This book is an attempt to write an accessible and, above all, usable
introduction to social semiotics.Although strongly inspired by Paris School semiotics, and especially by the work of Roland Barthes, which I first came across as a film school student in Amsterdam in the late 1960s, social semiotics has long since moved beyond an exclusive interest in structure and system.
|• Just as in linguistics the focus changed from the 'sentence' to the 'text' and its 'context', and from 'grammar' to 'discourse', so in social semiotics the focus changed from the 'sign' to the way people use semiotic 'resources' both to produce communicative artefacts and events and to interpret them - which is also a form of semiotic production - in the context of specific social situations and practices.|
|• Rather than constructing separate accounts of the various semiotic modes - the 'semiotics of the image', the 'semiotics of music', and so on - social semiotics compares and contrasts semiotic modes, exploring what they have in common as well as how they differ, and investigating how they can be integrated in multimodal artefacts and events.|
|• Rather than describing semiotic modes as though they have intrinsic characteristics and inherent systematicities or 'laws', social semiotics focuses on how people regulate the use of semiotic resources - again, in the context of specific social practices and institutions, and in different ways and to different degrees.|
|• Finally, social semiotics is itself also a practice, oriented to observation and analysis, to opening our eyes and ears and other senses for the richness and complexity of semiotic production and interpretation, and to social intervention, to the discovery of new semiotic resources and new ways of using existing semiotic resources.|
Although the approach to social semiotics presented here draws on a wide range of sources, the key impetus for its development was Halliday's social semiotic view of language (1978). In the second half of the 1980s and early 1990s, it was elaborated by the work of the Sydney Semiotics Circle, whose members included, among others, Jim Martin, Terry Threadgold, Paul Thibault, Radan Martinec, Anne Cranny-Francis, Jennifer Biddle and, above all, my long-time collaborator Gunther Kress - as well as, from a distance, Bob Hodge and Jay Lemke. In the 1990s I was influenced by my work with members of the critical discourse analysis group, especially Norman