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The production of toponymy in contexts: interpreting the maps of critical toponymies and neotoponymies

Presented at5th Trends in Toponymy Conference, Bern (Switzerland), 9-13 July
Publication date2012
Abstract

The rapid development and incredible variety of contemporary placename studies has given birth to a very complex landscape, featuring both theoretical propositions (e.g. critical toponymies) and a vast array of case studies, ranging from the San of Namibia, Singapore or the very heart of Manhattan. In turn, this landscape needs to be deciphered and maybe somewhat structured with a more general interpretative framework that will highlight the importance of context in the production of both knowledge and new placenames. We will try to contribute to this objective in two ways. Firstly, by mapping existing placename literature, assessing what are the places most talked about, and where the studies stem from. It will allow us to highlight the predominance of countries in a “post-” situation (post-apartheid, post-colonial, post-socialist, post-conflict...) in placenames studies, as well as of settler societies. Also, the geography of knowledge production in placename studies reveals both the usual dominance of Northern universities and the importance of specific locations, where the production of toponymic analysis is linked to national issues. Context thus appears as a significant element in the production of toponymic knowledge. Secondly, we will suggest that renaming practices (neotoponymy), as varied as they are throughout the world, present commonalities. These practices can be broken into three elements: contexts, actors and processes, and objectives. These elements do not have the same potential for generalization, but both the contexts and the objectives of renaming point to more general trends that can help theorize the renaming process. We will argue that three types of political contexts are especially conducive to neotoponymic production: those of revolution, conquest and boosterism. In turn, renaming practices aim at four main objectives: cleansing, restoring, founding, and branding. While the link between a type of context and the objectives of renaming is not straightforward, less alone deterministic, preferential sequences can be identified (e.g. toponymic cleansing and place founding in a context of revolution). By contrast, actors and concrete processes are more rooted in local conditions and their inherent situatedness make them more specific, and thus less easy to generalize. We will illustrate this framework with South African examples.

Keywords
  • Toponymy
  • Geopolitics
  • Neotoponymy
  • Place naming
  • South Africa
Citation (ISO format)
GIRAUT, Frédéric, HOUSSAY-HOLZSCHUCH, Myriam, GUYOT, Sylvain. The production of toponymy in contexts: interpreting the maps of critical toponymies and neotoponymies. In: 5th Trends in Toponymy Conference. Bern (Switzerland). 2012.
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