RE: [xmca] New Valsiner SEmiots paper on MCA website at lchc

From: Tony Whitson (
Date: Tue Nov 21 2006 - 10:32:18 PST

Mike writes:
Why does believing that people are able to carry knowledge inside their
bodies (heads if you prefer) does it imply that hat some people hold greater
or superior knowledge to other people? Why not just different, the
better/worse valuation depending upon the pragmatics of the circumstances.

I think this does go to the root problem. Semiotics enables us to understand
KNOWING in terms of participation in semiosis, or sign-activity. "Knowledge"
could be something that can be carried inside heads or bodies only if there
was such a thing as meaning (in this case, what is known) that is a kind of
content--something that can be contained, communicated and transported. In
my Silhouette paper I trace how this idea of meaning flows from a more basic
ideology of positivist ontology that pervades education (and beyond).

In the non-positivist semiotic understanding, meaning is not content, but
potentiation. Signs do not contain or convey "meaning"; signs, rather,
potentiate meaning in the form of ongoing interpretation by "intelligent
systems." Peirce glosses "intelligent system" as a system capable of
learning from its history of interpretation. So ... an Activity System (as
in CHAT) is a perfect candidate for the role of interpreter in semiotics.

Sign activity engenders webs of signification, which relates back to Geertz.
Along with Geertz's webs and Weber's iron cage, we might consider the
"Prison House of Language" -- which Jameson takes from Nietzsche and applies
to the Russian formalists and, beyond them, to the structuralism of Saussure
and others. The radical difference between Peirce and Saussure suggests a
way of responding to the Iron Cage problem, and the Prison House critique
plugs all this right into traditions that Bakhtin and Volosinov were also
responding to. (LSV? I don't know.)

In response to dualism, and the issue of Realism vs. Idealism:
John Deely articulates a "Semiotist" position as against both the Realist
and the Idealist. Deely sees even Jameson as trapped in an ideology (my
word) of "Representation" (Locke, Kant, etc.) rather than awareness of
signification (Poinsot, Peirce, etc.) through essentially triadic
sign-relations, in which the triadically related terms participate together
in semiosis without regard for boundaries between "mind" and "world," etc.

I think these fundamental issue do have bearing on the regime of
accountability through high-stakes testing, and the regime of teaching
practice in which such accountability might seem to make sense; and that to
overturn the regime we do need a semiotic vocabulary and understanding of
the world to supplant the positivist world view and vocabulary that is now
our currency; but to make that case, I would just be repeating arguments
that are in the paper (which will be in the second of five issues of
Semiotica in 2007).

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