Semiotics can help to denaturalize theoretical assumptions in academia just as in everyday life; it can thus raise new theoretical issues. Whilst this means that many scholars who encounter semiotics find it unsettling, others find it exciting. Semiotic techniques ‘in which the analogy of language as a system is extended to culture as a whole’ can be seen as representing ‘a substantial break from the positivist and empirical traditions which had limited much previous cultural theory’.

Robert Hodge and Gunther Kress argue that unlike many academic disciplines, ‘semiotics offers the promise of a systematic, comprehensive and coherent study of communications phenomena as a whole, not just instances of it’.  Semiotics provides us with a potentially unifying conceptual framework and a set of methods and terms for use across the full range of signifying practices, which include gesture, posture, dress, writing, speech, photography, film, television and radio. Semiotics may not itself be a discipline but it is at least a focus of enquiry, with a central concern for meaning-making practices which conventional academic disciplines treat as peripheral. As David Sless notes, ‘we consult linguists to find out about language, art historians or critics to find out about paintings, and anthropologists to find out how people in different societies signal to each other through gesture, dress or decoration. But if we want to know what all these different things have in common then we need to find someone with a semiotic point of view, a vantage point from which to survey our world’. David Mick suggests, for instance, that ‘no discipline concerns itself with representation as strictly as semiotics does’ Mick 1988, 20; my emphasis. Semiotics foregrounds and problematizes the process of representation.

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