93215 - Semiotics of Urban Spaces (1) (LM)

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Reduced inequalities Sustainable cities

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

The course aims at analysing urban spaces through the use of semiotic tools, with special regard to urban forms, urban practices, representations.

Course contents

Main topics of the course:

  • Urban semiotics: development of the discipline, approaches and methods.
  • The form of the city: evolution, permanence, transformations.
  • Cities between text and practice: semiotic tools for analysis of (urban and non-urban) space. Lived/represented/designed city: the city as text versus the city as subject/object of discourses.
  • Interdisciplinary dialogues: urban ethnography, cultural geography, urban studies.
  • City, memory, identity: (urban) places of memory and cultural heritage.
  • City and conflict: spaces of power and spaces of protest - places and dynamics of urban conflicts (peripheries and balieue) - city and war.
  • The multicultural city: spaces of inclusion/exclusion - immigration and urban conflict.
  • Digital city: Smart Cities and impact of ICT in urban practices.
  • City between commons and places for consumption: public/private dynamics - urban creativity (street art and grassroots cultural production) - commercial and cultural turism and strategies of city branding.


First week: Introduction to urban semiotics. Sources and "pioneers" of urban semiotics. Kevin Lynch's method for the analysis of the city. Insights on urban semiotics in the writings of Roland Barthes and Umberto Eco.

Second week: Authors who have influenced the evolution of urban semiotics: Benveniste, Lotman, Lévi-Strauss, Deleuze/Guattari, Foucault etc. From the topological semiotics of Greimas, towards a "second generation" urban semiotics: the development of narrative models for space analysis.

Third week: Urban spaces and "spatial acting" (Marrone): from the city as a text to the urban practices. Models, analyses and theoretical insights.

Fourth and Fifth week: Analyses and thematic focuses. DUring these weeks, we will present and discuss in class analyses on specific themes (city and heritage, city and emergency, city and conflict, etc.). If possible, in a couple of occasions, external experts and researchers will be invited to intervene during these two weeks for seminar activities (to be scheduled).

Collective discussion during lesson is encouraged and part of the lessons will be allocated to pose questions, introduce topics and discuss the themes of the lesson.


Mandatory readings (for all the students):

  • Pezzini, Isabella; Finocchi, Riccardo (2019) Dallo spazio alla città. Letture e fondamenti di semiotica urbana. Roma: Meltemi (the chapters will be indicated in this page)
  • Marrone, Gianfranco (2013)Figure di città. Spazi urbani e discorsi sociali, Milano, Mimesis (first part, from pag. 7 to pag. 59).
  • Mazzucchelli, Francesco (2010) Urbicidio. Il senso dei luoghi tra distruzioni e ricostruzioni in ex Jugoslavia, Bologna, BUP (CAP. 1 e 3)
  • Lynch, Kevin (1960) L'immagine della città, Venezia, Marsilio

Optional readings (non attending students must choose TWO titles for the exam, one for each of the two following lists):

List 1:

  • Mazzucchelli, Francesco (2010) Urbicidio. Il senso dei luoghi tra distruzioni e ricostruzioni in ex Jugoslavia, Bologna, BUP.
  • Marrone, Gianfranco (a cura di) (2019) Palermo: ipotesi di semiotica urbana, Roma, Carocci.
  • Pezzini, Isabella (a cura di) (2016) Roma in divenire tra identità e conflitti, Roma, Edizioni Nuova Cultura.

List 2:

  • Augé, Marc (2007) Tra i confini. Città, luoghi, interazioni, Milano, Bruno Mondadori.

  • La Cecla, Franco (1993) Mente Locale: Per un'antropologia dell'abitare, Eleuthera.

  • Castells, Manuel (2004) La città delle reti, tr. it. Venezia, Marsilio.

  • Melis, Alessandro (2020) Zombie City. Strategie urbane di sopravvivenza agli zombie e alla crisi climatica, Roma. D Editore

Recommended readings (non-compulsory):

  • Careri, Franco (2006) Walkscapes. Camminare come pratica estetica, Torino: Einaudi.
  • Davis, Mike (2004) Città morte. Storie di inferno metropolitano, tr. it. Milano, Feltrinelli.
  • Hannerz, Ulf (1980) Esplorare la città. Antropologia della vita urbana, tr. it Bologna, Il Mulino.
  • Harvey, David (2012) Città ribelli. I movimenti urbani dalla Comune di Parigi a Occupy Wall Street, tr. it, Milano, Il saggiatore.
  • Jacobs, Jane (1961) Vita e morte delle grandi città, tr. it. Torino, Einaudi.
  • Lefebvre, Henri (1968) Il diritto alla città, Roma: Ombre corte, tr. it.
  • Ratti, Carlo (2017) La città di domani. Come le reti stanno cambiando il futuro urbano, Torino, Einaudi.
  • Rykwert, Joseph (2000) La seduzione del luogo. Storia e futuro della città, tr. it. Torino: Einaudi.
  • Sassen, Saskia (2010) Le città nell'economia globale, tr. it. Bologna, Il Mulino.
  • Sennett, Richard (2018) Costruire e abitare. Etica per la città, tr. it. Milano, Feltrinelli.
  • Simmel, George (1903) La metropoli e la vita dello spirito, Roma: Armando.

Recommended readings for students who need an introduction to semiotic method of analysis:

  • Pozzato, Maria Pia (2013) Capire la semiotica, Roma, Carocci.
  • Giannitrapani, Alice (2013) Introduzione alla semiotica dello spazio, Roma, Carocci

Other texts will be suggested by the teacher along the course.

Teaching methods

Frontal lessons with presentations and other materials that will be made available to students through IOL.

Collective discussions, analysis and tests.

Students are expected to participate actively to class discussions and attendance is highly recommended. 

Assessment methods

Two alternative options for the final examination:

- term paper (only for attending students) on a topic agreed by the teacher (length: between 25.000 and 40.000 characters space included). To be handed to the teacher at least 15 days before the date of the examination;

- oral exam (questions on ALL mandatory readings plus TWO titles from the list of optional readings)

Attending students can choose one of the two alternative options. Multi-authored term-papers by attending students will be allowed (after prior approval by the teacher). In this case, the length of the paper will be remodulated depending on the number of authors (it will be requested to indicate the authorship of the different paragraph of the paper).

Mid-term tests and other class exercises will be scheduled during the course for attending students.

Teaching tools

Multimedial equipment of the class

Microsoft Teams and other digital software for online lessons

Office hours

See the website of Francesco Mazzucchelli