Legal Controversies About the Establishment of New Places of Worship in Multicultural Cities: A Semiogeographic Analysis

  • Massimo Leone


“Semiotic landscapes” are patterns of perceptible elements that individuals come across in public space. “Semiotic scenes” are patterns of perceptible elements that individuals come across in private space. Whereas semiotic scenes are mostly controlled by individual agencies, and are therefore relatively stable and transparent, semiotic landscapes are mostly controlled by collective agencies, and are therefore relatively unstable and opaque. Large migratory phenomena usually modify the semiotic landscapes of contemporary cities. New somatic features, new kinds of cloths, new gestures, postures, and movements, new feelings of distance and proximity, new music, new food, new sounds and smells, new buildings, new ways of experiencing the body in space and time, new conceptions of private and public, individuality and collectiveness become increasingly conspicuous. Individuals and groups may react to these changes by either semiotic engagement (modifying their semiotic habits) or by semiotic disengagement (contrasting changes so that semiotic habits are not modified). The point of equilibrium that a certain society reaches between semiotic engagement and semiotic disengagement manifests itself also in legal sources. Legal controversies about the establishment of new mosques in Australia are analysed in order to investigate the nature of this point of equilibrium in present-day Australian society. The semio-cultural analysis of one of these controversies shows the existence of a gap between the way in which multiculturalism is conceived by the political, legal, administrative, and bureaucratic discourse at the federal and state level, and how it is embodied in local reactions toward difference. Suggestions are made about policies that might help filling such gap. The semiotic engagement of the Australian society is compared with that of the Italian one. The semio-cultural analysis of a recent project of law concerning the establishment of new mosques in Italy shows that the leading socio-political framework in Italy is still relatively monocultural. A vicious circle between the religious majority and its mediatic and political referents brings about discriminatory attitudes toward religious minorities. These attitudes might be contrasted if Italy adopted policies that have already proved successful in societies, like the Australian one, which have already developed a long experience in managing cultural and religious difference.


City Council Muslim Community Legal Discourse Religious Minority Italian City 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



This paper was written thanks to the support of an Endeavour Research Award Fellowship by the Australian Government.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of TorinoTurinItaly
  2. 2.Monash UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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