguas: English, Italiano, Français, Español No payment from authors is expected ENGLISH

Heritage and the City. Semiotics and Politics of Cultural Memory in Urban Spaces

This Special Issue of Lexia aims at bringing together articles that critically reflect, from a semiotic angle, on the relation between cultural memory and the city, exploring the semiotic and political role that cultural heritage plays today within urban spaces, with a specific, although not exclusive, focus on difficult, uncomfortable and dissonant heritage (Macdonald; Tunbridge & Ashworth). Contributions from all disciplines dealing with cultural heritage are welcomed, since the issue intends to propose an interdisciplinary dialogue about the semiotic dimension of heritage in urban environments, that is, its meaning, but also its processes of construction, transformation, interpretation and translation.

The main issue at stake is the city-heritage connection. On the one hand, cities are places of collective memories par excellence: public spaces of mise-en-scène of historical, political, social identities and knotted fabrics of places of memory (“loci of collective memory”, according to the popular definition by the architect Aldo Rossi). On the other hand, cities are also dynamic spaces in constant transformation and redefinition, in which identities and memories are always renegotiated through everyday practices and re-written by the manifold subjectivities and communities that inhabit them. If the city is (a texture of) place(s) of memory, this memory has to be deemed as processual, dynamic and in constant evolution – a palimpsest in which traces and signs of both history and memory sediment, accumulate and stratify, generating complex and diversified effects of meaning. Paraphrasing Lotman and Uspenskij, the city is also (or perhaps even mainly) a massive semiotic mechanism of relentless translation and re-constitution (re-coding) of the Past, but also of projection and appropriation of “conceivable futures”, in which the diachrony (of the different layers) becomes synchrony. This leads towards a specificity of the status of heritage within the city, and therefore of its policies of preservation and conservation. Cities are always something more than the sum of their single components, they are a living and complex organism by nature, and therefore hard to compress in a mere logic of protection/preservation of monuments. Cities, and their memories, are continually subjected to processes of transformation and re-semantisation which are at the same time spontaneous and institutionally designed. Our choice to adopt an urban perspective to frame the issue of cultural heritage is then functional to a better understanding of the active role assumed by urban heritage in political arenas, through which urban life (and that of the communities which live in the city) are shaped. Moving from the urban dimension, many issues related to the policies of “cultural heritage design” (including the conflicts connected to their definition, the plurality of interpretation, the possibility of co-existence of diverse heritages) become more evident.

The processual and political nature of urban heritage emerges clearly if one observes the semiotic practices in which it is involved. As we are writing these lines, the antiracist protests promoted by the Black Lives Matter movement after the killing of George Floyd by the American Police are questioning and disputing meanings and values attributed to some elements of urban heritage. They are also symbolically targeting and contesting statues and monuments which can be linked to an obscure colonial or racist past. From New York to Bristol, from London to Antwerp and some Italian cities as well, several monuments have been toppled down, disfigured, defiled, dilapidated. As in the recent and the older past, such assaults against an unwieldy or uncomfortable past are expressed through tactic and performative iconoclast acts that, while destroying, provides such heritage new meanings. Iconoclasm becomes a significant practice which calls for a debate about the profound values communicated by heritage, but also about the relation between such values and the “substances” through which it is expressed. An open public debate has animated traditional and social media, quickly polarizing around two contrary positions: the supporters of performances of removal and vandalization versus the advocates of urban “history” preservation. This controversy about two different conceptions of the role of monuments and their “social life” (to use Saussure’s words) – divided by opposed ideas about the necessity of a “re-signification” or a “contextualization” of the statues – has kept busy for days newspapers and social media discussions. This stirred up a querelle which has periodically re-emerged in the last decades: from the protests in the USA in favor of the removal of symbols and monuments related to the Confederate past from public spaces, to the Italian debate about what should be done with the uncomfortable heritage of Fascist monuments and architectures, passing through the discussions in Germany and Spain about the material traces and monumental remains of their Totalitarian pasts and those in Eastern European countries after the fall of Iron Curtain onward. Once again, the question could be framed rephrasing Lotman and Uspenskij’s words: urban heritage is by nature a paramount battlefield in that harsh social struggle that is cultural memory (and its semiotic processes of construction).

Nonetheless, events linked to the BLM urban movements are just a starting point of reflection for the broader range of questions that we would like to address in this special issue. We expect contributions not only by semioticians, but also memory and heritage studies scholars, historians, architects, anthropologists, sociologists and so forth. Such questions have obviously been already largely discussed and investigated, in Semiotics as well, but still more analyses are needed, in consideration not only of the recent events, but also of the semantic transformations that the very notion of heritage has undergone in the last decades. This can be seen through the succession of the various International heritage conventions that have been approved, from Athens (1934) and Venice (1964) Charts, monuments and heritage were considered mainly with regard to the preservation of their materiality and deemed as a legacy of previous generations, through the Unesco World Heritage Convention (1972), which started promoting a plural, inclusive, albeit universalistic idea of heritage. In more recent conventions, emphasis has been put on immaterial aspects (in the Convention for Intangible Heritage Protection, 2003) and participatory and communitarian features and a concept of heritage as performance and process – which expresses a pluralism of identities and cultures (in the Faro Convention, 2005). Urban heritage becomes then a benchmark for the inclusion of plural subjectivities that inhabit public space.

All these considerations open up to a variety of connected issues, not simply related to a semiotics of monuments, but that instead deal expressly with the city/heritage binomial, including the current transformation of public space in cities and, consequently, of the new languages of heritage. With no claim to completeness we mention: the necessity of rethinking heritage narratives in the era of multicultural cities; the issue of heritage status both as commons and as a means of political action; the changes of urban spaces determined by practices of “place consumption”: not only tourism, but also all those phenomena that make evident once again how cities are mainly places of social and economic inequality and of spatial manifestations of socio-economic systems (e.g. processes of gentrification and correlated emerging forms of heritage); the growing spread of ICTs, which forces us to rethink the relation between heritage, public spaces and digital environments. Lastly, all these ideas demonstrate the need to reconsider the roles and the narratives of heritage in cities which have undergone a dramatic and quick change in the meaning structures on which they were based. The most typical example is war, already studied in depth in the literature on urbicide for instance, but similar issues emerge also in other moments of (health, environmental, climatic …) emergency. A recent example of this is provided by the current situation of pandemics and the dramatic transformations that it has caused, affecting the deep (and semiotic as well) structures of cities, some of which were fundamentally grounded on specific “uses” (and forms of exploitation) of urban heritage which lockdown had halted.

Moving from these premises, the issue wants to collect articles that aim at reframing these subjects through a multiplication of points of view and a reflection on the manifold meanings of the word heritage, so the volume can cover the different main themes listed below at the end of this call. Appropriating Umberto Eco’s opinion, who thought that one of the duties of Semiotics should be to prove how certain words have apparently just one singular meaning, while actually they convey multiple significations, the main objective of this issue is to “unpack” and display in all its complexity the notion of heritage and the vast array of processes and senses which are grouped under such a term, that is, the dynamics and practices of negotiation and meaning attribution that give substance to it. As already specified, we are proposing a double point of view as reading keys: 1. Urban space, to be meant as a paradigmatic (but also polyphonic, polysemic and syncretic) space for public representation of collective identities and memories (but also of conflict with other counter-identities and counter-memories); 2. Conflict, to be meant in its broader acceptation, but mainly in the sense that heritage – considered experienced and lived space – becomes a tangled point of interchange for clashes and encounters among different axiologies and subjectivities.

What is heritage? What does cultural (architectonic, monumental, artistic, environmental, tangible and intangible) heritage do within cities? What kind of effects does it produce? How does it act in urban collective chains of enunciation? What axiologies does it hide? How is it included in urban syntaxes? What narrative roles does it assume and manifest? What languages does it speak? How does it relate, participate or clash with urban practices and processes? And also, rephrasing Nelson Goodman (in the style of semiotician Paolo Fabbri): when does a segment of city become heritage? And, on the contrary, when is it no more capable to fulfil that semiotic function? At what conditions and by whom is it considered as such? And what happens when the very definition of heritage is in crisis, is contested, refused, disputed, opposed? How can we account for the plurality of senses that are layered and sedimented in discourses, representations and practices of urban semiosphere, while their interpretative frames and translation schemes transmute? How does it codify a past and envision a future? And, finally: of what is heritage speaking? To whom?

The (non-exhaustive) list of relevant themes for this issue includes:

  1. Heritage as narrative and as performance: self-representations, contentions and mobilizations of urban heritage
  2. Practices of restoration and the politics of invention/foundation of urban heritage
  3. Counter-heritage between iconoclasm, street art and anti-monuments
  4. Discourses of heritage vs. discourses on heritage: representations, translations and exploitation of urban heritage in different discursive domains (media, art, academy, politics, law, etc.)
  5. The future of public space and new narratives of heritage
  6. Heritage and urban emergency
  7. Digital heritage and smart cities: blended spaces, online museums, augmented reality, etc. 8 Urban spaces of heritage and heritage consumption: new museums, tourism, regenerations and gentrifications, heritage & city-branding


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s