The Routledge Companion to Semiotics

By Paul Cobley | Go to book overview

8
SOCIOSEMIOTICS

ANTI RANDVIIR AND PAUL COBLEY


DEFINITION

Sociosemiotics – sometimes ‘social semiotics’ – clearly stands in relation to ‘semiotics’, a term that is itself infrequently defined with any great rigour. Furthermore, it also has a close relationship with different kinds of applied semiotics (cf. Pelc 1997) and their attempts to reconfigure sign study as the appropriate means for closely studying the phenomena of everyday life. Amongst the very few explicit definitions of sociosemiotics is that of Gottdiener and Lagopoulos who state, simply, that ‘sociosemiotics is materialistic analysis of ideology in everyday life’ (Gottdiener and Lagopoulos and Lagopoulos 1986: 14). This definition, however, may be open to accusations that it is ‘too materialistic’ in the sense that in semiotic analysis it is impossible to escape from everyday life and the consummation of signs at the stage of data collection (see, for example, Danesi and Perron 1999: 293ff.). Nor is it easy to escape from the necessarily pragmatic angle of semiotic studies (see, for example, Morris 1971: 43–54) in which the ‘context’, embedded in sign use, should be an important guide to interpretation. Stressing ideology may have also encouraged Gottdiener and Lagopoulos to distinguish sociosemiotics from so-called ‘mainstream semiotics’ by associating the former exclusively with the analysis of connotative signification connected with ideological systems. Yet, one would be hard pressed to find a cultural phenomenon in which denotative aspects were deprived of connotative codes.

Frequently, sociosemiotics is left undefined, despite the fact that it appears in the titles of numerous publications (e.g. Halliday 1978; Hodge and Kress 1988; Alter 1991; Flynn 1991; Riggins 1994; Jensen 1995). Clearly, it must at least be a matter of a critical sign study which is aware of the specific and strategic ways in which signs are deployed in social formations. The opposites of this definition are probably implicit: that is, first, study of signs in nature (as if nature did not feature ‘sociality’) and sign study in social formations which is not aware of the specific/strategic deployment of signs (a straw man for some versions of sociosemiotics which deplores the supposed apolitical nature of some semiotics). In various ways, a good paradigm is provided by the evolution of language study in the twentieth century, especially in relation to anthropology. Influential here, but by no means watertight, has been the SapirWhorf hypothesis. Along with his student Benjamin Lee Whorf, the linguist Edward

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The Routledge Companion to Semiotics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Routledge Companion to Semiotics i
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Acknowledgements xvii
  • Using This Book xix
  • Part I- Understanding Semiotics 1
  • Introduction 3
  • 1 - Ancient Semiotics 13
  • 2 - Semiotics of Nature 29
  • 3 - Umwelt and Modelling 43
  • 4 - Logic and Cognition 57
  • 5 - Realism and Epistemology 74
  • 6 - Peirce, Phenomenology and Semiotics 89
  • 7 - The Saussurean Heritage 101
  • 8 - Sociosemiotics 118
  • 9 - Semiotics of Media and Culture 135
  • 10 - Semioethics 150
  • Part II - Key Themes and Major Figures in Semiotics 163
  • References 359
  • Index 389
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