Keynote Speakers – Alexandros Ph. Lagopoulos

Alexandros Lagopoulos is Professor Emeritus of Urban Planning at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, and Corresponding Member of the Academy of Athens. He holds a postgraduate diploma from the Centre de Recherche d’Urbanisme, Paris. He has a doctorate in Engineering and a post-doctoral academic title (Habilitation) in Urban and Regional Planning from the National Technical University of Athens, a doctorate in Social Anthropology from the Sorbonne and an honorary doctorate in Semiotics from the New Bulgarian University of Sofia. He has been vice-president of the International Association for Semiotic Studies and is honorary president of the Hellenic Semiotic Society and the International Association for the Semiotics of Space+Time. He is the author of many books and articles in Greek, English, and French, as well as some in German, Russian and Bulgarian.

Semiotics and materiality: Some epistemological issues


Semiotics as a scientific domain necessarily obeys the rule of relevance and the same is true for its extension into sociosemiotics. However, a problem arises when it encounters the extra-semiotic domains, and the general reaction of semioticians is to defend their relevance. I believe that the domain of relevance does not have to exclude a further extension of semiotics.

Frequently in semiotics, the two concepts of ‘culture’ and ‘society’ are perceived as identical. This is not true. The cultural sphere is the domain of semiotics, but the sociological sphere revolves mainly around extra-semiotic issues. Even textual analysis itself hides a background knowledge, not only of more general cultural information, but also of extra-semiotic data.

The extension of semiotics results in an encounter with three different materialities, two of which are acknowledged in semiotics. The first is the possible extra-semiotic referent of a text. Peircean semiotics operates with the referent, while Saussurean semiotics generally remains within the rule of relevance. I believe that we can leave the referent to the philosophers. The second is the material vehicle of a text, its ontological purport, which is not an operational concept in semiotics, where it is found in its transformed form as substance of the expression. While I believe that this purport also is not part of semiotics, there are many cases in which it exerts pressure on the semiotic systems, thus influencing them structurally. I shall call this articulation between semiotics and the extra-semiotic ‘material semiotics’.

The third materiality encountered with the extension of semiotics is society, which has two aspects. One of them concerns the consumption side of the communication circuit, considered not at the micro-scale, as an intra-textual ‘Destinataire’ (with a capital D, following Greimas and Courtés) or as the semiotic instance of the enunciatee, nor as an extra-textual semiotic subject (Jakobson’s ‘destinataire’), but at the macro-scale, as a social subject, defined by its socio-professional integration, ethnicity, age, and gender. The other aspect is due to the fact that semiotic systems are not ethereal substances existing by themselves, transformed only through internal mechanisms, but are part of the social processes involved in the very existence of a society. These processes are extra-semiotic, but crucial for the formation of semiotic systems, incorporated dialectically into them and subject to their influence. Once again, I am not referring to the micro-scale semiotic instance of the enunciator, but to an articulation of production: the production, in the last instance, of the semiotic from the social, which I call ‘social semiotics’. Such an approach, which has existed for decades in sociolinguistics, is actually foreseen by Saussure’s ‘external linguistics’ and Hjelmslev’s ‘metasemiotic of connotative semiotics.’

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