For a semiotic multisensorial analysis of urban space. The case of Ballaro and Vucciria markets in Palermo

Emiliano Battistini & Marco Mondino

Punctum, 3(1): 12-26, 2017
DOI: 10.18680/hss.2017.0003


One of the most interesting fields in which to study the interaction between senses is that of the urban space experience. If the semiotic approach questioned especially the meaning configurations deriving from the visual organisation of space and from the relationship between designed space and lived space (Hammad 2003, 2013; Marrone, Pezzini 2006 and 2008) other approaches suggested concepts like ‘soundscape’ (Schafer 1977) or ‘smellscape’ (McLean 2014). These concepts introduced new interpretative keys which allowed the study of landscape through sensorial channels other than sight. However, they once again anchored this study to only one sense, detached from the others. What we propose, by contrast, is to read landscape in its synesthetic and multisensorial complexity, by demonstrating the effectivity of an integrated approach (Ingold 2007), which takes account both of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste too (Le Breton 2006). Assuming space as a text, i.e. as a universe of meaning delimited by specific pertinences and supported by a system of semantic oppositions, the article’s aim is to analyse two historic districts of the city of Palermo, Ballarò and Vucciria (market places during the daytime and meeting and socializing spot in the evening), starting from the uses and sensorial perceptions of these places. The semiotic analysis is employed to highlight the structures of meaning resulting from the interaction between the different sensorial channels, and thus contributing to a holistic and integrated perception of urban landscape. The objective is to demonstrate how the different sensorial channels can either combine or collide, providing a complex and multisensorial reading of urban spaces.

KEYWORDS: semiotics, multisensorial analysis, urban space, Palermo
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