Signs and Society is an interdisciplinary journal in the humanities and social sciences focusing on the study of semiosis in the realms of social action, cognition, and cultural form.
We have decided to use the term semiosis to describe the journal’s general focus. We take semiosis to be the most general label for the activity of sign production, communication, and interpretation in the realms of cognition, social action, and cultural forms. In using this word, made famous as a technical term by Charles Sanders Peirce, we do not suggest that Signs and Society is another semiotics journal, nor do we intend that every contribution need advance the often arcane quasi-discipline of semiotics. Rather, we intend semiosis to refer to a set of interrelated dimensions and to argue that research from many disciplines is required to understand their dynamic interrelationship. As a starting point, we propose that the following dimensions of semiosis can be heuristically distinguished, in order of implicational complexity:
- representation: the “standing for” relationship between two things which come to be linked as signifying sign and represented object by virtue of some typologically specifiable motivation (Saussure), reason, or ground (Peirce);
- codification: code structures, including presupposed patterned systems of signs that feature “mutual delimitation” (Saussure) between planes of expression and content and less coherently articulated systems of indexical and iconic signs characterized by formal gaps, overlapping signals, and referential opacity;
- communication: the flow of signs across face-to-face and technologically mediated channels, from speaker to hearer or performer to audience, along with meditational relays of various sorts, by means of codes that, because of differential usages and stratified manipulation, serve additionally to demarcate social categories and groups;
- entextualization: the inscription of signs and sign complexes in cognitively or historically fixed or sedimented forms, as distinct from the real-time interactional flow of signs that can potentially become the focus on subsequent communicative interactions;
- interpretation: actions that read or misread signs by users who, taking sign/object relations as meaningful, generate additional chains of signs which variably naturalize (“downshift”) or conventionalize (“upshift”) the linkage between signs and meanings; and
- regimentation: power-laden social actions that restrict, forbid, or shape interpretive meaning-making by explicitly or implicitly stipulating, constraining, or otherwise metasemiotically representing sign structures and processes.
The journal solicits contributions from scholars in traditionally defined fields such as anthropology, archaeology, art history, classics, cognitive psychology, history, linguistics, literary studies, religious studies, and sociology. It also encourages contributions that represent cutting-edge scholarship in emerging interdisciplinary fields of inquiry such as comparative semiotics, digital humanities, cognitive science, and global studies. Our broad mission of studying the relationship between “signs and society” implies that each contribution to the journal will analyze some kind of sign process or “cultural production” (Bourdieu) in some specifiable or generalizable social circumstance, historical period, or textual artifact. We are particularly interested in becoming a dialogic forum for scholars such as classicists and archaeologists working on “past worlds” and scholars studying contemporary cognitive and social phenomena. We welcome studies that cross types of communicational media, from face-to-face verbal interaction to technologically mediated mass communication (both analog and digital), and types of semiotic codes, including linguistic, material, behavioral, and pictorial. Research in several fields dealing with the relationships between “primary modeling systems” (Lotman) such as languages and textualized cultural complexes such as narratives, performances, literatures, and films fits the intent of the journal especially well. While frequently understood as a real-time phenomenon, semiosis, in our view, includes modalities for diachronically and historically recording events in fixed forms, such as memorializations, museums, and archives, and for extending the range of communication from interpersonal, contextualized messages to the global “flow” of transmitted or commodified cultural forms.
We believe that our approach will provide flexible scaffolding for investigation and not be a constraining grid for explanation. Focusing directly on semiosis in its multiple dimensions, we believe, will promote collaborative translation across analytical categories and technical vocabularies already established in distinct disciplinary traditions and lead to uncovering unanticipated parallels in the ways semiosis is manifest in diverse empirical domains. While the journal insists on this “big picture” approach, we do not expect that each contribution will treat all of these dimensions of semiosis. Rather, we seek to publish articles that, taken as a group, will illuminate this larger view.