[xmca] sense/meaning-signs/functions

From: Iraj Imam (iimam@cal-research.org)
Date: Fri Jul 15 2005 - 14:33:33 PDT

This has been an interesting conversation relating to function of
language in transformation and emergence of meaning from activities and
their consequences, if I understand it correctly. The tension seems to
focus on the extent to which what emerges is 'context-bound' or
'context-free' (excuse any misreading):
Michael wrote 7/12/2005 11:19 AM:
". knowing a language and knowing your way around the world are
indistinguishable. We do not have to privilege words from the outset. It
is not words we learn, we come to identify recurrent sounds with
Situations. Another way of moving away of following linguists in their
fallacy of considering language and meaning as separate entities--pace
Vygotsky--is to look at linguistic practices. Let's see how words and
sentences are produced and reproduced in situation, for purposes, to get
work done, rather than talk about language "in the abstract". Talking
about language independent of situations leads us down a blind
alley, I think."
Ana wrote 7/12/2005 10:55 PM:
"I am thinking of a possibility to refer to objects actions events that
are not either present nor part of a joint activity, nor are they in any
way connected to the actual "situation" of the interacting participants.
Of course, now we must also define "situation" -- I make a difference
between a situation in which I communicate about the "immediate",
present reality -- like in the example with Michael's chicken, and many
examples with babies. On the other hand, language (and other symbolic
means) is used to communicate about things/actions/relations/events that
are not part of the immediate situation, and or to create new
situations. In a way I am thinking of the use of language which is
similar to the activity of play: to tell stories, to create figured
worlds and fictive worlds. Vygotsky described play as a dominance of
meaning over the object/action -- [a stick is not a stick any more, but
a "horse"]."
Dot wrote 7/14/2005 11:54 AM:
 "... In reality, there are no signs as such, but sign functions,
according to U. Eco and others. I hope to transcend my static thoughts
in future, by trying to introduce a flow model approach ... And, I hope
to focus much more on process, as opposed to product, and on the "whole"
as opposed to the "parts." ... It has become interesting for me to view
common paradoxes, which flow in an asymmetrical process, and are often
viewed as opposing elements in my thoughts...now, I view monism
(something not individual and personal) as being completed within
dialectics (which is always changing); meaning as being completed within
sense (which is always changing); scientific concepts as being completed
in everyday concepts (always changing); etc. The holographic model I am
discovering is one of empowerment, not control; one of movement..."
Ana wrote Thu 7/14/2005 8:58 PM:

". I defined making meaning as a dynamic process of establishing topics
between participants in conversation and making comments about the
topics. These two functions: establishing a topic and making a comment,
repeat recursively at every layer of speech -- from completely situated
utterances which are inseparable from the rest of the interpersonal
situation, to more "portable" embodied utterances, to sentences, and
finally, to single words."
This tension resonates with topics in spatial theory and issues of the
production of space (of language, of social, of physical). To borrow
from Ana, ""immediate", present reality" refers to the data that are
directly available to our senses from 'out there' and we use language to
talk about them like "Michael's chicken." Lefebvre refers to this as
perceived space (Soja calls it 1st space). Ana's second example refers
to when language is used to talk about the stuff that "are not part of
the immediate situation, and or to create new situations." If the stuff
are not in the immediate situation; directly available to our senses,
then where do the new stuff come from? On place is that language as
space, not only creates an arena to talk about the existing things out
there or in our memories (individual and collective), but also it can
create new language space (more of itself/language, or Ana's new
situations). Lefebvre referred to this as conceived space (Soja's 2nd
space). Unlike physical space, the space of language seems unlimited.
Learning and new ideas as emergence can be seen as production of new
language space that utilize the attribute of the language to 'travel'
beyond the immediate real and imagined contexts. If, however, new ideas
remain only in the imagined spaces (eg, language, texts) and not
projected into actual social relations, according to Lefebvre, they
remain just that-imagined. (a similar point mentioned by Michael too, I
think). It is in the social space of interactions between these two
spaces (Lefebvre, Soja's 3rd space) that change in both spaces of
perceived and conceived are created (or prevented in spaces of social
domination by reinforcing boundaries in these spaces so movement/travel
in both is contained). I sympathize with Ana's suggestion "we need to
understand how language and language alone can be used to create [new]
situations." The above spatial approach helps to visualize a varied
context (space) for the dynamic process of social interactions between
space of language and social and physical space; iterations resulting
transformations in both.
[ It was Lefebvre who criticized Foucault and Derrida for reducing the
social space to only conceived space of language (Derrida: 'there is
nothing outside text'). Lefebvre suggesting space of language is inside
the social space, not the other way around. The criticism apparently was
acknowledged by both (Derrida: 'there is nothing outside context')].
Let me end by perhaps an unusual related real example: In the trial of
the officers accused of police brutality in the case of Rodney King, the
defense successfully used the slow motion of video tape of the beating
(sense: data out there) and produced meanings that convinced the mostly
White mostly women jury that the video is showing (proof) that Rodney
King is in control not the police officers. Ana's model of production
of new space of language, "establishing a topic and making a comment,
repeat recursively at every layer of speech" seem to apply here. From
the data 'out there,' one set of new meaning was produced in the space
of language and projected into the social relations of the court system
and the jury's mind seemed open to it to believe it-in a Los Angeles
middle class suburb of mostly retired Whites, including former police
officers. We know the alternative meanings that were produced socially
and put into action in display of destructive power of 'no justice, no
peace' in other places of Los Angeles-mostly Black and mostly poor.
>From the same sense, opposing meanings emerged: The same images,
functioned in interaction with different audiences/contexts produced
different spaces of meaning, put to action in different social arenas,
and produced different outcomes. Dot and Ana's 'sign functions'
functioned differently in different social spaces into which they
entered. And signs' meanings were produced from their function they
gained in connecting to various social contexts (real and imagined), and
not in the images themselves. The other example of 'sign function' is
iraj imam
The Center for Applied Local Research
5200 Huntington Ave., Suite 200 Richmond, CA 94804
Telephone: (510) 558-7932 FAX: (510) 558-7940
e-mail: <mailto:iimam@cal-research.org> iimam@cal-research.org
Web: www: cal-research.org
"Without changing our patterns of thought we will not be able to solve
the problems we created with our current pattern of thought." Einstein


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