Sociosemiotic approach to an interpretation of rural space: A case study in Madara Island, Western Japan

Satoshi Imazato

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The purpose of this paper is to elucidate the relationship between the meanings of rural spaces and the social context of rural settlements with the intention of developing a dynamic semiotics, and to investigate whether sociosemiotics as a theory of society and meaning could be a useful method in geography. There have been many previous semiotic studies on rural space. However, most of these studies focused on syntax or semantics, and their weak points were static analysis, disregarding the diversity of social subjects and social processes. However, pragmatic studies, which consider these social contexts, have been attempted by only a few scholars. On the other hand, sosiosemiotics, a pragmatic theory of cultural objects and settlement space, has been believed useful mainly for the analysis of cities and regions. However, the theoretical premises of sociosemiotics were not always based on detailed empirical studies. With the intention of improving these situations, the author undertook a pragmatic study of rural space, and shows the validity of the sosiosemiotic theory in empirical studies based on this case study. In this paper, rural spaces are considered to be signs. The signifiers are material objects in the spaces, and the signifieds are ideologies and images on the spaces. The texts are the discourses of rural people and travellers through the rural spaces. The historical social process of the rural community is taken as the context. As the site for the case study, the author selected the remote Madara Island in Saga Prefecture, western Japan. On this island, Catholics and non-Catholics form separate settlements. The non-Catholics follow Shintoism, Buddhism, and folk beliefs. Their village is called Honmura (the native settlement), and it is located along an inlet in the southeastern part of the island. The Catholics migrated to the island at the end of the Edo era and formed scattered settlements on the tableland in the eastern part of the island. Their village is called Shinmura (the new settlement). The major occupation in these two villages was formerly farming and fishing, and at present is fishing only.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)310-334
Number of pages25
JournalGeographical Review of Japan, Series A
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 1999
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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