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Culture as signifying system: Spheres of culture

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Cultural Semiotics 3

From sign to system


Reconsidering Peirce and Saussure
Peirce: broader concept of the sign as expression of a communicative relationship meaning as a property of the sign: response elicited by apprehension of object mediated by the sign as representamen Saussure: narrower (word/writing-based) concept of the sign as arbitrary articulation of sensory impression and concept meaning as effect of relationship between signs: orientation toward sign system

Contrast or compatibility?
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The constitution of codes


An attempt to connect Peirce and Saussure Encoding: 2 operations of articulation
1. Articulating signs with reality: focusing attention (iconic, indexical, symbolic representation) 2. Articulating signs with signs: guiding attention (paradigmatic and syntagmatic organization)

Enacting: dramatic (gestural, mimetic) origins of codes (e.g. dance) Development of forms by repetition and displacement: codification and application
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Iconic encoding
Foregrounding and schematization Dramatic (scenic) organization Possibility of further abstraction (conceptual abbreviation)

Aboriginal rock painting (Australia), more than 8,000 years old (Chaloupka 136)
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From icon to script


Repetition and displacement yielding abstraction and codification (lexicon & grammar) Enabling articulation of more complex symbolic representations
Chinese writing from c.3,500 years ago to present
Image source: http://ancientscripts.com/chinese.html 10/03/2007 Cultural Semiotics 3 5

Signifying systems
Sets of articulating practices and techniques that operate on encoding units based on conventions established through repetition Make the world knowable (mentally portable) and susceptible to organized action Create situations of decoding and positions of responding (renewed encoding), whereby people assume certain attitudes toward the world as it is mediated through signs
( semiotic gap, desire, pursuit of authenticity)
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Discourses
Signifying systems are codified in discourses: institutionalized system[s] for the production of knowledge [or meaning] in regulated language (Bov 53) example: OED Discourses frame situations of attention in which people take responsive attitudes that orient their actions in the world (Foucault: subject positions) Discourses organize power (the ability to act on peoples ability to act) by stimulating and regulating signifying practices
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The dominance of discourse


Discourses are the product of evolving histories of signifying practices and techniques; they are sustained by the practices they elicit How is discourse institutionalized?
From sacred (ritual) to secular (bureaucratic) authority Codification: regulation of proper use of signs, definition and differentiation of subject positions Material structures that serve as scenes (settings) for the enactment of signifying practices

Institutionalized discourse expresses shared attitudes and values to which people respond in their everyday practices
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Cultural semiotics and discourse


Focusing on everyday practices in their institutional settings and discursive contexts Analyzing institutionalized meanings: publicly encoded values (built environment, displays and broadcasts, organized activities) Analyzing individual or collective practices as situated acts encoding specific meanings Identifying encoding operations Distinguishing dominant (determined) meanings and creative meanings (displacement)
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Examples of institutionalized meanings

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Examples of institutionalized meanings

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Examples of signifying practices

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Examples of signifying practices

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Systems and practices: Thoughts for further consideration


Signifying practices both participate in collectively shared processes and aim to articulate individually authentic meanings (remember Tylor and Arnold) Signifying practices and processes can be analyzed in two encoding operations, articulating signs with reality & articulating signs with signs Signifying systems develop by expansion rather than progress: ancient impulses and techniques of encoding persist today; signifying practices draw on body, mind, and culture
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Systems and practices: Thoughts for further consideration


Cultural meanings are inseparable from the institutional contexts and the signifying practices that articulate them (see Geertz) Cultural objects and practices have a certain mobility: they may be moved from one signifying system to another and their meanings change accordingly (see Clifford) Signifying systems overlap and intersect: people navigate several spheres simultaneously, articulating disjunct meanings (see Appadurai)
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Sources

Appadurai, Arjun. "Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy." Public Culture 2.2 (Spring 1990): 1-24. Bov, Paul. Discourse. Critical Terms for Literary Study. Ed. Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. 50-65. Chaloupka, George. Journey in Time: The Worlds Longest Continuing Art Tradition. Kew: Reed, 1993. Clifford, James. "On Collecting Art and Culture." The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988. 215-51. Foucault, Michel. The Subject and Power. Critical Inquiry 8 Summer 1982): 777-95. Geertz, Clifford. "Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture." The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, 1973. 3-30. The picture on the first slide shows an English naval officer bartering with a Maori, from drawings illustrative of Captain Cooks first voyage, 1768-1771 (http://www.captcook-ne.co.uk/ccne/exhibits/C2055-03/index.htm)

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