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The Performativity of Writing in a Public Space: An Ethnography of Paris Subway Signage - LRDG Seminar

Date: 28 April 2009 Time: 1.00- 3.00pm

Jérôme Denis and David Pontille

This presentation will address general questions about public writing and action in urban places. The case of subway signage is particularly relevant to examine the ways signs equip the environment and to emphasize a particular undocumented aspect: the ways graphical devices are endowed to organize order in a public space. First, we will assume that signage performs a 'graphical accountability' that frames riders' actions. To support this assumption, we will show that signage is made of 'scripts' that inscribe users attitudes within writing artefacts. But signage components are more or less fragile: signs get dirty, worn, they can be damaged or stolen, etc. Second, we will show how their presence requires different tasks of repair and maintenance. Largely invisible, these activities are crucial to the construction of graphical environments. By studying them, we can investigate the relation between visuality and materiality in a new manner, and address theoretical issues about the performativity of writing.

Jérôme Denis is a sociologist in TELECOM ParisTech, France. His researches focus on writing practices and the role of graphical artifacts within different social worlds. He notably studied the various forms of enactment of rules within work places, the conditions of production of performative writings, and the uses of information and communication technologies at work.

David Pontille is a sociologist, researcher at the CNRS/EHESS, France. His researches focus on the relationship between writing, action and cognition in different workplaces: scientific laboratories, bailiff offices, biomedical databases, and subway systems. He is particularly interested in the different configurations of settings devoted to the conception, production and maintenance of writings.

Since 2006, both authors have been working together on graphical ecologies within urban spaces. They also have a photo-blog with their colleague Philippe Artières :

This talk is part of the Alliance Franco-British Research Partnership Programme.

Event website:


Who can attend: Anyone


Further information

Organising departments and research centres: Educational Research, Lancaster Literacy Research Centre, Linguistics and English Language

Keywords: Literacies, Literacy


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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YD
United Kingdom

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