Kinetic intensities and moral registers of pandemic place branding


  • Aurora Donzelli Sarah Lawrence College, NY, and University of Bologna



semiotics, neoliberal governmentality, social media, digital publics, uptake, Covid-19, Milan (Italy)


Emblematic of late capitalist modes of value creation, place branding draws on semiotic processes as well as on affective mobilization both to structure the representation and fruition of specific locales and to produce publics. Such governmental projects of people and places, however, are always open to possible acts of recontextualization. This article discusses the complex forms of social and semiotic regimentation (and subversion) underlying place-branding projects by exploring two social media campaigns that involved the city of Milan during two key moments of the Covid-19 outbreak. Revolving around different moral discourses of speed, both campaigns resulted in a partial or failed uptake. The initial (February 2020) celebration of fast-paced metropolitan work ethics evoked by #MilanoNonSiFerma (‘Milan doesn’t stop’) – a marketing and political faux pas – was followed (in May 2020) by a reparatory campaign #UnPassoAllaVolta (‘One step at a time’), aimed at endorsing the meditative quality of slow temporality. These morally inflected shifts in kinetic intensity materialized alternative forms of ethical sociality and disciplinary practices, showing how the semiotic regimentation of affects through moral registers and chronotopic formulations plays a key role within the fusion of media and capital characteristic of our post-Fordist present.

Author Biography

Aurora Donzelli, Sarah Lawrence College, NY, and University of Bologna

Aurora Donzelli is a linguistic anthropologist and associate professor at Sarah Lawrence College, New York, United States, and the University of Bologna, Italy. Her research deals with the intersection between language, morality, and politics in Southeast Asia, Italy, and the US. Her first monograph, Methods of Desire, published in 2019 by UHP and winner of the 2021 Edward Sapir Honorable Mention Award, examines how neoliberal ideologies are transforming modes of action and ways of speaking among the inhabitants of the Toraja highlands of Indonesia. Her second monograph, One or Two Words (NUS Press 2020), winner of the 2021 Specialist Publication Accolade, ICAS Book Prize, analyzes the transformations in political talk ensuing from Indonesia’s administrative restructuring. She is the recipient of research grants from the NSF, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology.


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How to Cite

Donzelli, A. (2023). Kinetic intensities and moral registers of pandemic place branding. Sociolinguistic Studies, 16(4), 435–460.