Shonna Trinch and Ed Snajdr moved to Brooklyn in the early 2000s, just as the borough was beginning to witness a nascent sea change in its cultural position in New York City and in the world. As newcomers, they experienced their environment with a heightened sensitivity, and as anthropologists, they almost immediately began documenting and note-taking. What they paid particular attention to were storefront signs. Their new book, What the Signs Say: Language, Gentrification, and Place-Making in Brooklyn (Vanderbilt University Press), is the result of a decade of ethnographic research that deconstructs the public language of storefronts and the wide-ranging but often nuanced effects of these signs on a community’s inhabitants as well as on visitors, developers, and potential residents. While signage may seem like mere words to some, Trinch and Snajdr show how significantly interconnected signs are with so many urban issues – real estate, gentrification, race, and class. They address “old school” vs. “new school” signage, use of standard vs. non-standard language forms, the idea of “capitalism without distinction” and its relation to a democratic system, Brooklyn mothers and their impact on and power in a given neighborhood, and much more.
Shonna Trinch is a sociolinguist and faculty member in the Department of Anthropology at John Jay College, and Edward Snajdr is a cultural anthropologist and faculty member in the Department of Anthropology at John Jay College.
Make sure to listen to the entire episode so you don’t miss the celebration of CUNY scholars – both students and faculty – and our #FundCUNY message. And if urban sociology is up your alley, you might also be interested in Episode 1 with Richard Ocejo and Episode 41 with Sharon Zukin.
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