Article Title

“Witty House Name”: Visual Language, Interpretive Practice, and Uneven Agency in a Midwestern College Town

Type of Work

Article

Date

Fall 2007

Journal Title

Journal of American Folklore

Journal ISSN

0021-8715

Journal Volume

120

Journal Issue

478

First Page

445

Last Page

481

DOI

10.2307/20487578

Abstract

Many students living in a college town located in the Midwest of the United States have put up large signs on the houses in which they reside. The signs’ messages such as “Hangover Here,” “Crammed Inn,” and “Syc-a-College” create puns drawing on multiple domains of meaning from student or local life, including locations, institutions, and popular film or music titles. This article considers the different meanings and purposes of house signs as envisioned by different groups of residents of named houses in order to explore the contours of agency involved in house sign activity. Interviews with residents of named houses reveal that some groups’ interpretive desires are salient to all residents of named houses, regardless of what they understand their house sign to do, while the interpretive desires of others are thwarted. Thus, this article argues that agency is mediated by house sign activity in uneven ways and, more broadly, uses the college house sign phenomenon to shed new light on the ways in which agency is mediated by language.

Hamilton Areas of Study

Anthropology

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