Exposed writing

Exposed writing helps to shape, define and even create many spaces. As well as the verbal content that is inscribed, the meaning of the inscriptions depends on their position in space, whether architectural, urban, territorial or natural spaces; whether public, ritual, or funerary, and so on; as well as in the specific nature of their supports (stone, bronze, paper, screen and so on); and in their graphic form. Writing that is exposed in such a variety of spaces implies very different regimes of visibility and legibility. Rather than following a model of communication centred around a message, the inscription in space is determined by its effects: it marks, institutes, differentiates. Through the diversity of its objects and situations, exposing writing constitutes a central phenomenon in all cultures of the written word.

The spatial dimension of writing remains largely unexplored. The aim of this theme is to open a new domain of research at the crossroads of historical disciplines, epigraphy and archaeology, and of the humanities and social sciences, particularly the history and anthropology of writing.

The seminal notion of ‘exposed writing’ is associated with the work of Armando Petrucci, whose pioneering work needs to be extended to other cultures of the written word, opening the way to a comparative approach. We will therefore favour projects that take the following into account:

  • Variations in scale, from architectural space (walls, homes, monuments etc.) to urban, territorial and natural spaces.
  • Varations in time: the question is particularly complex in an urban context, since cities are simultaneously conservatories of inscriptions and stages on which the most ephemeral inscriptions appear and disappear.
  • In relation to spaces and times, particular attention should be given to pragmatic approaches. Which writing cultures use exposed writing? From sponsors to performers, from authors of texts to scenographers, architects and graphic designers, from censors, controllers and inspectors to writers of illicit, dissenting, forged or blasphemous inscriptions, how are roles, knowledge and powers distributed?
  • Finally, practical questions are often raised: were inscriptions actually in sight, and were passers-by able to read or understand them? This directly concerns the logic behind decisions, since the function of exposed writing often goes beyond mere communication. It will therefore be necessary to interrogate the categories of visibility, legibility and addressability.


The aim of this theme is largely exploratory. Its development will create a novel scientific dynamic connected to emerging questions such as the renewal of writing, the importance of urban ecologies and the advancement of digital cartography as a knowledge tool.


Theme leader: Béatrice Fraenkel

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