Thinking about semiotics




This morning I started to think about changing the name of my blog to Secrets, Semiotics, and Synchronicities, although I probably won’t. I need to think about this step before making such a decision. But, I do like the combination of these three topics, as well as the alliteration of the three S's. Since the idea has occurred to me more than once, maybe I should write about it.


So, what is semiotics? It is...


The study of the nature of signs and symbols within a culture that are experienced on an everyday basis. Some people who consider themselves to be semioticians or semiotics experts are followers of Roland Barthes, Levi-Strauss, Sassure....the great French linguists and theoreticians who developed the philosophy and methodology of semiotics which can be both linguistic and visual. I am more an anthropological generalist who uses many methodologies of anthropology, archetypal realities, and the everyday signs and symbols connected to semiotics within an overall analytical perspective. The subtexts of reality, culture, signs, symbols, and the great unconscious legendary, mythological elements are my favorite part of a qualitative project and analysis.


In my work as a cultural anthropologist and qualitative researcher, I consider semiotics to be an intentional step upward from what we already do as QRCs. The intensified interpretation of signs observed through semiotics helps us to not take reality for granted. As we watch consumer life and listen to what people say, we see things differently. Semiotics shows us that the world is not purely objective, literal, exactly as we hear it at the initial levels, or independent of human interpretation.


Indeed, the consumer or segment's world is far deeper, wider, and more intriguing...we learn through semiotics that reality is a personalized and cultural system of signs and symbols connected to everyday life and rituals that are constructed by others--as well as ourselves--as our subjects play out their roles and as we observe and hear them. Meaning is neither contained nor transmitted--meaning is actively created according to certain codes and internal series of meanings and resonances that usually we're entirely unaware of but that the semiotics practitioner can glean from watching and analyzing this outside data internalized scientifically and intuitively.


When the qualitative researcher sees things from a semiotic perspective, she finds that even the most literal, the most realistic, the most obvious, or the most mainstream signs, symbols, activities, and experiences are not what they appear to be on the surface, but are discovered to interconnect to the underlying structure of a segment, culture, or household's bigger foundations of meaning.


As Shakyamuni Buddha taught in a sutra relevant to semiotics and synchronicities:

"Things are not what they appear, nor are they otherwise."


And now for the less serious side of semiotics. Some critics (rightfully, perhaps) believe that semioticians are difficult to understand, even though they're supposed to elucidate the obvious and make it more simple. Semiotics texts and analyses can be almost unreadable. Try to read a contemporary anthropological text and you'll see what I mean. Actually, this is true for me, too. I have to to reedit my own work constantly to simplify it. We live in a world of intensified sound bites and no one likes to read long, complex, or too-subtle explanations for very long without losing patience and giving up.


Here are three favorite quotes about semiotic analyses:


"The advocates of semiotics write in a style that ranges from the

obscure to the incomprehensible” )


"Semiotics tells us things we already know in a

language we will never understand” (Whannel, cited in )


"The semiotic establishment is a very exclusive club;

however, semiotics is far too important an enterprise

to be left to semioticians" )


In a future semiotic project, which I’m working on right now, I shall try to be a little more comprehensible, simple, and nonjargony when elucidating the obvious.