Cultural Semiotics


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Cultural Semiotics

  1. 1. Cultural Semiotics
  2. 2. Overview <ul><li>What is culture? Discussion of different views of culture Approaching ‘Cultural Semiotics’ </li></ul><ul><li>Course orientation </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Topics </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Organization </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Assignments </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Resources </li></ul></ul>
  3. 3. What is culture?
  4. 4. Culture: two views <ul><li>Artistic and intellectual achievement </li></ul><ul><ul><li>e.g. Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), Culture and Anarchy (1869) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>A distinct way of life </li></ul><ul><ul><li>e.g. Edward B. Tylor (1832-1917), Primitive Culture (1871) </li></ul></ul>
  5. 5. 1. Artistic and intellectual activity <ul><li>Culture is: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>“a pursuit of our total perfection by means of getting to know […] the best which has been thought and said in the world, and [thereby] turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits” (Arnold 5) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“the study and pursuit of perfection [in the qualities of] beauty and intelligence” (Arnold 48-49) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“an inward condition of the mind and spirit, not […] and outward set of circumstances” (Arnold 33) </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. 2. A distinct way of life <ul><li>“ Culture, or civilization, […] is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society” </li></ul><ul><ul><li>(Tylor, quoted in Kroeber and Kluckhohn 81) </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. What is common to both views? <ul><li>Culture as something acquired (by striving or learning) </li></ul><ul><li>Culture related to social organization and change (as a solution to social problems or a product of social evolution) </li></ul><ul><li>Culture as an abstraction from material objects and practices: a mental quality (pursuit or capability) </li></ul>
  8. 8. What distinguishes the two views? <ul><li>Exclusive (the best) vs. inclusive (any other) </li></ul><ul><li>Challenging society (fresh and free thought) vs. reflecting society (customs, habits) </li></ul><ul><li>Individual (inward condition) vs. collective (as a member of society) </li></ul><ul><li>Evaluative (pursuit of perfection) vs. descriptive (complex whole) </li></ul><ul><li>Absolute (in the world) vs. relative (society) </li></ul>
  9. 9. History of the concept of culture <ul><li>Raymond Williams, “Culture” in: Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976): </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Latin origin: colere </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>From cultivation of crops and rearing of animals to active cultivation of human mind </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>From concrete sense to abstract concept meaning general process of intellectual, spiritual and aesthetic development (established in 18 th c.)  ‘Arnold’ </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>18 th -c. Enlightenment critique of European norms and standards, introducing plural of ‘cultures’  ‘Tylor’ </li></ul></ul>
  10. 10. A critical concept <ul><li>A critical intention is at work in both views of culture: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Pursuit of beauty and intelligence critical of notions and habits of an industrial society </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Study of culture as a complex whole critical of reduction of culture to art and literature or to a single standard </li></ul></ul><ul><li> An argument is embedded in both concepts  Difficult dialogue: disciplinary boundaries </li></ul>
  11. 11. Disciplinary boundaries <ul><li>Social Sciences , spec. Anthropology: the study of the cultures of other (non-European) people, traditionally working within Tylorean paradigm  e.g. Kroeber and Kluckhohn, Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions (1952): 160 plus definitions </li></ul><ul><li>Humanities , spec. Arts & Literature: the study of cultural achievement in European history, traditionally working within Arnoldian paradigm  e.g. the recent ‘culture wars’ in American higher education and debates about ‘cultural literacy’ </li></ul>
  12. 12. Is there a dominant view of culture? <ul><li>What is yours? </li></ul><ul><li>Williams in 1976: culture referring to “the works and practices of intellectual and especially artistic activity […] the most widespread use” (90)  Is this still the case? </li></ul><ul><li>Williams in 1981: noting convergence of the two views based on the notion of a ‘signifying system’ </li></ul>
  13. 13. Culture as signifying system <ul><li>Thus there is some practical convergence between (i) the anthropological and the sociological senses of culture as a distinct “whole way of life”, within which, now, a distinctive “signifying system” is seen not only as essential but as essentially involved in all forms of social activity, and (ii) the more specialized if also more common sense of culture as “artistic and intellectual activities”, though these, because of the emphasis on a general signifying system, are now much more broadly defined, to include not only the traditional arts and forms of intellectual production but also all the “signifying practices” – from language through the arts and philosophy to journalism, fashion and advertising – which now constitute this complex and necessarily extended field. </li></ul><ul><li>(Williams, Culture 13) </li></ul>
  14. 14. Cultural semiotics <ul><li>Study of culture as a signifying system, constituted by signifying practices  production and organization of meaning through the use of signs </li></ul><ul><li>Impact of Structuralism on traditional disciplines :  Structuralism “conceives any cultural phenomenon, activity, or product (including literature) to be a social institution, or ‘signifying system,’ consisting of a self-sufficient and self-determining structure of interrelationships” </li></ul><ul><li>(M.H. Abrams, Glossary of Literary Terms, 242) </li></ul>
  15. 15. A young discipline <ul><li>Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1952):  only one of 164 definitions of culture mentions the word ‘sign’; reference to ‘symbols’ found to be rare in anthropological definitions </li></ul><ul><li>Roland Barthes, Mythologies (1957):  literary scholar applying structuralist method to critical analysis of everyday culture </li></ul><ul><li>Claude Lévi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology (1958):  anthropologist applying structuralist method to analysis of non-European cultures </li></ul>
  16. 16. Cultural semiotics: trans-discipline? <ul><li>A science and a critical method </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Developing theories, models and standardized methodological tools to understand the production, organization and transformation of meaning </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>An interdisciplinary science linking study of signs with insights from various fields of inquiry such as cognitive psychology, psychoanalysis, anthropology, archeology, linguistics, etc. (Danesi & Perron 55) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A critical method, derived from literary analysis, assessing the work of the imagination in the context of social relations </li></ul></ul>
  17. 17. Course orientation <ul><ul><li>Topics </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Organization </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Assignments </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Resources </li></ul></ul><ul><li> See handout </li></ul>
  18. 18. Topics <ul><li>The concept of culture; introduction to semiotics; culture as signifying system </li></ul><ul><li>Advertising as cultural discourse; the image as sign </li></ul><ul><li>The body as signifying object/agent </li></ul><ul><li>The semiotics of space; spatial practices </li></ul><ul><li>The meanings of food, eating and cooking </li></ul><ul><li>Intercultural communication, transculturation </li></ul>
  19. 19. Organization <ul><li>Lecture: concepts, contexts, issues </li></ul><ul><li>Discussion: focus on text from reader </li></ul><ul><ul><li>2 to 3 students to spark discussion by e-mail: send observations, ideas and questions to class before meeting </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>2 to 3 students to post feedback by e-mail: send observations, insights, ideas for further consideration to class before next meeting </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Illustrations welcome  bring your own examples for analysis and discussion </li></ul>
  20. 20. Assignments <ul><li>Two essays: </li></ul><ul><li>One shorter essay (approx. 1,500 words) A critical discussion of the argument of one of the texts in the reader, assessing its claims with reference to evidence taken from direct observation and/or reading  due October 31, 2007 </li></ul><ul><li>One longer essay (approx. 2,500 words) A critical semiotic analysis of a selected aspect of Hong Kong culture – you may choose your own topic, but suggestions are provided (see handout)  due December 14, 2007 </li></ul>
  21. 21. Resources <ul><li>Course reader </li></ul><ul><li>Course web page: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Lecture presentations </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Textbooks and anthologies </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Suggestions for further reading </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Writing resources </li></ul></ul>
  22. 22. Sources (What is culture?) <ul><li>Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms . 5 th ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1988. </li></ul><ul><li>Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy . 1869. Ed. Samuel Lipman. New Haven: Yale UP, 1994. </li></ul><ul><li>Barthes, Roland. Mythologies . Trans. Annette Lavers. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972. </li></ul><ul><li>Danesi, Marcel, and Paul Perron. Analyzing Cultures: An Introduction and Handbook . Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1999. </li></ul><ul><li>Graff, Gerald. Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education . New York: Norton, 1992. </li></ul><ul><li>Kroeber, A. L., and Clyde Kluckhohn. 1952. Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions . New York: Vintage, 1963. </li></ul><ul><li>Lévi-Strauss, Claude. Structural Anthropology . Trans. Claire Jacobson and Brooke Grundfest Schoepf. New York: Basic Books, 1963. </li></ul><ul><li>Tylor, Edward B. Primitive Culture: Researches into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Language, Art and Custom . 2 nd ed. London: J. Murray, 1873. </li></ul><ul><li>Williams, Raymond. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society . London: Fontana, 1976. </li></ul><ul><li>---. Culture . London: Fontana, 1981. </li></ul>