Gendering Urban Namescapes: The Gender Politics of Street Names in a Central-Eastern European Secondary City


Author: Mihai Stelian Rusu (Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania)
Speakers: Mihai Stelian Rusu
Topic: Linguistic Landscape
COMELA 2021 General Session


Abstract

Street names constitute prime examples of how language is deployed unto space for the construction of collective identities and the legitimization of power structures. In their dual nature – as linguistic and spatial practices – street names reveal important aspect regarding the politics of identity, collective memory, and the structures of authority to which these serve. Despite the emergence of the thriving interdisciplinary field of critical toponymies at the conjunction between language, place, identity, and power, the gender relations of power embedded within the urban landscape and materialized in the street nomenclature remain an underexplored topic in place-name studies. This paper situates gendered spaces in terms of street names within the broader field of identity politics played out in the public space. Drawing on scholarship from “critical toponymies,” this paper examines the gender patterning of urban nomenclature from a longitudinal perspective in a secondary city located in Central and Eastern Europe (Sibiu, formerly Hermannstadt, Romania). For this purpose, a comprehensive dataset was constructed comprising the entire street nomenclature of the city in eight successive historical periods, from 1845 to 2018 (N = 2,820). The statistical analyses performed on this dataset highlight the masculine default as a structuring principle underpinning Sibiu’s urban namescape across the two centuries under consideration. The paper concludes by showing that, contrary to the overall democratization of the Romanian post-socialist society, Sibiu’s streetscape continues to tell a patriarchal story of a prevailing and uncontested hegemonic masculinity.

Keywords: place-names, politics of memory, urban nomenclature, urban studies, linguistic landscapes