Research Output
Semiotics of the festival city: exploring the visual culture of Edinburgh. . Paper presented at Special Track: Visual Tourism
  This paper presents emerging themes from our study of the semiotics that sustain the visual culture, consumption and place myth of Edinburgh, as the ‘world’s leading festival city’ (Festivals Edinburgh, 2020). Today Edinburgh hosts eleven international festivals. Following the origination of the International, Fringe, and Film Festivals, in 1947; today’s festivals contribute significantly to the city’s visitor and experience economies (Todd, Leask & Ensor, 2017). The evolution of Edinburgh as the festival city has become of concern over recent years, with emphasis upon the festivals driving event tourism. Current destination strategy recommends sustaining and strengthening Edinburgh’s festival city status, outlining alignment, ownership and world-wide promotion of its brand (BOP Consulting & Festivals and Events International, 2015).
Alongside being a destination branding approach, the festival city construct is of theoretical concern. Festival cities are characterised as having common tangible features, including staging significant or continuous city-based festivals and events to gain economic advantage, cultural and creative place making, and urban development (Dooghe, 2015; Richards & Palmer, 2010).
Our research moves beyond the festival city brand to explore the visual culture of Edinburgh and its festivals. We are studying how the festival city construct is characterised and elicited through shared online images depicting stakeholders’ consumption and portrayals of Edinburgh’s festivals. Our use of a digital visual semiotic method allows an understanding of the contribution of Edinburgh’s festivals to the city’s visual culture, as ‘digital media are part of how events are conceptualised, made and experienced by participants, viewers and users’ (Pink et al., 2016, p.165). Our semiotic approach studies communicated systems of ‘signs’ and uncovers layers of meaning and myth communicated by these signs (Barthes, 1993; MacCannell, 1976). The signs we consider are Instagram images shared by ten principal festival stakeholder accounts, currently falling under the ‘Festivals Edinburgh’ brand umbrella. As we develop our original semiotic framework to consider shared signs, symbols and places of Edinburgh as the festival city, our paper reflects upon our initial findings. These reveal insights that signify the idealised history of the festival city and its contemporary socio-cultural context. Our study intends to contribute a new and original perspective to the term festival city beyond that currently prescribed by the literature.

  • Type:

    Conference Paper (unpublished)

  • Date:

    09 September 2020

  • Publication Status:


  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Todd, L., & Logan-McFarlane, A. (2020, September). Semiotics of the festival city: exploring the visual culture of Edinburgh. . Paper presented at Special Track: Visual Tourism. Paper presented at ATLAS annual conference 2020: Tourism as a driver of regional development and collaboration, Online


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