Intentionality and Semiotics: What Lemke wrote

From: Bill Barowy (
Date: Tue Dec 21 2004 - 07:07:47 PST

Don, here are some quick thoughts in response to the social semiotic approach
to investigation that you posted and that I've found insightful. Perhaps if
continuing some further clarity might result. I'll have to revisit Jay's
book. I probably won't get the same things out of it this time around.

1. How does the performance of any particular socially meaningful
 action make sense to the members of a community?
(Along with questions 2, 4, 5, 6)

I think only a few activity theoretic studies apply an ethnographic spin, I
hope someone posts refs to those they know about. CHAT seems focussed more
on the social organization (and transformation thereof) of people who are
doing something together, but yet, your above question refers to "members of
a community" rather than "members of a social group". Community, to me,
indicates more joint intentionality than "social group", as also does "system
of activity". Together with question 7, "What larger social patterns does
the action belong to?" the two approaches seem nearer, although "social
patterns" e.g. trivially: triadic discourse, break the bounds of things like
institutions, i.e. durable systems of activity, that CHAT works so well to
analyze. Yet, what Yrjo terms "third generation", which analyzes
transformations in social organization across systems of activity, makes it
possible to look at larger patterns, beyond institutions. Perhaps one step
in the expansive methodology, looking for "models" (Wartofsky's second order
artifacts) shared across systems, might be reinterpreted as looking for
"systems of signs" shared across communities?

Question 8, "How does it [action] tend to recreate or change the basic
patterns of the society? " seems entirely consistent with activity theory, if
one realizes that one basic pattern has been the durable social organization
with shared artifacts, intentionality, and a division of labor.

3. What are the parts and how are they related to each other?

I think i see connections here, but I'm not sure what you mean by parts.
Regarding where intentionality, or Leont'ev's object (what brings people
together to do something) stands in relation to semiotics, lets say focussing
on social semiotics, it seems Jay has had this to say:

"While social semiotics does not accept intentional goals as a valid principle
for defining actional units, it does agree with the developments of AT in the
direction of understanding semiotic mediation (signs) in the same terms as
artifact mediation (tools) in human activity. The later version of the theory
has been developed particularly by Yrjo Engestrom. Vygotsky emphasized
originally the role of discourse in mediating action."

Activity Theory and Actant-Network Theory

I'll throw this quote from Jay into the mix as well, because, while discussing
(!!!) 3 activity theoretic methodologies (!!!) it raises the issue of
development (which brings in MIchael G's thread) -- and I'm wondering how
development is studied in social semiotics? Is it more than the changes in
the basic patterns of the society? What are its units? Could it be changes
in meaning or changes in meaning-making?
 "One strand within AT research tends to focus on individual development in
the context of local social interaction. In another, the unit of analysis is
rather the activity itself, with a focus on its community history and how it
comes to be part of the repertory of an individual. A fully sociocultural
version of AT attempts to link subjects-in-development not only with the
social activities that link us to other subjects, but also to the mediating
artifacts, tools, and symbolic systems of our communities, and to relevant
larger scale cultural and social formations (e.g. norms and values, ways of
speaking and acting)."

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Sat Jan 01 2005 - 01:00:04 PST