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University of Bern
Liquid Power: A Social Semiotics of the Infinity Pool

The prime technique of power is now escape, slippage, elision and avoidance …
Zygmunt Bauman (2000: 11)

The infinity pool is currently an epitomic, ubiquitous marker of distinction and prestige in so-called luxury tourism. Arguably the supreme example of these vanishing-edge illusions is to be found atop the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore, but Hong Kong evidently has its fair share of them. In this talk, I develop a social semiotics of the infinity pool using a three-part analytic structure. I first demonstrate how the infinity pool is mediatized as a status marker which is thereby circulated and normalized. I then consider the semiotic and ideological ways these pools emerges as a mediated practice, paying particular attention to their spatial and embodied logics. I then examine how the infinity pool is distinctively remediated in Instagram. In this regard, digital media offer two very good opportunities for researchers: we find empirical evidence for the ubiquity of tourist practices and also for tourists’ reflexivity and ‘creativity’ – the ways they themselves take up and make sense of their practices. Ultimately, my contention is that the infinity pool materializes a strategically, euphorically (dis)ordered vision of space; this, in turn, tells us something important about both the social semiotics of privilege/inequality and the raw politics of contemporary power relations.


Crispin Thurlow is Professor of Language and Communication in the Department of English at the University of Bern, Switzerland. His publications include Elite Discourse: The Rhetorics of Status Privilege and Power (2018, Routledge) and Digital Discourse: Language in the New Media (2011, Oxford). His most recent books are The Business of Words: Wordsmiths, Linguists and Other Language Workers (2020, Routledge) and Vizualizing Digital Discourse: Interactional, Institutional and Ideological Perspectives (2020, De Gruyter). He is on the editorial board of journals like Language in Society; Discourse, Context & Media; Critical Discourse Studies; Visual Communication; Linguistic Landscape; and the Journal of Language and Sexuality.