30 Oct

Geographical Review Preview: Book Review of the “Politics of Place Naming””

Place names are political. Different political factors, ranging from conflicts between political parties and gender-based inequalities to class differences and ideological divisons, deeply affect place names and place-naming processes at local, national, regional, and global scales. Under the influence of developments (frequently characterized by adjectives such as “spatial,” “critical,” and “linguistic”) in the social sciences and humanities in general, and in the field of geography in particular, the political dimension of place names started to attract the attention of the academic community in the 1980s. Since then, the number of studies on toponymic politics increased progressively. These studies later would be called “critical toponymy” to distinguish them from the traditional toponymy studies, which treated toponymies as linguistic, cultural, and historical signifiers rather than a part of political processes and power relations. Over time, theoretical variations have emerged in critical toponymy literature. Initially, place names were generally considered as a tool used by hegemonic powers to disseminate and normalize their worldviews among ordinary citizens. Later, researchers showed that place-naming processes were not monopolized by a single hegemonic group, but constituted an area of contestation between different social groups that aimed to ensure that their worldviews are represented in symbolic landscapes. More recently, attention has shifted to the role played by the everyday users of place names in place-naming processes on different grounds such as daily habits, ideological views, ethnicities, class affiliations, and facilitating economic activities.

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