Signs in Society: Studies in Semiotic Anthropology


Signs in Society takes up Ferdinand de Saussure's challenge to study the "life of signs in society" by using semiotic tools proposed by Charles Sanders Peirce. Richard J. Parmentier explicates Peirce's fundamental semiotic concepts and evaluates their potential for cultural analysis. After considering the possibility of using complex semiotic processes, Parmentier examines the relationship between social action and theoretical discourse. Parmentier applies Peircean concepts in two ethnographic case studies based on fieldwork in Belau (Micronesia), one dealing with historical changes in the symbolism of mortuary exchange valuables and the other analyzing an instance of political oratory as a contextual performance. Then, using diverse data - from Melanesian mythology and Babylonian ritual to contemporary American "living history" museums and television advertising - Parmentier finds tropic innovation, formalized re-enactment, and controlling metalanguages in cultures across space and time. Finally, the author uncovers the pragmatic dimensions of the comparative work of philosophers of religion and locates strategies of naturalizing and conventionalizing discourse in both social reality and social theory. Throughout Signs in Society Parmentier focuses on links between text and context, linguistic and nonlinguistic signs, semiotic and metasemiotic levels, and elementary and complex semiotic phenomena. It demonstrates the effectiveness of semiotic theory in illuminating complex social and cultural practices.

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Bloomington, IN
Publication year:
  • 1994


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