Riding and reading the Shanghai metro: signs, subjectivities and subversions on and around line # 8

Alexander Gray Cockain

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


This article explores the diverse semiotic landscapes which may be experienced as a consequence of apparently mundane rides taken upon the Shanghai metro. I first present, and then untangle, the ideological discourses that form, clash and, at times, collapse during these journeys. In order to elaborate upon the composition of these signs, they are viewed from multiple perspectives, although significant reference is made to Roland Barthes’ punctum/studium dialectic. These signs are not only read as manifestations of robust ideology but also as indeterminate, and fragile. This article is also concerned with pragmatics on the Shanghai metro, or the relationships between people and signs, and illustrates how passengers perform within this semiotically charged environment in ways which, sometimes, undo, or subvert, urban rationality. Although this article specifically focuses upon the Shanghai metro, and one particular route in its parliament of lines, it is intended these observations not only inform but also are informed by accounts of social spaces beyond these limits.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)533-554
Number of pages22
JournalSocial Semiotics
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 8 Aug 2018


  • discourse
  • ideology
  • metro
  • punctum
  • Shanghai
  • signs
  • studium

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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