The Semiotics of Social Life

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Year of publication 2018
Type Article in Periodical
Magazine / Source American Journal of Cultural Sociology
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Social Studies

Web article
Field Sociology, demography
Keywords Meaning; sign; signification; Saussure; Peirce; semiosis; arbitrariness; cultural system
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Description This essay examines three monographs from different disciplinary backgrounds as contemporary contributions to social semiotics and cultural sociology. Although the argument of each book is discussed separately, this review focusses on their intersections. All three books tackle questions that are of crucial importance for cultural sociology: What is the meaning of “meaning”? What is a sign and what role do signs play in the process of meaning-making? Is the meaning of a sign purely arbitrary or is it also shaped by “subjective” experiences and “objective” realities? Each of these questions is stated and answered in a different way by each of the authors discussed – dependent on their respective theoretical framework. This essay concludes with a synopsis and an outlook regarding the future of social semiotics in cultural sociology: We need a performative account of signification and a dialectic conception of acts of signification (parole) and cultural structures (langue); furthermore, we should strive for a nuanced understanding of sign arbitrariness, which takes into account the experience of actors and the agency of objects. Finally, we should not look for a general theory of meaning in social semiotics, but keep our theoretical frameworks open for other registers of meaning.
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