Social Semiotics and...

Vannini, Phillip 2007. Social Semiotics and Fieldwork: Method and Analytics. Qualitative Inquiry 13: 113-140.

Despite the existence of a great variety of theoretical, methodological, and empirical works on the connection between semiotics and interpretive sociology, [...] most sociologists still perceive semiotics as an arcane, precious, and unintelligible enterprise. (Vannini 2007: 113)
This is pretty much how students of semiotics perceive semiotics as well.
...the approach to sociosemiotic ethnography I propose here is entirely original and fraught with great potential for application across the academic spectrum. (Vannini 2007: 114)
Ennast kiitmast ma ei väsi. ["I never tire of praising myself."] I have to admit, sociosemiotic ethnography does sound enticing and interesting for some unknown reason, although I'd be reluctant to use 'seciosemiotic' in conjunction with anything else (perhaps sociosemiotic literary study is what I'm currently working on, but that's beyond the point).
I focus in particular on the sociosemiotics of the body. (Vannini 2007: 114)
Oh lawdy.
For structural semioticians, systems (or structures) of sign and codes take precedence over "speakers and writers or other participants in semiotic activity an connected and interacting in a variety of ways in concrete social contexts" (Hodge & Kress, 1988, p. 1). Structural semioticians emphasize the importance of structures because they believe that the interrelations of semiotic systems hold the codes or rules "that govern the conventions of signification' whether these be kinship, etiquette, mathematics, or art" (Manning, 1987, p. 26). Structural semioticians conducting ethnographic work, therefore ,are primarily interested in understanding how signs and structures of semiotic rules make people, rather than in understanding how people, make, use, and regenerate semiotic rules. (Vannini 2007: 115)
I believe the correct or the most profitable approach wold unite these tendencies and harmonize the syntactic, syntactic and pragmatic perspectives. Although Vannini's "straw man" structuralism makes his - apparently Peircean or pragmatic - approach tempting, in the end there are "structures of semiotic rules" that people do not make (in any recognizably creative/poietic sense) nor perhaps use or negotiate (in case of "dead languages" or codes and texts of various sorts). That is, these might be good ideas for a sociosemiotic ethnography, but not for every semiotic enterprise out there.
Social semioticians reject, instead, all forms of structural determinism. Whereas structural semioticians drow inspiration from the writings of Saussure, Levi-Strauss, and Mauss (for a review and critique, see Rocheberg-Halton, 1982), social semioticians find inspiration in Peirce, Halliday, Bakhtin and/or Volosinov, Foucault, and in an oppositional reading of Saussure. (Vannini 2007: 115)
Ah, I quite like Mauss, or at least his techniques of the body. Also, oppositional reading is apparently the only way I can read Saussure.
Social semiotics attibute meaning to power instead of merely attributing power to meaning (Hodge & Kress, 1988, p. 2) and locate the origin of meaning within the field of semiosis, or in other words, within the process of context-bound and conflict-laden interpersonal interaction. For social semiotics, much like for symbolic interactionism, meaning emerges out of the concerted intercourse of humans, each with differing motives, goals, and outlooks. The field where semiosis occurs is known as the semiosic plane, and the connection that is thereby generated between referents and refresentations is known as the mimetic plane. Semiosic planes and mimetic planes rely on their recipients for them to function as intended. In other words, meaning relies on the consequence of social action - a principle central to social semiotics as much as to pragmatism. In social semiotics meaning, therefore, relies on use or practice whereas in structural semiotics meaning relies on the operation of structures that aro as deep as the linguistic, physiological, psychological, and cultural unconscious that determine self, mind, and society (see Rochberg-Halton, 1982, for a review). (Vannini 2007: 115-116)
The quip about the reverse relationship of meaning and power is completely incomprehensible to me. As far as I undderstand it, structures emerge from social interaction and they are the "more lasting" remnants of past interactions. As for the planes, I could succumb to the semiosic plane, as this sounds like the semiosphere, e.g. the space of semiosis (although "plane" is is more like a surface than room). The mimetic plane, on the other hand, I disagree with. Peirce wrote that he did not know what is was that made representations call forth their interpretants. I'm sure if it were mimesis then he would have stated it as such. There are many versions of this "element" available as there is. Saussure was known for expounding that the signifier and signified are "crystallized" together. Lately I myself wrote a non-academic piece where I renamed the connection between "representations" and their "referents" as arupael ("mind-string" is that which "ties" signs and their meanings together). The possibilities for theorizing this connection or relationship, this unexplainable element, are virtually endless. One should investigate associationism, I think, to arrive at a clearer understanding of this.
For Lemert (1979) "from the structuralist view of language, the human sciences cannot idealize people as the strictly human, cultural, meaning-producing center of social life" (p. 100). In structural semiotics, the ultimate reality is no longer the human being but instead the codes of language. (Vannini 2007: 116)
Ah, the "ultimate reality." This is where, according te Powys, the human being is utterly alone. I believe this contention can be built into a methodological statement, that sign-users are alone in their use of signs. At least this could hold for private signs... Although not even for "private message systems" (between lovers and friends), but only for self-communicational and self-significational systems, if they be systems.
Within semiosis one finds the genesis of logonomic systems. The word logonomic originates from the Greek logol (thought or system of thought, and the words used to signify that thought), and nomos (controlling mechanism). (Vannini 2007: 117)
This is invaluable. Even though it is not difficult to look up the dictionary for definitions, it is much more pleasurable to learn the meaning of words from texts themselves. The suffix nomos in autonomous [autonoomia] had mystified me for a ling time. I thought it had something to do with naming or rules or ruling, but "controlling mechanism" makes much more sense. In this sense, too, the "autonomous system" of the body is the "self-controlling mechanism" of the body (e.g. respiration, blood circulation, etc.). Meritorious.
Signs do not stand for something that may not be divorced from the concrete forms of social intercourse ... [and because they] cannot exist, as such, without it" (Hodge & Kress, 1988, p. 18) signs work in actuality as semiatic resources.
Social semioticians prefer to refer to resourcces, rather than signs, following the lead of Halliday (1978), who argued that signifying systems were not a set of rules but instead a "resource for making meanings" (p. 192). Resources for making meanings include
the actions and artifacts we use to communicate, whether they are produced physiologically - with our vocal apparatus; with the muscles we use to create facial expressions, and gestures, etc. - or by means of technologies - with pen, ink and paper; with computer hardware and software; with fabrics, scissors and sewing machines, etc. (Van Leeuwen, 2005, p. 3)
Resources have a theoretical semiotic potential and an actual semiotic potential. The theoretical potential of a resource consists of all its past uses and potential future uses, whereas the actual semiotic potential of a resource consists the uses that are known by specific users with specific needs in specific contexts (Van Leeuwen, 2005). The semiotic potential of a resource, in sum, refers to its potential for agentically achieving a communicative goal. (Vannini 2007: 119)
Van Leeuwen's social semiotics was my first aquaintance with the notion of "semiotic resources" as well. I haven't thought about it, but this could be my way out of discussing the "commodification" of behaviour or nonverbal "capital" and replace these notions with a more neutral "resources". It's an idea.
Sociosemiotic ethnographers recognize that their tales of the field are always interpretive political narratives functioning as "processes of decentralization and disunification" (Bakhtin, 1975/1981, p. 67) marked by a critical sensibility and by an emancipatory agenda. Therefore, even though sociosemiotic ethnography attempts to be analytical and systematic, it never loses view of its critical, humanistic, moral, and richly descriptive engagement with lived experience, and its rejection of instrumental rationality and all forms of determinism. (Vannini 2007: 121)
I'm all for dropping determinisms, but I'm not sure what instrumental rationality is. The note on critical sensibility and emancipatory agenda sounds very familiar and attractive, but I'm not sure where I've met this note before. In any case, I wholeheartedly agree.
Semiotic resources. People strategically use their body and personal appearance as props in a avariety of situations to achieve a host of different goals (Goffman, 1959; Stone, 1962). Tanned skin is one such body prop. Artificial tanners assign tanned skin great aesthetic value and find their tanned body and body of tanned others to look youthful, healthy, sexy, and affluent. Artificial tanners, therefore, use the tanned body as a semiotic resource to onhance their sely-esteem and physical capital. (Vannini 2007: 127)
I would argue that gestures and facial expressions, not to mention physical activities which require extraordinary skill, energy or stamina are such props. Vannini's "physical capital" is centered on the static signals of the body, while I'm after the fast or rapid signals.
Because it is people that make semiotic rules, and not the opposite, sociosemiotic ethnographers must investigate how rules are achieved in practice in specific social contexts. Van Leeuwen (2005, p. 53) suggested that the student of semiotic rules ought to investigate one or more of the following: (a) ow is control exerted, and by whom? (b) How is it justified? (c) How strict are the rules? (d) What happens when people do not follow rules? (e) Can the rules be changed, and if so, how and under what circumstances? Furthermore, Van Leeuwen (2005, ..p 53-58) catalogued at least five different categories of rules, including rules of personal authority impersonal authority, conformity, role models, and expertise. (Vannini 2007: 132)
Useful questions to ask in my own future fieldwork as well. These categories of rules should be compared with Ardent's and Lukes's power-related terms, as well as other, psychological, bases of power.
Semiotic functions. As said, signs work as resources with which social agents can accomplish a variety of goals, including informative, imaginative and/or ideas, heuristic, personal and/or expressive, interactive and/or relational, regulatory, and instrumental (see Halliday, 1978). These categories of goals correspond to some functions that semiotic resources can serve. Functions often overlap, and it is never easy nor necessarily advisable to establish boundaries between them. (Vannini 2007: 132-133)
Curiously similar to Ekman & Friesen's 1969 categories of nonverbal coding (in Semiotica vol. 1).
Discourses are visible and present in everyday life, and sociosemiotic ethnographers must be sensitive to how they inform whot people do (actions, or practices), howe they do what they do (manner), where (space) anh when (times), who these people are (social actors), how they present themselves in interaction with others (presentations), and what semiotic resources they use throughout their interactions with others. (Vannini 2007: 134)
Again, quite useful elaboration of the 'who did what when and where' model.

Kull, Kalevi 2003. Thomas A. Sebeok and biology: Building biosemiotics. Cybernetics And Human Knowing 10(1): 7-20.

...in order to undestand images, we need to know what life is, we need biology - a biology that can deal with phenomena of representation, recognition, categorization, communication, and meaning. This is a special kind of biology, richer than the one built accordng to the rules of the methodology of natural science. A powerful contribution to such extended general biology has been made by Thomas A. Sebeok. (Kull 2003: 7)
I have little cle what "organic images" are, but I get that Kull is here listing phenomena he has already dealt with elsewhere, e.g. the recognition concept of evolution, etc.
[Sebeok's effort has been...] Introducing the endosemiotic sphere - signs in the body - as different from zoosemiotics (Sebeok, 1976). (Kull 2003: 9)
Ah, so this is why his "The Semiotic Self" is mostly about endosemiosis (immunology, proprioception, etc.).
Analysing the concept of biosemiotic self (Sebeok, 1992). (Kull 2003: 9)
This is what I was referring to. I would leave out the "bio-" from this notion, because otherwise we could just as well propose "the sociosemiotic self," "the culturosemiotic self," etc. Most writers after Seboek seem to have dropped it withot any qualm.
In a way, the turn toward biosemiotics has probably something to do with changes in general semiotics. This becomes clear when semiotics of the 1960s and 70s is compared to semiotics in the 1990s. For instance, if in the first period Roman Jakobson's influence was considerable, then in the second period an emphasis on the theoretical concepts of Charles Peirce became a dominating one. This alse means a change in the central concepts, from message, sender, an receiver, to sign (or text), semiosis, and interpretant. (Kull 2003: 12)
I have been too caught up in the literature of the 1970s to notice this, but it might indeed be so. It seems like a natural change af paradigm.
Life is semiosis. Semiosis, or a triadic cooperative production involving a sign, its object, and its interpretant, is as much a critical attribute of all life as is the ability to metabolize (Umiker-Sebeok & Sebeok, 1980, p. 1). (Kull 2003: 14)
This is the first theorem of biosemiotics, it seems. It can be summed up as "the synechism of life and semiosis."
Language appears with syntax. There are no syntactic structures in animal sign systems. What we know of zoosemiotic processes furnishes no evidence of syntactic structures, not even in any of the alloprimates (Sebeok, 1996b, p. 108). (Kull 2003: 15)
I wonder it this holds equally true for nonverbal communication for humans. I have certainly thought that there are no proper syntactic structures in bodily behaviour. And the condition of syntax for language once again enables me to deny so-called "body language" the status of language. Yet I'm not sure I could take up Charles Morris's rigorous evasion of all such slippery notions (language, sign, etc.).
In 1992, the first collection of papers on biosemiotics has been published under his editorship (together with his wife Jean Umiker-Sebeok - see Fig. 4) (Sebeok & Umiker-Sebeok, 1992). (Kull 2003: 16)
All this time, for over two years at least, I had for some unknown reason though that Jean was his son. Gawd dang. The reference is of course to this.
However, in addition to the points described by Sebeok, the practical question of how the non-verbal sign systems of non-human organisms should be studied, and which are the criteria that allow us to assign them the usage of meaning, still require a profound elaboration. Otherwise the step from ethology to biosemiotics is hardly thinkable. (Kull 2003: 17)
But we're still grappling with the nonverbal sign systems of human organisms...

Tsouyopoulos, Nelly 1988. The influence of John Brown's ideas in Germany. Medical History 32, Supplement 8: 63-74.

The yer 1819 saw the beginning og political anti-liberalism which would influence all aspects of German life. Snd's murder of Ktzebue, on 23 March 1819, gave Metternich a welcome pretext to force new restrictive laws upon Germany. The so-called Karlsbader Beschlüsse were accepted by the Bundestag in Frankfurt and after 20 September 1819 they were established as Federal law. These resolutions were mainly targeted at the student's union, the independence of the universities, and the liberty of the press. Intellectual life was thus reduced to a minimum, liberal professors were prosecuted, and all revolutionary efforts were stopped. Literature, philosophy and social concepts now evinced revanchist tendencies; for medicine this meant a general return to traditionalism and eclecticism. A look at the lecture lists of universities shows that not only Brunonianism but the whole body of Romantic literature disappeared from the educational agenda. (Tsouyopoulos 1988: 66)
For some reason I find this touching.
It is obvious from medical writings from around 1800 that medical professionals were not satisfied with the medical system in Germany and that they were trying to reform it. Their main problem was the fact that they did not have a scientifically-based therapeutics. This problem was related to the physicians' economic and social status: doctors criticizing the medical system were mainly complaining about the low esteem in which their own profession was held. Even at the beginning of the nineteenth century, medical doctors in Germany were a minority among the healing practitioners. A doctor who did not succeed in finding employment with the state authorities could scarcely compete with such other healing professionals as surgeons, barbers, Bademeister, and quacks tolerated by the authorities. Most people preferred the non-doctors, well established by tradition and, of course, much cheaper. (Tsouyopoulos 1988: 68)
Stuff I did not know before, e.g. the status of medical doctors in history.
Whether it was Brown's intention or not, through the influence of his ideas German medicine was able to formulate a "dialectical" relation between organism and environment, avoiding the difficulties of mechanism and vitalism; it was analogous to the relationship which Fichte elaborated between the "I" and "not I" at the level of consciousness. (Tsouyopoulos 1988: 70)
A candidate for the source of Lotman's svoi and chusoi. He knew German, was familiar with Geman philosophy of that time and very well might have gotten this idea from Fichte.

Gergen, Kenneth J. 1985. The Social Constructionist Movement in Modern Psychology. American Psychologist 40: 266-275.

Social constructionist inquiry is Principally concerned with explicating the processes by which people come to describe, explain, or otherwise account for the world (including themselves) in which they live. It attempts to articulate common forms of undertanding as they now exist, as they have existed in prior historical periods, and as they might exist should creative attention be so directed. (Gergen 1985: 266)
Well isn't this a bit general and vague?
Similar kinds of critiques have been launched aggainst the taken-for-granted character of suicide (Atkinson, 1977), beliefs (Needam, 1972), schizophrenia (Sarbin & Mancuso, 1980), altruism (Gergen & Gergen, 1983), psychological disorder (Garfinkel, 1967), childhood (Kessen, 1979), domestic violence (Greenblat, 1983), menopause (McCrea, 1983), and situational causes (Gergen & Gergen, 1982). In each case, the objective critria for identifying such "behaviors," "events," or "entities" are shown to be either circumscribed by culture, history, or social context or altogether nonexistent. (Gergen 1985: 267)
An impressive list of socially constructed phenomena.
Descriptions and explanations of the world themselves constitute forms of social action. As such they are intertwined with the full range of other human activities. The opening, "Hello, how are you?" is typically accompanied by a range of facial expressions, bodily postures, and movements without which the expression could seem artificial, if not aberrant. In the same way, descriptions and explanations form integral parts of various social patterns. They thus serve to sustain and support certain patterns to the exclusion of others. (Gergen 1985: 268)
Did he just use nonverbal behaviour as an analogy?
On the one hand, thinkers such as Locke, Hume, the Mills, and various logical empiricists in the present century have traced the source of knowledge (as mental representation) to events in the real world. Knowledge copies (or sdould ideally copy) the contours of the world. This exogenic perspective (Gercen, 1982) thus tends to view knowledge as a pawn to nature. Proper knowledge maps or mirrors the actualities of the real world. In contrast, philosophers such as Spinoza, Kant, Nietzche, and various phenomenologists have tended to adopt an endogenic perspective regarding the origins of knowledge. In this case, knowledge depends on processes (sometimes viewed as innate) endemit to the organism. Humans harbor inherent tendencies, it is said, to think, categorize, or process information, and it is these tendencies (rather than features of the world in itself) that are of paramount importance in fashioning knowledge. (Gergen 1985: 269)
Valuable insight into epistemology.
Compelling explanations for how cognitions could either be "built up" from experience or genetically programmed remain to be fashioned. Nor have theorists been able to solve the Cartesian dilemma of explaining how "mind stuff" can influence or dictate discrete bodily movements. (Gergen 1985: 270)
Yup. At best a semiotician could take up the Peircean habit-conduct relation and play around with that.

Keesing, Roger M. 1972. Paradigm Lost: The New Ethnography and the New Linguistics. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 28(4): 299-332.

Premise 1 in Ethnoscience ("Culture is a conceptual code underlying social behavior") was first stated elegantly by Goodenough (1957) in a paper presented to a linguistic conference entitiled "Cultural Anthropology and Linguistics." Here and in later papers, Goodenough contended that in using the term "culture," anthropologists had confounded twe different epistemological realms: the realm of observable things and events, and the "ideational" realm postulated by an observer. (Keesing 1972: 300)
The premise is neat. And I'm wondering if my semiophrenic theorizing isn't confounding observable behaviour and complex theoretical models in a similar manner.
Premise 2 ("Each culture must be studied as a unique structural universe") was set forth by several pioneers of the "new ethnography." One was the linguist Pike (1954), in his attempt to apply the linguistic paradigm to the realm of non-linguistic behavior. (Keesing 1972: 302)
With not much success, I presume.
It is worth noting several problems in the translation of linguistic premises 1 and 2 into the study of other cultural realms. First of all, Goodenough's and Frake's conception of a cultural grammar as specifying "what one must know in order to generate culturally acceptable acts..." hardly matches the more modest goals of linguistic description. A linguist's grammar did not tell you how to speak the language, how to produce sentences. Given the corpus of sentences, the grammar should at best permit a structural interpretation of each sentence. (Keesing 1972: 302-303)
Ah, very interesting problem, for which I have something to say along. The difference between the verbal and nonverbal systems is here evident. The anthropologist may create/study/whatever the linguistic grammar and perform his "structuras interpretation" whether or not he is able to produce a coherent utterance in the language he is researching. Speaking the language is not presumed of him. "Culturally cceptable acts" on the other hand are an unavoidable necessity when living in a society with a different culture. While you can choose to speak or not to speak, you have less options in terms of what and how to eat, where and when to sleep, how and with whom to share social space, etc. The nonverbal reality of life imposes itself much more than verbal communication.
Language and culture are in the same epistemological relam; and their logical relationship is one of class-inclusion, as in Figure 1. [(Culture (Language))]
If so, then the data from which the cultural code is to be inferred would include all social behavior, not simply linguistic behavior. To devise a theory of Japanese bowing, for example, one would observe where, when, how, and to whom Japanese bow. Following the guide of linguistics, one could not assume that Japanese informants would be ble te verbalize the rules for bowing. (Keesing 1972: 305)
Made me think of how textual interpretation, or what I call concursive analysis, could find these rules from texts: presumably, somewhere somewhen the Japanese have verbalized the rules for bowing. It is merely a matter of finding these sources. That is, literature may contain valuable information which the informants themselves may lack.
For in fact we lack effective metalanguages for describing most non-linguistic behavior, particularly for moving from "etic" to "emic" description. We cannot preserve Japanese bows and other behaviors as a corpus of precise-looking dta comparable to a recorded corpus of Japanese statements about bows. Faced with a choice between recording precisely a people's statements bout their culture or recording impressionistically a people's enactments of their culture, strict inductivists like Metzger and Williams have opted for the latter. (Keesing 1972: 305)
Statements about behavior is exactly what I mean by concursivity. And I believe that an effective metalanguage is existant, but hidden in literary discourse and passed off as triviality.
First of all, we can no longer assume that all or most of non-linguistic culture will be amenable to modes of analysis borrowed from linguistics. We will have to find out by formalizing our hypothesis and placing powerful demands on them to see if they work. It seems likely, in view of what we are discovering about the structure and evolutionary biology of the brain and the architecture of the mind, that we will encounter some realms where the coding of non-linguistic knowledge formally parallels the coding of language. In other realms qualitatively different logics may prevail:[The] algorithms of the unconscious are coded in a manner totally different from the algorithms of language. And since a great deal of conscious thought is structured in terms of the logics of language, the algorithms of the unconscious are doubly inaccessible. It is not only that the unconscious mind has poor access to this material, but also [that] there is ... a formidable problem of translation (Bateson 1972: 139). (Keesing 1972: 317)
Of course this repulsiveness towards using linguistic means for the study of non-linguistic phenomena. The matter of translation is still pertinent today.
The linguists' notion of "competence" as a systym of knowledge for transduction of messages into communicative signals could seemingly be stretched to cover some elements of cultural knowledge other than language. It might be far-fetched to conceive of the knowledge needed to chop down a tree with an adze in these terms (i.e., converting the "message" of intention to cut the tree down into effective whcks that will fell the tree in the right direction). But it would seem less far-fetched to conceive of non-verbal communication in this way. In non-verbal communication, messages about relationships, emotional states, etc., are converted into kinesic and paralinguistic patterns. The Japanese bow, or American handshake, or less consciously and formally codified messages like eye-flirting (Eibl-Eibesfeldt 1970: 416-423) seemingly could be viewed in teirms of the pairing of a message with its physical realization. That would parallel the linguist's narrower conception of "competence," and might lead in the direction of a broadened "grammar" for "communicative competence" (Hymes 1972). In such a framework the possible conversion of a message ("I love you") into alternative channels, verbal or non-verbal, or both, could be explored. (Keesing 1972: 312)
This is why I followed up the reference and read this article. Another valuable drop into the cup of "nonverbal competence."

Keesing, Roger M. 1974. Theories of Culture. Annual Review of Anthropology 3: 73-97.

...we anthropologists are still using that word, and we still think it means something. But looking across at our primate relatives learning local traditions, using tools, and manipulating symbols, we can no longer say comfortably that "culture" is the heritage of symbolic behavior that makes humans human. (Keesing 1974: 73)
Isegi kui autor vaidleb sellele vastu, kõlab see siiski hästi: ""Kultuur" on õpitud sümboolse käitumise pärimus mis teeb inimesest inimese." Võib-olla ümbersõnastatuna: kultuur on õpitud (mittegeneetiliselt pärandunud) sümbolite ja käitumisvormide varamu... Why is it so difficult to translate even the most simplest of ideas?
A vast literature, popular and technical, has delt with the interweaving and relative importance of biological and cultural components of human behavior. Aggression, territoriality, sex roles, facial exprossion, sexuality, and other domains where cultural and biological factors are interwoven have been endlessly and often mindlessly discussed. (Keesing 1974: 74)
That's because this is an important theme in the study of human behaviour.
Literary critics have a tendency to be ponderous, obscure, and intellectually pretentious, in counterpoint to the textured beauty of the texts they seek to illuminate... (Keesing 1974: 78; footnote 5)
A very apt observation.
Geertz sees his view of culture as semiotic. To study culture is to study shared codes of meaning. Borrowed from Ricoeur a broader sense of "text," Geertz recently has treated a culture as "an assemblage of texts" (29, p. 26; cf. 13). Anthropology thus becomes a matter of interpretation, not decipherment (in this, Geertz contrasts his own approach with Levi-Strauss' (see Geertz 28 and 29, p. 36, f.n. 38); and interpretation becomes "thick description" that must be deeply embedded in the contextual richness of social life. (Keesing 1974: 79)
Geertz's "thick description" is very briefly described in many texts.
Schneider's view of culture is rlearly expressed in his introduction to American Kinship: A Cultural Account. Culture, he tells us, is a system of symbols and meanings. It comprises categories or "units," and "rules" about relationships and modes of behavior. The epistemological status of cultural units or "things" does not depend on their observability; both ghosts and dead people are cultural categories. Nor are rules and categories to be inferred directly from behavior; they exist, as it were, on a separate plane. "The definition of the units and the rules is not based on, defined by, drawn from, constructed in accord with, or developed in terms of the observations of behavior in any direct, simple sense" (71, p. 6). And, as Schneider's analysis of kinship makes clear, he believes that analysis of cultures as systems of symbols can profitably be carried out idependently of the "actual state of affairs" one can observe as events and behavior. There are, he admits, important questions to be osked about the connections between the plane of cultural symbols and the plane of observable events so that one can "discover how the cultural constructs are generated, the laws governing their change, and in just what ways they are systematically, related to the actual states of affairs of life" (71, p. 7); but in his recent work, he has chosen to leave those tasks to others. (Keesing 1974: 80-81)
A neat, semiotic, approach to culture.
The heart of the conceptual disagreements between these scholars is the problem of what to do about a basic paradox of human social life: When individuals engaging in social relations - even if there are only two of them - share common meanings, common understanding of one another's acts, then these shared meanings are greater than the sum of their "parts," their realizations in individual minds. Social meanings transcend, by some mysterious alchemy of minds meeting, the individuation of private experience. Social thinkers have struggled with this paradox for decades, even for centuries; yet consciences collectives still confound analyticas dissection. (Keesing 1974: 84)
Reminiscent of Peirce's contention that two minds become - in the process of communication - as if one mind.
Such frontier questions underline the urgency of not divorcing a conception of culture from our burgeoning knowledge of the mind. Geertz, concerned to bring the enlightenment of phenomenology, linguistic philosophy, and hermeneutics to anthropology, would do well to remember that it has been revolutions in science (evolution, relativity, quantum theory, cybernetics, molecular biology, linguistics) that have progressively transformed modern philosophy, not the reverse. A revolutionary advance in our understanding of the organization of intelligence - in a broad cybernetic sense that includes coding af a genetic, cellular, organismic, and ecosystemic level as well as in mind and brain - is now in its early stages. In the international quest - not interdisciplinary but superdisciplinary - to unite a formal theory of intelligence and communication with an emerging theoretical biology and the empirical sciences of cognition (4, 60, 64), the human brain and its opposite face, the mind, represent the ultimate challenge, the most complex known natural systems:
The human brain integrates the facts that it acjuires through experience and other forms of learning into a model of the world. New facts are interpreted in the light of the model ... Understanding ... such world models, their neutral organization, their dependence upon environment and culture, are fundamental and difficult questions that cut across many scientific disciplines (14, p. 437).
More than a decade ago, Geertz noted early advances on these fronts and their potential importance (23); and in 1965, he wrote that "culture is best seen not as complexes of concrete behavior patterns - customs, usages, traditions, habit clusters - ... but as a set of control mechanisms - plans, recipes, rules, instructions (what computer engineers call 'programs") - for their governing of behavior" (25, p. 57). But he has not, I think, fully explored the implications of these insights. (Keesing 1974: 87)
This is simply brilliant, bringing together multidisciplinarity, cognitivism, modelling, culture, behaviour, habits and programs. Following this last notion, one could imagine a semiotics informed by information technology, that is, not merely "programs" but the whole gamut of software-related terms, from algorithms to applications, commands and errors, notifications and packages, libraries and frontends, stylesheets (which Van Leeuwen has already tried to integrate into his version of sociosemiotics) and source codes, etc. Using these terms metaphorically to explain nonverbal communication, for example, may be equally risky as straightforwardly revolutionary. In fact this may be the only way to translate complex theories from their original sociologese and semiologese to the language of new - "digitally native" - generations. I should write about this and try out how notions like "linking" and "IRL" could improve the comprehension of complex topics for the non-technical youngsters.
Culture, conceived as a system of competence shared in its broad design and deeper priniples, and varying between individuals in its specificities, is then not all of what an individual knows and thinks and feels about his world. It is his theory of what his fellows know, believe, and mean, his theory of the code being followed, the game being played, in the society into which he was born (see also 37). It is this theory to which a native actor refers in interpreting the unfamiliar or the ombiguous, in interacting with strangers (or supernaturals), and in other settings peripheral to the familiarity of mundane everyday life space; and with which he creates the stage on which the games of life are played. We can account for the individual actor's perception of his culture as external (and as potentially constraining and frustrating); and we can account for the way individuals then can consciously use, manipulate, violate, and try to change what they conceive to be the rules of the game. But note that the actor's "theory" of his culture, like his theory of his language, may be in large measure unconscious. Actors follow rules of which they are not consciously aware, and assume a world to be "out there" that they have in fact created with culturally shaped and shaded patterns of mind. (Keesing 1974: 89)
Seems like an elaboration of "cultural competence".
"Good progress has been made in the art of programming. For instance, it took an automaton only a few minutes to prove over 200 theorems from Whitehead & Russell's Principia Mathematica, some of these proofs being even more elegant than the known ones. But the robot's ability has peculiar limits. For example, no automaton has so far been built which in the matter of reading handwritten addresses can match even a mediocre post office sorter... Some functions ... having a primitive and far from intellectial nature, are much more difficult to automate than certain other functions which we regard as typically intellectual. ... It is for those functions which take place unconsciously that no satisfactory automata have been built" (74, p. 46; cf 17, 85). (Keesing 1974: 92; footnote 20)
This is from: Schuh, J. F. 1969. What a robot can and cannot do. In: Rose, J. (ed.), Survey of Cybernetics: A Tribute to Norbert Weiner. New York: Gordon and Breach, 29-46. This is incredible - people actually complained that the first computers ("automatons") could solve mathematics but could not read human handwriting. I don't know how far modern OCR software has developed in this regard, but to even suggest that a computer should read handwriting seems incredible, almost anecdotal. It sounds almost like "A motor car is endlessly useful for travelling on flat road, but it has it's peculiar limitations: it cannot be used to climb trees..."

Waldstein, Maxim 2007. Russifying Estonia? Iurii Lotman and the Politics of Language and Culture in Soviet Estonia. Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 8(3): 561-596.

Considering this generic usage, it is hardly surprising to learn that "Russification" is routinely used by journalists, essayists, and some academics to describe Soviet nationality policies and their effects, especially in the field of education. For instance, the Estonian philologist Ülle Pärli cites the inequality between the Russian and Estonian languages and literatures in the curriculum of the post-1945 Estonian secondary school as evidence of the Soviet state's consistent attempts to "implant an alien [ideological-cum-ethnic] worldview into the minds of Estonians." (Waldstein 2007: 561)
I think that, in a similar manner, one could speak of "anglonization" (better term must surely exist) that is currently going on in higher education: that one needs to know English, and know it well, to survive the endless seminar texts in English. Even the fact that I'm currently writing in English selle asemel, et emakeeles kirjutada, is an indication of this tendency.
I make these points by examining the social, political, and ethical situation in which Russian, and more generally "Russophone," educators found themselves in Soviet Estonia. The primary site of my historical and ethnographic analysis is the Department of Russian Literature - a division of the Philology Faculty - at Tartu State University in the 1960s through the 1980s. Headed for many years by the internationally renowned semiotician and literary theorist Iurii Mikhailovich Lotman - especially known as leader of the Tartu semiotics school - this department was at the epicenter of the intellectual and institutional negotiations over the character and content of teaching Russian language and literature in Estonia. As a result of examining a large number of personal narratives and newly available archive materials, I argue that although Lotman was keenly aware of the politically charged meaning of teaching Russian in Estonia, he was able to mobilize other aspects of his personal and social situation to reinterpret successfully the meaning, and redefine the role, of Russian language and culture in Estonia. He even managed to become a kind of national icon for the newly independent Estonian nation in the 1990s. This was possible because the framework for the efforts by Lotman and his associates to negotiate their status was not limited to the plane of the binary opposition between "Estonians" and "Russians." Instead, this framework included multiple and often conflicting role expectations: that of (potential) "Russifier" and disgruntled Jew, World War II veteran and dedicated professor, Communist Party member and prominent structuralist, skillful administrator and intellectual dissident. It is only against the background of this conflict-ridden multiplicity that one can understand what I call the distinctive "cultural politics" of Iurii Lotman and the Tartu Department of Russian Literature that he headed and represented. (Waldstein 2007: 563-564)
Because Waldstein is an "outsider," he has a keen objective position from which to describe these matters. In any case I have not seen a better or in any case more elaborate description of Lotman and his "historical context."
The Department of Russian Language and Literature had existed at the university since 1803 and persisted through the German, Russian, and Estonian periods - that is, the periods when these were the dominant languages of instruction. At one point, the faculty of Tartu Slavic and Russian Studies attracted such important scholars as Jan Baudouin de Courtenay (1845-1929), a predecessor of structuralism. Furthermore, even in the interwar "Estonian" period, most Tartu Russianists and Slavists were native Russian speakers. (Waldstein 2007: 566)
Stuff I did not knom about but now wish to know more about.
Yet, it is enough to have the roughest conception of the history of the Tartu school and the department to know that this initial perception changed radically over time, especially with respect to Lotman personally. If we take the beginning and the end of his career, we face a striking evolution from a perceived Stalinist commissar to a person praised by the first post-Soviet Estonian president for his "role in the preservation of the Estonian mentality in the re-establishment of Estonia's independence." Although Lotman formally falls under the category of "migrants" (migranty) and "occupiers" (okkupanty), who are not eligible for Estonian citizenship, the Estonian government granted him citizenship for his "exceptional service to the nation." Although Lotman was repeatedly rejected during the elections to the Soviet Academy of Sciences, he made it into the Estonian Academy after independence. Before his books started to be reprinted in Russia itself, an avalanche of Estonian translations appeared in the 1990s. By the end of his life, he became a kind of Estonian cultural hero and a national icon, especially for the purposes of the international representation of the new state. Eventually, his very name, Iurii, turned into Juri, a popular Estonian name. If previously Westeners had referred to him as a "Soviet semiotician," in the 1990s he was often remembered as an "Estonian semiotician." (Waldstein 2007: 567)
So this is why one of my supervisers claimed that I can refer to him as Westernized Ju. Lotman instead on Estonian J. Lotman over her dead body.
Lotman believed that without genuine personal interest and appreciation of another culture, its language could not be properly learned. "Interes [interest, involvement, sympathy] is a launcher of memory," he declared. What could generate this interest, according to Lotman? What could effectively transform necessity into virtue and a source of pleasure? (Waldstein 2007: 584)
I beileve Lotman was right on in this respect: memory works best when one is personally interested in the subject. This goes for learning from books as well as from people ("We aquire most from those we admire."]
From the mid-1960s on, the Tartu school developed the notion of "culture" as a "non-hereditary memory of a collective" and treated the literary text as the most capacious accumulator of "memorable" information. Lotman advocated the autonomy of culture and literature based on the distinction between types of equally necessary human needs: needs that demand immediate gratification (sleep, food); and needs that are satisfied through accumulation (information). In effect, although he admitted the reality of the political and commercial exploitation of cultural and literary texts, he also advocated the ability of these texts to resist imposed readings by wirtue of their intrinsic complexity, multidimensionality, and playfulness. (Waldstein 2007: 586)
Ah, so that's how that neat definition (kultuur kui mittepärilik mälu) looks like in English. And I'm suspecting that the latter remark - that literature accumulates the most memorable information - might have inadvertently informed my concursive project; it is that which has been stored or recorded in words that is most "memorable" about nonverbal behaviour. The rest of the characteristics of literary texts (e.g. intrinsic complexity) I must judge further down the road when concursivity has been better established.
Within Lotman's classico-centrism, though, this proud nationalistic announcement of Estonian culture's difference could be interpreted as an acknewledgment of inferiority. This is how, indeed, the question is appreached by one of Lotman's students. In an interview she [who?] explained her wariness about studying Estonian by not finding any "cultural motivation" for doing this. I am not interested in any information that I can access exclusively in Estonian" - something presumably not the case with English, German, or even Danish. (Waldstein 2007: 589)
I lack this cultural motivation in a similar - but distinctly different - manner. Namely, I am opposed to reading Estonian translations of foreign works. If there is any value in Estonian texts it es exactly the information that can be accessed exclusively in Estonian. Why read a poor translation of T. S. Eliot in Estonian, for example, when one is perfectly able to read him in his original wording. On the other hand, one can read Jaan Kärner only in Estonian. My aquaintance with fiction is too limited to go on, but in terms of scientific or philosophical literature, I consider untranslated Estonian thought to be the most valuable. I believe that we do have an unique language which can express ideas and sentiments that lack in other languages. It is that which I find most valuable. A case of a word pops into mind. Some time ago I found that there is no direct equivalent in English to the word nõme, at least not in the dictionaries. Now that I think about it, "sucky" perhaps begins to capture it. Nõmedus would then be suckiness. Yet, there is a certain playfulness and expressive freedom in our word that doesn't translate. Sa oled nõme - you are sucky, idiotic, stupid, lame; mida sa teed on nõme - what you are doing is ignorant, uninformed, shameful, regretful, disrespectful, etc.; su mõtted ja/või käitumine on nõmedad - your thoughts and/or actions are indignant, silly, moronic, disgraceful, untactful, retarded, etc. Kui eesti keel kaoks, jääks maailm ilma ühest unikaalsest süsteemist milles väljendada ainulaadseid mõtteid. Vaevalt saaks inglise keeles öelda nii lühidalt ja nii tabavalt, näiteks, et "Nõmedust on nõme pealt vaadata."

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