The Routledge Companion to Semiotics

By Paul Cobley | Go to book overview

9
SEMIOTICS OF MEDIA AND CULTURE

MARCEL DANESI


INTRODUCTION

The overarching aim of semiotics is to study semiosis (the production and comprehension of signs) as it manifests itself in human and non-human spheres. The general study of semiosis comes today under the rubric of biosemiotics, whereas the study of human semiosis, in specific cultural contexts, comes instead under the rubric of cultural semiotics (Posner et al. 1997–2004). As a cultural science, the latter discipline has proven itself to be particularly well suited as a framework for analysing the signs, texts, and signifying practices used by the contemporary mass media.

The semiotic purview envisions human cultures as networks of intertwin ing sign systems. Cumulatively, these comprise the semiosphere – a concept originating in the work of the late Estonian-based Russian semiotician Jurij Lotman (1922–1993). The semiosphere regulates and enhances human cognition in tandem (Lotman 2000). In this theoretical framework, specific cultures are seen to be both cognitively constraining, in that they impose upon individuals born into them already-fixed sign systems, which will largely determine how they come to understand the world around them; and liberating, because they also provide the signifying resources by which individuals can construct new signs and systems at will. Particularly interesting is the role of mass communications media in the semiosphere. There is, in fact, a general ‘semiotic law of media’, so to speak, implicit in the Lotmanian approach to the study of culture – namely, as the media change, so too do the sign systems of culture. Studying the implications of this ‘law’ is a primary aim of media semiotics, one of the contemporary offshoots of cultural semiotics. Although the analysis of media and contemporary culture goes back at least to the late 1930s, a full-fledged media semiotics did not surface until the mid-1950s, becoming a major discipline in the 1990s (Jensen 1995; Bignell 1997; Nöth 1997; Danesi 2002). Media semiotics interweaves insights and findings from other disciplines in order to gain understanding of all aspects of ‘mediated signification’, as the use and interpretation of media-based signs and texts is called.


THE EMERGENCE OF MEDIA STUDIES

The academic study of the media and their effects on individuals and cultures was motivated by a media event that became itself a headline story – the 1938 radio

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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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