Changing cities, changing neighborhoods, changing people
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Shifts in the physical geography of urban areas in the United States and elsewhere occur in tandem with changes in the sociocultural landscape of cities. The reviving of urban America has not only transformed streetscapes of numerous inner city areas but has also resulted in a redefinition of what it means to be an urban resident. This dissertation investigates the role of discourse in urban change, particularly concerning the emergence of new models of personhood in the wake of revitalization, in a mid-size US city. I build upon the theoretical and empirical traditions of linguistic anthropology, critical discourse analysis, and corpus semantics to analyze how discursive-semiotic activity contributes to the creation and propagation of a particular type of persona, the engaged, "neoliberal" citizen. I base my claims on empirical grounds as I couple micro-level analyses of language use as evidenced in interviews with analyses of larger discourse patterns as established by the computerized analysis of relevant text corpora. Using the concept of interdiscursivity, the interview analysis focuses on the discursive resources participants employ to produce convergent metasemiotic descriptions of desirable and undesirable elements in revitalized neighborhoods. The corpus analysis is based on two special corpora of texts on urban revitalization and centers on the semantic patterns of the word resident. Viewing discourse as process rather than product, I show that both kinds of analyses shed light on how the emblems of the urban resident and of the urban threat as metasemiotic constructs are articulated, passed on and enacted through networks of speech events. Further, I argue that such while metasemiotic formulations are fundamental as models of personhood for an engaged urban citizenry, they can also lead to social hierarchies and an exclusionary urban space.