Lawes has been providing semiotic and cultural insight on travel and transport since opening for business in 2002. The details of a project concerning bus travel are set out in Demystifying Semiotics [hyperlink], a seminal paper on how to plan and conduct semiotic projects which is used by researchers and students around the world. We also have extensive semiotic and ethnographic knowledge of metro systems and airports, in multiple countries. We’ve provided insight about passenger behaviour and its relationship to transport design to Transport for London, Arriva and JCDecaux, to name just a few. 

Did you know?

  • Sociologists of transport have described a phenomenon called ‘pop-up cities’. It happens in cities where large volumes of public transport users are non-resident (visitors, commuters from other areas, tourists) and where there is heavy reliance on underground metro systems. In this situation, some passengers remain in a state of ignorance of the above-ground geography of a city; areas of a city simply appear or ‘pop up’ when the consumer emerges from the underground system.
  • Our research among airline passengers showed that levels of physiological arousal rise and fall as they move through airports. How that arousal is interpreted depends on signs in the immediate context: passing through security is experienced as stressful and this can be converted into feelings of mild euphoria as people successfully clear it and are expelled into the international departures lounge, causing them ‘to gaze around as though in an enchanted forest’, in the words of one annoyed frequent flyer.
  • Using the bus can be scary, especially in unfamiliar cities, and there is evidence of this fear in consumer culture, in personal anecdotes and media stories. Fascinatingly, issues of gender, race and politics play into these stories. For example, in stories about assaults or similar crimes which take place at bus stops, which are outdoors, the victim is likely to be characterised as female or non-white; these groups are capable of functioning as semiotic signs for ‘vulnerable’. However, in stories where the assault or similar crime takes place within the confined, internal space of the bus, women and non-white groups are liable to be cast as perpertators as well as victims. This perhaps expresses a degree of concern in certain societies or demographics about who really owns the bus system and the internal spaces of the bus. Who is the bus for? Who does it rightfully belong to? 

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