The Goals of Semiotic

 The Goals of Semiotic

The primary objective of semiotics is to understand both a species capacity to make and understand signs and in the case of the human species, the knowledge-making activity this capacity allows human beings to carry out. While  Saussure  may  be  hailed  as  a  founder  of  semiotics,  semiotics  has become  increasingly  less  Saussurean  since  the  1970s.  Why  should  we  study semiotics? This is a pressing question in part because the writings of semioticians have  a  reputation  for  being  dense  with  jargon:  one  critic  wittily  remarked  that ‘semiotics  tells  us  things  we  already  know  in  a  language  we  will  never understand’ Paddy Whannel (1992, 31).

The  semiotic  establishment  may  seem  to  be  a  very  exclusive  club  but  its concerns are not confined to members. No one with an interest in how things are represented  can  afford  to  ignore  an  approach  which  focuses  on,  and problematizes,  the  process  of  representation.  While  we  need  not  accept  the postmodernist  stance  that  there  is  no  external  reality  beyond  sign-systems, studying  semiotics  can  assist  us  to  become  more  aware  of  the  mediating  role  of signs  and  of  the  roles  played  by  ourselves  and  others  in  constructing  social realities. It can  make us  less  likely to take reality  for granted something which  is wholly independent of human interpretation.

Exploring  semiotic  perspectives,  we  may  come  to  realize  that  information  or meaning  is  not  ‘contained’  in  the  world  or  in  books,  computers  or  audio-visual media.  Meaning  is  not  ‘transmitted’  to  us.  we  actively  create  it  according  to  a complex  interplay  of  codes  or  conventions  of  which  we  are  normally  unaware. Becoming  aware  of  such  codes  is  both  inherently  fascinating  and  intellectually empowering.  We  learn  from  semiotics  that  we  live  in  a  world  of  signs  and  we have  no  way  of  understanding  anything  except  through  signs  and  the  codes  into which they are organized.

Through the study of semiotics, we  become aware that these  signs  and codes are normally transparent and disguise our task in reading them. Living in a world of increasingly visual signs, we need to learn that even the most realistic signs are not what they appear to be. By making more explicit the codes by which signs are interpreted,  we  may  perform  the  valuable  semiotic  function  of  denaturalizing signs. This is not to suggest that all representations of reality are of equal status – quite  the  contrary.  In  defining  realities  signs  serve  ideological  functions.

Deconstructing and contesting the realities of signs can reveal whose realities are privileged  and  whose  are  suppressed.  Such  a  study  involves  investigating  the construction and maintenance of reality by particular social groups. To decline the study of signs is to leave to others the control of the world of meanings which we inhabit.




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