'Foreign' signs and multicultural belongings on a diverse shopping street

Amanda Wise*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


This article is based on an ethnographic study of white working-class senior citizens and elderly post-war long-term migrants living in a multicultural neighbourhood in Sydney. Ashfield is a suburb which has seen a rapid influx of mainland Chinese immigrants in the last 15 years. The study focused on quotidian experiences of diversity and place change, looking in particular at everyday moments of intercultural contact and negotiation in the main shopping high street. This article reflects on the question of inhabiting multiculturalism and urban place sharing in the main shopping street and focuses primarily on the transformation of place brought about by Chinese language shop signage. Many of the longterm residents (white and 'long-time' Australians - post-war immigrants from India, Greece and Italy) expressed a sense of dislocation as the shopping street transformed into what is now known as Sydney's 'Little Shanghai'. Much of their anxiety centred on the proliferation of Chinese language shop signage. They spoke of not knowing what the new shops were or 'what's in there', which in turn had an effect on their patterns of usage, connection to, and sense of place and belonging. The abundance of Chinese language signage functioned not only as information, but contributed in important ways to a general landscape of belonging, in aesthetic and sensory terms, for the Chinese residents. For them, Chinese language signage produced a sense of familiarity and ease of navigation, and connection to China not only through the goods sold, but through sense-images evoked through Chinese script signs featuring shop names referencing localities from 'home'. I explore how the material, sensory and aesthetic qualities of Chinese language signage differently constitutes world and locality for the various inhabitants who confront it, producing in turn differential forms of belonging and localized displacement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-154
Number of pages16
JournalBuilt Environment
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011


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