The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 37, Issue 1/2, 2021

40th Anniversary Issue

Geoffrey Ross Owens
Pages 71-98

Semiotics and the Suburbs
A Phenomenological Analysis of Urban Frontier Settlements

The term “Suburb” conjures up a range of images—from the African shanty towns to the affluent exurbs of major cities across Europe and North America. In nearly all cases, the emergence of suburbs is predicated upon the growth and diversity of cities, thus suggesting there is an evolutionary corollary to the evolution of complex societies. This article has two aims: first, to explore Peirce’s phenomenological tripartite evolutionary scheme as a way in which to rein in the disparate portrayals of suburban growth that have been documented throughout the world, and second, to empirically demonstrate its utility for understanding large-scale societal transformation that has given rise to suburban agglomerations and resulted in many convergent evolutionary changes over the past century.