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Placing Subway Signs: Practical Properties of Signs at Work

Abstract : This article complements previous studies stressing the importance of the emplacement of signs in public spaces by focusing on the placement process itself. The authorsʼ ethnographic study of the Paris subway shows that the way-finding system operates in a process of graphical ordering within which the standardized shape, content and emplacement of each sign are crucial. However, the placement work does not simply consist of following instructions. The authors show that, in order to find the proper place for boards, stickers and posters, workers have to explore the environment and reconcile the sign placement policy with the ecology of the local sites. In doing so, workers do not just discover an emplacement designated for a particular sign but enact an available place, mobilizing numerous embodied practices. During this process, signs themselves are not treated as stabilized entities; they oscillate between what the authors term ʻpractical propertiesʼ that arise from the combination of objects, bodies and environment.
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Contributor : Jérôme Denis <>
Submitted on : Monday, January 3, 2011 - 9:57:31 AM
Last modification on : Friday, July 31, 2020 - 10:44:06 AM
Long-term archiving on: : Monday, November 5, 2012 - 3:10:51 PM


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  • HAL Id : halshs-00551242, version 1



Jérôme Denis, David Pontille. Placing Subway Signs: Practical Properties of Signs at Work. Visual Communication, SAGE Publications, 2010, 9 (4), pp.441-462. ⟨halshs-00551242⟩



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