The Death of Meaning

The Death of Meaning

The Death of Meaning

The Death of Meaning

Synopsis

Zito argues that although meanings change with time, at the end of the 20th century we are witnessing not a change in meanings, but the demise of meaning itself. He presents evidence of the ever decreasing use of word language, upon which meaning is predicated, and the increase in iconographic impacts (Macintosh and television, for example); the routinization of ritual; the efforts to control information (as during the Gulf War); and the ideological competition among groups to dominate definitions of social situations by the use of oversimplified rhetorics. Zito pays particular attention to language, employing empirical data with classical and contemporary theoretical perspectives to argue that as the meanings of language change, the relations among persons change, and vice versa. Recommended for scholars of sociology and language.

Excerpt

Seventeen years ago I applied for a faculty position at a small, highly reputable Jesuit college in upstate New York. During the interview, the Sociology Department chairman, aware of my background, asked if I would consider teaching a course in population studies, an undergraduate version of my course in demography. I hesitated. "I could do that," I told him, "but you must understand that if I teach that course I will include the various methods of contraception and abortion, and I teach them from a positive standpoint: that is, I am for contraception, and I am for abortion (as long as it is not simply a redundant method of birth control but a choice of last resort). Will I get into any trouble with your administration or faculty if I teach such things?" The department chair, himself a Jesuit, shook his head. "No," he said, "you'll have complete academic freedom, of course. None of us will object. Parents of some students might object if they hear about it. But we will support you. You have the freedom to teach whatever your conscience dictates."

I was impressed. My maternal grandfather, the man in whose house I had grown up, had been very "anticlerical," and some of his feelings had rubbed off on me in my youth. Having fought in the Italian Unification, he was an antipapist who bemoaned Mussolini's conciliatory agreement with the Pope. He had always . . .

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