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Semiotic Approaches for the Study of the Urban Environment of the Late Bronze Age Settlement of Akrotiri on Thera

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Semiotic Approaches for the Study of the Urban Environment of the Late Bronze Age Settlement of Akrotiri on Thera
  14Semiotic Approaches for the Study of the Urban Environment of the LateBronze Age Settlement of Akrotiri onThera Konstantinos Athanasiou INTRODUCTION The aim   o this chapter is to study and analyze the urban spaces o theprehistoric settlement o Akrotiri on the Aegean island o Thera during theLate Bronze Age in order to come a step closer to understanding its socialand political structure.Beore proceeding with the analysis, it would be useul to clariy somekey concepts that are used throughout this chapter. The rst concept is thato ‘space’. According to Pellegrino (2006: 89), “‘space’ is the eld where thephenomena are being articulated. Through this articulation, space takes itsorm and its meaning”.In this study, two kinds o phenomena are being explored: social andpolitical. The articulation o space with social phenomena will produce the social space, whereas the articulation o space with political phenomena willproduce the  political space. Regarding the ormer, it is dicult or someoneto conceive space without its social content and conversely, a society to beconceived without the spatial element. According to Leebvre (1974), spaceand time are inextricably interrelated. The relationship between space andsociety must be understood as an interactive process in which people pro-duce and transorm spaces, while at the same time they are infuenced bythese spaces in various ways. The political space can be dened as the spacethat is produced and ormed through competitive activities. The politicalspace is directly connected to a dominant group o people. This group o people create built environments that serve to produce and reproduce theirsociopolitical positions and in doing so they project and represent their val-ues symbolically in space. Through this representation o hegemonic values,space contains and keeps the social relationships in a state o cohesion andcoexistence (Crang 2009; Leebvre 1974; Pellegrino 2006).The understanding o the basic principles on which a settlement isarticulated provides researchers with valuable spatial, architectural, politi-cal, anthropological, and sociological connotations. As an architect, I amapproaching the prehistoric built space with theoretical and methodologicaltools that are mainly used or the study o the modern built environment.This approach presents a dierent perspective rom the archaeological one 6244-145-014.indd 2466/15/2013 8:00:53 PM  Semiotic Approaches or the Study o the Urban Environment  247and possibly oers interesting observations to the researcher o the prehis-toric urban environment. In my quest or the appropriate research tools, avariety o social semiotic techniques are being used in order to investigatethe role o urban space and architecture in relation with the sociopoliticalenvironment during the Late Bronze Age Akrotiri on Thera.The main reason or the selection o the social semiotic vehicle or thestudy o the urban environment o Akrotiri lies in the structural ability o this semiotic method to correlate orm with substance. This means that theresearch object can be analyzed at multiple levels. Thereore, the remainso a settlement automatically obtain meanings that extend beyond themateriality o architecture. The ‘lieless ruins’ become the carrier o a serieso cultural, sociopolitical, and anthropological connotations that can bestudied and, possibly, interpreted. In addition, the application o a socialsemiotic theory, and especially the application o the Systemic FunctionalTheory—the semiotic toolset that will be presented in this chapter—contributes to the main objective o this volume: the investigation o prehis-toric space and time not as two dierent dimensions o the same researchobject, but as interrelated aspects that are inextricably tied. When theseaspects are examined together, a whole new series o connotations is revealedthat otherwise would remain hidden. THE SEMIOTIC TOOLSET: SYSTEMIC FUNCTIONAL THEORY The semiotic pillar o this research and the toolset that is applied at theprehistoric settlement in question or the deduction o spatial, social, politi-cal, and anthropological connotations is Systemic Functional Theory (SFT).SFT constitutes the methodological ramework o this study, and a series o semiotic tools are being unolded under its rules and requirements. All thesetools comprise dierent semiotic approaches that are oriented toward thebasic premises o SFT. SFT is based on the seminal work o the linguisticand social semiotician Michael Halliday. His theory was met with greatsuccess and renown in the scientic community. As a consequence, its basicprinciples were diused in many dierent arts, sciences, and crats, such asmusic, journalism, and image analysis (Stenglin 2004).SFT was rst introduced and applied to three-dimensional spaces byMaree Kristen Stenglin in her work, entitled Packaging Curiosities: Towardsa Grammar o Three-Dimensional Space (2004). Halliday’s theory isinspired by the semiotic theory o Hjelmslev. Its main premise is that a semi-otic methodology has to be open to other methodologies with or withoutsemiotic background (Halliday 1986; also, Stenglin 2004). Stenglin (2004;2009) exploits this by incorporating in her methodology both semiotic andnonsemiotic theories or analyzing the built environment. The combinationo SFT with structural and post-structural tools (e.g., Hillier’s Space Syntaxand Michael Foucault’s concept o Heterotopias) has also been applied tothe study o the urban network o Akrotiri (Athanasiou 2011). 6244-145-014.indd 2476/15/2013 8:00:53 PM  248 Konstantinos Athanasiou The specic semiotic methodologies that have been incorporated in thepresent study o the urban space o Akrotiri will be urther discussed later.Specically, the semiotic methodology o Kristen Stenglin, which is basedmainly on Halliday’s SFT, will be presented in more detail. The semioticapproaches o Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen (Kress and van Leeuwen1996) will work supplementarily to create a solid social multisemiotic meth-odological ramework, which can provide the researcher with a powerulinterpretation tool or the study o the urban environment.SFT provides a grammar or space by using three communicative unc-tions: (a) the ideational unction o space; ( b) the interpersonal unction o space; and (c) the textual unction o space. Each one o these unctions con-sists o several semiotic tools oriented to the analysis and interpretation o the built environment. Here, a selection o these tools will be presented thatocuses on the interrelation o the concepts o built space and time. Moreinormation about the application o SFT can be ound in Stenglin (2009),as well as in Athanasiou (2011). THE IDEATIONAL FUNCTION OF SPACE The ideational unction deals with ways o construing representations o human experience and has two aspects: one is concerned with the eld,   andmainly   with the identication and classication o spaces, whereas the otheris concerned with two types o structures—serial and orbital. Field According to Stenglin (2009: 38), “eld can be dened as a set o activitysequences oriented to some global institutional purpose”. When the notiono eld is applied to the built environment, it means that this environmentcan be analyzed as a range o activities and processes. The notion o ‘eld’is very close to the creation o a unctional categorization that studies spacediachronically. In addition to the diachronic identication o the activitiesthat take place in space, ‘eld’ is concerned with identiying the objectsinvolved in these activities. Serial and Orbital Structures Serial and orbital structures are important or the patterning o ideationalmeanings o space. They can be used to organize and describe not onlysingle spaces and buildings, but also spatial patterns that can be part o an urban environment. As ar as serial structures are concerned, it shouldbe noted that meaning is accumulated sequentially as the visitor moves.Serial structures tend to be dynamic and linear where the element o timeis always present. The more spaces a person crosses through a period o  6244-145-014.indd 2486/15/2013 8:00:53 PM  Semiotic Approaches or the Study o the Urban Environment  249time, the more stimuli this person receives rom the built environment. Theother tool or analyzing ideational meanings in three-dimensional space isorbital structure. Stenglin (2009: 41) notes that this “semiotic tool construesa space or a series o interconnected spaces as having a core. With orbitalstructure, a space, or a series o interconnected spaces, are organized arounda nucleus and satellite conguration”. THE INTERPERSONAL FUNCTION OF SPACE Stenglin argues that the term ‘interpersonal’ indicates that the meanings con-structed through the organization o space extend beyond the materiality o architecture. The spaces people occupy in their everyday lives provide thesetting or all their activities and aect their ways o behavior and inter-action with other people. They are also designed to evoke eelings . Somespaces make a person eel comortable, protected,   and secure   whereas otherspaces evoke a range o negative eelings. For example, the organization o some spaces could make someone eel dominated; others can make someoneeel stifed,   whereas others can make a person eel vulnerable   and exposed.Interpersonally, the grammar o three-dimensional space is concerned withBinding and Bonding. Binding regards the relationship between space andemotion, whereas Bonding explores the patterns o interaction between theoccupants o a space (Stenglin 2009). Binding organizes the interpersonal rela-tionships constructed between a space and its users into two main categories:security and insecurity. In particular, whether we eel secure or insecure insidea space appears to be strongly dependent on how rmly that space closes in onor opens up around us. Bonding is concerned with the disposition o visitorsin relation to spaces, and its basic unction is to align people into groups withshared dispositions. There are at least three tools that materialize bondingin the third dimension: bonding icons, hybridization, and classication andraming, developed by the sociologist Bernstein (Stenglin 2004; 2009). The Interpersonal Function: Binding Choices for Insecurity There are two Binding choices or constructing a relationship o insecurity   between a space and its users. The rst set o choices establishes a smoth-ering   relationship by making the person eel too restricted   in a space. Thesecond set o choices constructs a relationship o insecurity by making userseel vulnerable   and exposed. The Interpersonal Function: Binding Choices for Security There are two   sets o choices or constructing a relationship o secu-rity   between a building and its users. The rst set o choices establishes a   relationship o security by designing spaces in which users eel Bound. In 6244-145-014.indd 2496/15/2013 8:00:53 PM  250 Konstantinos Athanasiou the bound  spaces, the user eels   comortable, sae, and protected. This isaccomplished by clearly delineating boundaries around the bound space.The second set o choices establishes a   relationship o security by makingthe user eel Unbound or ree. For reasons o space only the unbound spaceaspect will be presented here. Although the exploration o the urban spaceso Akrotiri in terms o bound space can oer interesting observations, theapplication o the unbound space tool has the merit that it incorporates theaspect o time, which is crucial to the understanding o the relation betweenthe built environment and the way in which the people at Akrotiri wouldexperience space around them while moving within it.Stenglin (ibid.) states that by loosening the enclosures that restrict a space,an unbound enclosure constructs a ree relationship with its occupant. Theeeling o reedom can be the result o various and dierent actors. It isdependent on sociopolitical, cultural, psychological, and other parameters.However, regardless o the above parameters, i reedom is tightly relatedwith someone’s ability to act, then the unbound spaces can be correlatedwith the number o a person’s choices. The more choices someone has, themore intense the eeling o reedom is. Characteristic spaces with these qual-ities in the urban abric o a town are crossroads and squares. The Interpersonal Function: Bonding—Bonding Icons Two types o icons are important: icons with a rallying unction and iconswith a privileging unction. The rst type includes fags, logos, colors, andmemorabilia, whereas the latter type includes reerences to other people,places, and ideals. The Interpersonal Function: Bonding—Hybridization Bonding can be realized by the hybridization o space. A space can be char-acterized as hybrid on two occasions. The rst is when hybridization simplymeans that one space is designed to serve many unctions. The second is whena particular space through some events or changes that happened inside thatspace contributes to the ‘recontextualization’ o the values o a group o peo-ple. So, or example, a square where a revolution took place may carry newand dierent connotations about the square to a group o people rom thattime onward. Thus, it becomes a carrier o these new values and symboliza-tions and leads to the unication o the people into a new communality. The Interpersonal Function: Bonding—Classification and Framing Given that bonding is associated with aligning and realigning people intogroups with shared dispositions, it is important to develop theoretical toolsor analyzing how people interact with one another   within space. To gainsuch insights, Bernstein’s work on classication and raming helps us explainpatterns o social interaction. 6244-145-014.indd 2506/15/2013 8:00:53 PM
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