Kurt Feyaerts (KU Leuven)


From 15:15
to 16:45
From 15:15
to 16:45

Course description
Within the overall thematic perspective of cities as focus points and catalysts of global change, this course focuses on the spatial environment of the city as a dynamic resource, rather than as a static physical given, in the sense that spatial and architectural elements (squares, bridges, streets, walls, railway stations, bus stops, shop windows etc.) essentially contribute to the realization of interaction in an urban setting. At the same time, people interacting among each other create a spatial environment: “human interaction is shaped by space and space only comes into being through interaction” (Jucker et al. 2018: 87). On the background of theories such as Interactional architecture and space (Hausendorf 2013), Multimodal interaction analysis (Mondada 2009, 2019) or Linguistic/semiotic landscapes (Shohamy 2019; Jaworski & Thurlow 2010), this course investigates the complex interplay between interaction and urban architecture and space. In this mutual relation, the spatial and architectural complexity of the city appears as a social construct. We side with Jucker et al. (2018: 86), when advocating “a dynamic approach to the spatial context, an approach that focuses on the appropriation of space by the interactants. People « do space » by accommodating space to their communicative needs, by appropriating spatial affordances in specific ways that may or may not have been intended and anticipated by their creators.”
This approach embraces the view of participants as tapping into a variety of resources when processing face-to-face interaction. These resources include cognition, language, gesture, gaze, embodied movements and object manipulations. More recently, the integration of complex ecologies into the analysis of communication, including various materialities as well as spatial and architectural phenomena, has considerably expanded the vision of language in interaction beyond the realm of verbal and embodied resources (Mondada 2019; Hausendorf 2013).

In its theoretical part, the course provides an illustrated introduction into basic notions such as (architectural) semiotics, multimodal interaction, interactional space, linguistic and semiotic landscapes, street art, among others. Rather than being dissected endlessly, these concepts will be clarified as to make them applicable to the analysis of empirical cases. In the empirical part of this course, three specific types of spatially situated human interaction will be analyzed.

•The first case study concerns expressions of street art in its essence of “constructed, interactive, expressive, semiotic resources, (…) not as immobile text on static city walls but rather as part of the integrative life of the city that gives it meaning” (Pennycook 2010: 144; see also Stampoulidis 2016).

In the following case studies, the spatial environment of the interaction cannot be accommodated to people’s needs in a straightforward way, as specific rules, norms and circumstances do not allow unrestricted appropriation of spatial affordances.

•The second case study zooms in on the specific urban context of Venice as an accessible cultural monument and public piece of art. Of specific interest is the question to what extent this exceptional status, along with all the social and cultural norms that come with it, requires specific modifications or restrictions of the commonly observed process of “people accommodating space to their communicative needs and (…), appropriating spatial affordances in specific ways” (Jucker et al. 2018: 86). An incident with German tourists attempting to make coffee on the stairs of the Rialto bridge in Venice in July 2019 provides a perfect illustration of the way, in which spatial affordances may be restricted along with corresponding interactions, by culturally inspired city regulations. Through its status of a unique cultural Venetian monument, the Rialto bridge actively takes part as a locally relevant resource in the dynamic process of interactive meaning making.
Taken more broadly, along with its monuments, the city of Venice itself through its release of 12 “Good rules for the responsible visitor” (#EnjoyRespectVenezia) also actively participates in the spatialization of urban interaction. Some of these rules [emphasis original] explicitly delineate the ways, in which affordances of specific categories of public and architectural space may be appropriated in dynamic processes of interaction. Compare, for example, rule #6 Walk on the right, do not stand at any time on bridges, do not even lead bikes by hand, or #7 Steps of churches, bridges, wells, monuments and banks of streams, canals etc. are not picnic areas. Please use the public gardens for this necessity. Consult the map or #8 St. Mark's Square is a monumental site and excluding pertinent bars and restaurants, it is forbidden to stand at any time in order to consume food or drink etc. At least in their conception and their reinforcement by Venetian police, officials and citizens, each of these guidelines affects people’s embodied interaction in and with the spatial and material surrounding of the city. In this case study, we will further scrutinize both the potential and real impact of these guidelines on the spatiality of urban interaction set in Venice (undefined).

•The third case study highlights the impact of the covid-19 pandemic and its restrictive measures of social distancing on the spatial and architectural interaction in an urban setting.
Well-known examples, which can be documented for cities all over the world, are waiting and stop signs, separation lines, arrows drawn on pavements, squares etc. attempting to impose walking directions and safety distances on the interaction space. In the unfolding of protective corona-measures, spatial dimensions like width, size and quantity are thus reinterpreted as interactionally relevant materialities. Hence, the presence of two stair cases often gets reinterpreted (and marked) in terms of directionality, redefining one stair case as the ascending the other as descending one, thus imposing a new configuration onto both the interactional space and the interactions occurring in it. The analysis will focus on the specific ways, in which due to medical circumstances spatial and architectural affordances are appropriated thus redefining the interaction space.

Covid-19 modalities: course in hybrid format
Due to the covid-19 pandemic, this course takes the form of a hybrid course making it accessible to all students regardless their place of residence (on the VIU-campus or elsewhere). The course materials are all digital (powerpoint presentations, pictures, videos, reading materials, etc.), which will be made available in the e-learning platform. In line with the general VIU-guidelines, this course will be given online during the first two weeks of the semester. After that, each session of the course will be given simultaneously on the VIU-campus in Venice and streamed via Zoom. Every session will be recorded so anyone can listen to it again afterwards. With regard to assignments and empirical analyzes, the course offers equivalent alternatives for Venice-specific assignments for students who take the course online. Presentations, discussions and feedback sessions can be done either on-campus or online.

Learning outcomes
•Provide students with the awareness that both production and interpretation of language are no inherent processes, in which meaning is confined to verbal forms alone. Language is multimodal in the sense that next to verbal, also embodied and all sorts of locally determined material resources take active part in the interactive process of meaning making.
•Provide students with the awareness that especially in (cultural) cities, like Venice, processes of meaning making are largely co-determined by cultural, locational and administrative features, which may have a direct impact on the semiotic integration of materialities as aspects of meaning.
•Provide students with the awareness that any process of meaning making requires constant intersubjective negotiation with (in)direct co-participants.
•Provide students with the awareness that a global event like the corona pandemic has a major and long-lasting impact on the physically embodied, materialized and spatial situatedness of urban interaction.

Teaching methods
As far as teaching is concerned, this course will mix both theoretical and practical methods, with a clear increase of the latter towards the end of the semester. During the first weeks, students mainly prepare classes by doing preparatory reading. Students (alone or pairwise) will also be asked to prepare exercises and case studies in order to participate in class discussions. In the second half of the semester, students are required to collect empirical data for two of the three case studies (street art, Venice, covid-19). Students residing in Venice are required to include Venice in their case studies and collect data from locations in the city. Students residing elsewhere are required to collect empirical data (pictures) from a city nearby. In the final weeks, regardless their location (on campus in Venice or elsewhere online), every student gives a double presentation (one for every case study) of their findings to the seminar. Every presentation will be completed by a Q&A-session along with a discussion. With regard to the optimization of this assignment, intermediate individual feedback sessions will be organized (on campus or online).
Finally, every student hands in an empirical report (between 2500 and 3500 words), in which the major findings of the two case studies along with the focus points of the plenary discussion as well as a brief overview of the relevant theoretical and methodological issues need to be addressed.

Detailed information, guidelines and useful materials will be available during the semester in the e-learning platform.

Evaluation methods
- Attendance and participation (10%)
- Preparation of exercise materials (10%)
- Individual feedback & discussion session (10%)
- Oral presentations (30%)
- Empirical report (40%)

Hausendorf, H. (2013). On the interactive achievement of space e and its possible meanings. In: Auer, P., Hilpert, M., Stukenbrock, A., Szmrecsanyi, B. (Eds.), Space in Language and Linguistics: Geographical, Interactional, and Cognitive Perspectives. de Gruyter, Berlin/Boston, 276-303.
Jaworski, A. & Thurlow, C. Eds. (2010). Semiotic Landscapes. Language, Image, Space. London: Continuum.
Jucker, A.H., H. Hausendorf, C. Dürscheid, K. Frick, C. Hottiger, W. Kesselheim, A. Linke, N. Meyer, A. Steger. (2018). Doing space in face-to-face interaction and on interactive multimodal platforms. Journal of Pragmatics 134. 85-101.
Mondada, L. (2009). Emergent focused interactions in public places: a systematic analysis of the multimodal achievement of a common interactional space. J. of Pragmatics. 41 (10), 1977-1997.
Mondada, L. (2019). Contemporary issues in conversation analysis: Embodiment and materiality, multimodality and multisensoriality in social interaction. Journal of Pragmatics 145, 47-62.
Pennycook, A. (2010). Spatial Narrations: Graffscapes and City Souls. In: Jaworski, A. & Thurlow, C. (Eds.), 137-150.
Shohamy, E. (2019). Linguistic Landscape after a Decade: An Overview of Themes, Debates and Future Directions. In: Martin Pütz/Neele Mundt (Hgg.): Expanding the Linguistic Landscape. Bristol, S. 25-37.
Sonesson, G. (2010). Pictorial semiotics. T.A. Seboeot & M. Danesi (eds.), Encyclopedic dictionary of semiotics (third revised and updated edition). Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter.
Sonesson, G. (2013). New Rules for the Spaces of Urbanity. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 27(1). 7-26.
Stampoulidis, G. (2016). Rethinking Athens as Text: The Linguistic Context of Athenian Graffiti during the Crisis. Journal of Language Works. 1-14.


Isola di San Servolo
30133 Venice,

phone: +39 041 2719511
fax:+39 041 2719510

VAT: 02928970272