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Sign Systems Studies

Life histories and other methodological issues

Volume 34

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semiotics and anthropology
1. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Licia Taverna, Stefano Montes Foreword from the editors of this volume: On crossing perspectives
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2. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Peeter Torop Semiotics, anthropology and the analysability of culture
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For each culture-studying discipline, the problem of culture’s analysability stems from disciplinary identity. One half of analysability consists of the culture's attitude and the ability of the discipline's methods of description and analysis to render the culture analysable. The other half of analysability is shaped by the discipline’s own adaptation to the characteristics of culture as the object of study and the development of a suitable descriptive language. The ontologisation and epistemologisation of culture as the subject of analysis is present in each culture-studying discipline or discipline complex. Culture analysts are therefore scholars with double responsibilities. Their professionalism is measured on the basis of their analytical capability and the ability to construct (imagine, define) the object of study. The analytical capability and the ability to construct the object of study also determine the parameters of analysability. Be the analyst an anthropologist or a culture semiotician, the analysability of culture depends on how the analyst chooses to conduct the dialogue between him/herself and his/her object of study.
3. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Peeter Torop Семиотика, антропология и анализируемость культуры. Резюме
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4. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Peeter Torop Semiootika, antropoloogia ja kultuuri analüüsitavus. Kokkuvõte
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5. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Eric Landowski L’épreuve de l’autre. — Testing the other
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Testing the other. It is nowadays a commonplace of academic discourse on social sciences, especially when it comes to such disciplines as anthropology and semiotics, to oppose the old (and old-fashioned) methods of the “structuralists” to post-modern and post-structural epistemological attitudes. Structuralism, it is said, was based on the idea that it is possible to apprehend the meaning of cultural productions from an exterior and therefore objective standpoint, just by making explicit their immanent principles of organization. Today, on the contrary, a totally distinct approach of cultural productions would stem from the consciousness of a strict interdependence, or even of an identity in nature between subject and object at all levels of the process of knowledge, at least in the area of the humanities. However, such a crude opposition proves insufficient when one observes the effective practices of current research. The example here analysed is the account given by the American anthropologist Paul Rabinow of his first mission abroad: Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco. The analysis, based on the use of a semiotic modelling of interaction, consists in exploring the variety of positions respectively adopted by the anthropologist and his informants according to circumstances and contexts. Four regimes are in principle distinguishable: programmation, based on regularity and predictability of the actors’ behaviour, manipulation, based on some kind of contractualization of their relationships, adjustment, based upon reciprocal sensitivity and various strategies permitting to both partners of the interaction to test one another, and a regime of consent to the unexpected or the unforeseeable. The main result of the analysis resides in the possibility of showing that at each of these styles of pragmatic interaction corresponds a specific regime at the cognitive level as well. This leads tostressing the complexity, if not heterogeneity, of the strategies of knowledge involved at various stages of anthropological research, from the collection ofdata to the cooperative production of new forms of understanding. Taking the risk of generalization, one might also consider the interactional device, which ishere tested through the reading of P. Rabinow’s report as a metatheoretical model describing the various epistemological stances at work and at stake in thepractices of research in social sciences at large.
6. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Eric Landowski Испытание Другого. Резюме
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7. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Eric Landowski Teise proovilepanek. Kokkuvõte
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8. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Irene Portis-Winner Eric Wolf: A semiotic exploration of power
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This paper discusses Eric Wolf’s (1923–1999) analysis of power in his last monograph, Anthropology (Wolf 1964) and last book Envisioning Power (Wolf 1999). In Anthropology, Wolf (1964: 96) wrote that the “anthropological point of vantage is that of a world culture, struggling to be born.” What is worth studying is human experience in all its variability and complexity. His aim was to set the framework bridging the humanities with anthropology. He never gave up this quest, only expanding it. In the new introduction to his 1964 monograph, thirty years later, he commented that such a synthesis had not occurred. Rather there were growing schisms in the field. In the preface to Envisioning Power, he held that human sciences were unable or unwilling to come to grips with how cultural configurationsintertwine with considerations of power. In 1990 he had addressed the American Anthropological Society, holding that anthropologists favored a view of culture without power, while other social sciences have advanced a concept of ideology without culture. He wrote that his aim in his last book was to explore the connection of ideas and power observed in streams of behavior and recorded texts. Since minds interpose a selective screen between the organism and environment, ideas have content and functions that help bring people together or divide them. While ideas compose the entire range of mental constructs, Wolf understands ideology as configurations or unified schemes to underwrite or manifest power. Power is, according to Wolf, an aspect of all relations among people. Within this framework Wolf analyzes three cases, the Kwakiutl, the Aztecs, and Nazi Germany. The comparisons are very revealing, both the wide differences and similarities in power configurations and in the role of imagination.
9. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Irene Portis-Winner Эрик Вольф: семиотическое изучение власти. Резюме
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10. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Irene Portis-Winner Eric Wolf: semiootiline uurimus võimust. Kokkuvõte
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11. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Stefano Montes Just a foreword? Malinowski, Geertz and the anthropologist as native
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Read through semiotic analysis, the narrative intrigue of (the evenemential and cognitive dimension of) the anthropologist’s work reveals the epistemological configuration encasing some central and interrelated questions in anthropology: the communication-interaction between anthropologists and other inter-actants, their invention-application of some metalanguages and the subsequent intercultural translations of concepts and processes. To explore this configuration, I compare a foreword written by Malinowski and another one written by Geertz. In these forewords, they resort to refined stories to frame complex argumentations. In Malinowski’s foreword, two superposing stories are told: (1) a tale of a subject’s performance newly endowed with professional competences (the ethnologist) and a discipline possessing a more modern and positive knowledge (Functionalist ethnology) and (2) a symmetric tale of exchanged messages (with relative sanction and counter-sanction) between an enunciator (who has to lay the foundations of this science) and an addressee (who has to confirm the validity of messages). To lay these foundations, the enunciator implicitly proposes an epistemology based on some values (such as ‘penetration’, ‘progression’, and the‘overcoming of limits’) privileging the metaphor of space and the cumulative aspect of process. As far as Geertz’s foreword is concerned, the enunciator has recourse to two different stories: (1) one concerning the interaction between Geertz and his editor (rather than with natives) to justify his hermeneutic position and (2) another one, larger and including, concerning the reversal of causality relationships to reaffirm the value of coincidence. If in Malinowski’s foreword, stories are used to redefine some programmatic principles (‘discontinuity’ and the combination of ‘three different oxymora’) through which ethnology can be given a scientific nature and a new foundation, in Geertz’s foreword, on the contrary, value is given to ‘coincidence’ and ‘writing’ in its multiple forms and (paradoxically, for an interpretativist) a binary discursive epistemology and a style of thought privileging the nonterminative and imperfective process have been combined.
12. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Stefano Montes Просто предисловие? Малиновский, Гирц и антрополог как абориген. Резюме
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13. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Stefano Montes Lihtsalt eessõna? Malinowski, Geertz ja antropoloog kui pärismaalane. Kokkuvõte
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14. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Piret Koosa, Art Leete The ethnographer as a trader: On some metaphors in the Komi fieldwork diaries
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Collecting ethnographic items for the Estonian National Museum has been linked to the practice of buying objects during fieldwork. Often we can find metaphors or expressions connected with trading in the Komi fieldwork diaries. Comparing ethnographers with merchants is a stereotypical way of describing the activities of Estonian researchers in the field. If ethnographers use, in their diaries, metaphors and expressions connected to trading, it may be just a spontaneous phrasing or inter-textual play of words. Inside the community of Estonian ethnologists there exists some kind of discourse style, which is followed in the fieldwork diaries, more or less consciously. This style of narration is also connected to the specific social and historical context in which ethnographers act. At the same time, even satiric inter-textual quotations do not exclude the possibility that some of this discourse is related to a deeper level of human consciousness.
15. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Piret Koosa, Art Leete Этнограф как торговец: о метафорах в дневниках полевых работ в Коми. Резюме
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16. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Piret Koosa, Art Leete Etnograaf kui kaupmees: metafooridest komi välitööpäevikutes. Kokkuvõte
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17. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Richard Pottier Carré sémiotique et interprétation des récits mythiques
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Semiotic square and the interpretation of myths. Greimas’ semiotic square is built upon the hypothesis that the concept of elementary structure of signification is operational only if subjected to a logical interpretation and formulation. However, Greimas’ commentaries on that model are questionable. On the one hand, he asserts that logical nature of the connection between any two terms, s1 and s2, is undetermined; on the other hand, he provides the relations s1 – non s1, s2 – non s2, s1 – non s2 and s2 – non s1 with a logical status. Now, since these two statements are inconsistent, a choice must be made: either these four relations have a logical significance, and then the semiotic square is a logical square, so that s1 – s2 has to be interpreted as an incompatibility relation; or s1 – s2 has no logical meaning, and then not only the status of the other relations given in the model is not logical either, but also the simple fact of applying negation to the terms s1 ands2 is meaningless.That dilemma follows from an argument, that Greimas has laid down as a principle, under which linguistic communication depends on the existence of a deep level (or immanent level) of the significance, that is supposed to precede its manifestation in speech. If, conversely, we assume that significance is produced at discursive level, and that consequently the patterning of linguistic codes relies on what could be called a semantic sedimentation process, which comes out from linguistic activity, there is no more dilemma.Such a thesis, which implies that the elementary structure of signification must be seen as the schematization by the describer of speakers’ mental activity, leads to a point of view inversion. Nevertheless, the two conditions which, according to Greimas, are required for catching the meaning are still relevant, except that, contrary to Greimas’ opinion, they now apply at the speech level: two discursive units can be opposed if they simultaneously include a common feature which join them, and a distinguishing feature which disjoin them.
18. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Richard Pottier Семиотический квадрат и анализ мифа. Резюме
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19. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Richard Pottier Semiootiline ruut ja müüdianalüüs. Kokkuvõte
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20. Sign Systems Studies: Volume > 34 > Issue: 2
Licia Taverna How do histories of survival begin? The incipit as a strategic place of the inexpressible
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I analyse here some histories of people who lived in concentration camps and told their experiences: De Gaulle Anthonioz (La Traversée de la nuit), Geoffroy (Au temps des crématoires…), Semprun (L’Écriture ou la vie). These histories represent the lives of survivors, but they are also a form of literary expression with a narrative structure that codifies a genre. More particularly, I focus the attention on the incipit, a strategic place in which some of the specific features of the global meaning and structural organization of the whole text can be seized. My hypothesis is that in histories of survival, already in the incipit, the authors strive to convey the emblematic value of their history: an extreme and traumatic experience which is difficult to express. The analysis of these incipit shows that experiences related to concentration camps, to be expressed, need an elaborated message and that an artistic aim can contribute to the representation of these experiences. From the structural viewpoint, histories of survival amplify a dichotomy existing in several literary genres and currents: ‘external reference’ and ‘internal organization’, mimetic ‘truth’ and narrative ‘structure’, ‘reality’ and ‘convention’, ‘experience’ and ‘narration’. In my opinion, histories of survival solve theseoppositions by reconciling some contraries through the use of oxymora. Even narratives structures or key figures such as the author, the narrator, the observer, the witness and so on, tend to become oxymora. The study of these features (and combination) is pertinent for anthropology (by seizing facts thanks to elaborated ‘ways of uttering’ authors often redefine forms of humanity) and for semiotics (any form of expression, even if original, has to be collectively shared and based on a system of signs). In my opinion, a joint semiotic and anthropological approach can help analysing histories of survival as a ‘literary genre’ and as a ‘historical tragic phenomenon’.