Street-Naming Cultures in Africa and Israel: A reassertion of materiality and ordinary practices in toponymic scholarship

Liora Bigon & Michel Ben Arrous, 2021, Street-Naming Cultures in Africa and Israel: Power Strategies and Place-Making Practices, New York: Routledge, 236 p.

This newly released book expands on issues long neglected by street-name studies, such as the reception of street names in everyday life, people’s use or non-use of official toponyms, multiple and unofficial toponymies, and the meaning-making practices of the everyday. The book is grounded on the recognition that place naming is both a universal trait and a cultural fact. All human societies name places, but the principles and social means they mobilize in this regard vary across time and space. Fundamentally, every place-naming system presupposes conceptions of what a place is, what elements should be named in the space of societies, by whom, for what, according to which sets of norms, customs or beliefs. These meta-conceptions are at the core of what the authors call toponymic cultures, offering comparative glimpses between the toponymic experiences of some 30 African and Israeli cities, large and small, and a French one (Bordeaux).

The book incorporates a rich variety of visual evidence from these cities. It draws attention to the often-overlooked materiality of signage. It shows that the materials used for street signs, their state of wear or maintenance and their rewriting with makeshift means matter. Also the uneven display of the languages in which official or alternatives names are posted provide valuable insights into the complex interplay of naming policies and politics, government bureaucracies, mundane practices and attitudes to history and the production of urban space.

The first two chapters of the book, respectively its theoretical introduction and the presentation of an international photo exhibition on street signs organized by the authors in Israel, are available in Open Access through this link: https://www.routledge.com/Street-Naming-Cultures-in-Africa-and-Israel-Power-Strategies-and-Place-Making/Bigon-Arrous/p/book/9781032003474


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