An Outline for a Theory of Political Semiotics
Andreas Ventsel (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Peeter Selg (email@example.com)
Mari-Liis Madisson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
From the point of view of political semiotics political can be understood as the manifestation of power-relations in different semiotic systems inside of which social identities are constructed. We can say that social context and semiotic circumstances could have been otherwise and therefore every order is predicated on the exclusion of other possibilities. ‘It is in that sense that can be called “political” since it is the expression of a particular structure of power relations’ (Mouffe 2005: 18). This form of exclusion is what we call “hegemonic practices” and every hegemonic order is susceptible to being challenged by counter-hegemonic practices, i.e. ‘practices which will attempt to disarticulate the existing order so as to install another form of hegemony’ (ibid). Rephrasing this in the terminology of semiotics of culture we may say that every political analysis is a (dis)articulating process that is a process of translation, and it depends on the nature of this process within the cultural context whether the process acquires a hegemonic status or not. The main goal of political semiotics as a discipline is the ascertainment of processually defined power-relations in different signification practice; and an analyze of those signification logics.
1) Tyler Bennett, Tartu University (email@example.com)
Art is always subversive --aesthetics and politics in early and late Lotman
Juri Lotman's early writings define art objects as those whose interpretation cannot be given in the terms of a concept. The necessary plurality of interpretations that results is guaranteed by what he calls the internal heterogeneity of the object. The conflict of two or more incompatible codes requires that comparisons be drawn between intersecting structures. The elements of each are re-coded in the other's terms, an essentially metaphoric mapping procedure that takes place at every level of the hierarchy of sign systems and gives rise to unexpected reserves of meaning. This logic of creativity was developed in Structure of the Artistic Text (1977) for the purposes of analyzing poetry, however unpredictability remains a central principle in Lotman's later writings as well. In fact Culture and Explosion (2009) attributes the same logic to historical development. The successful expression of revolutionary spirit always has an aesthetic character. More importantly, the work of art in this context has an inevitably subversive aspect. The aesthetic finds its definition not by expressing a certain content, but by creating an opening in which to think, between otherwise undisturbed concepts. Some examples from political graffiti provide simple illustrations of this complex creative logic.
3) Emmanuel Henrique Souza RODRIGUES (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Brazilian Military Dictatorship: The support of media to the dictators, a Social Semiotic analysis
This paper is situated in the Brazilian debates about democracy in the memorial of the 50th anniversary of the Brazilian Military Dictatorship: The Brazilian democratic government suffered a coup by 1964 April 1st. My objective is to show how the media supported the actions of the coup-installed government through the dictatorial time. The Brazilian dictatorship happened as reflect of the Cold War, when many countries in Latin America (LA) lived military dictatorships. It happened because of the tensions between the capitalist bloc and the communist one. The LA coups were supported by the United States to prevent the advance of the communism in the world, as show the Condor Operation archives and other studies of this time. When we were in the 60’s, Brazil lived ruled by the presidents Kubitschek and, then, Quadros, who renounced and put in his place the left-wing vice-president Goulart. Goulart proposed deeply progressive reforms to the country, called Reformas de Base. Part of the population, the right-wing opposition, didn’t approve the actions and, with the support of USA and sectors of the Catholic Church, supported the military coup in 1964, alleging that they were saving the country of a “communist dictatorship”. This putsch started a right-wing dictatorship, governing Brazil since 1964 to 1985. This Military Age was in all this extension marked by the applause of the conservators and the support of sectors of media. The corpus in that I analyze this media support is the covers from Veja’s, one of the most sold magazines in Brazil. I took the covers in its collection about the dictatorship. These editions were published since 1968, when the magazine was released, to 1996 – even with the end of the military regime, two other editions were made about the thematic. The theory I use to analyze is based in the Social Semiotic (VAN LEEUWEN, 2006), who permit to see social categories in semiotic representation. To make the description of the semiotic elements, I deal with The Grammar of Visual Design, by Kress and van Leeuwen (2006), through the interpersonal metafunction. This paper have a background too in the theory of visual representations of social actors too (VAN LEEUWEN, 2008), when I analyze this representation interpreting it with the Thompson’s ideology theory (1990). The methodology we use to analyze the corpus is from the Critical Discourse Analyses, using the proposition of Chouliaraky & Fairclough (1999): the description part is made by the visual design analysis, while the interpretation is made by the ideology and power theory and the explication with the history explanation. The conclusion we are reaching with the partial results is that Veja ideologically supported, by means of its covers of the period, the dictatorship, amplifying its voice and hiding those who would make opposition to the regime. Almost every time the dictatorship actions are represented, they are in a positive or half-positive way, while those who are in disagreement with the regime are muted or represented as a threat of the peace, security and nation.
Keywords: Brazilian Dictatorship; Media Discourse; Critical Discourse Analyses; Social Semiotics; Visual Design
4) Andreas Ventsel
New media has created a novel communicational space which has quite often been connected with the idea of the new or radical publicity. This idea binds with a vision according to which different online platforms (especially text-based forums) have a huge potential to become a new environment for articulating and negotiating political decisions. Hypermedia is often seen as a realization of Habermasian ideal of public sphere. According to Habermas the publicity is constituted in public speech (lexis); and it can also take the form of negotiation or trial; and it may also be common activity (praxis), e.g. warfare or competitive games. Online media allows people: to reach for huge amounts of relevant information; to spread their views; and to communicate with their political representatives without living their homes. The creation of multiple virtual communities (forums) which are built on common interests (often understood as public spheres) offers a possibility of direct participation.
On the other hand, different communities of alternative media that identify themselves as spokesmen of e-democracy; are using signification-practices which are rather characteristic of totalitarian communication. This tendency can be described as a process of creolization of different types of communication. In case of creolization languages can be blend despite of the great differences of their grammar. In an actual communication situation these differences stay out of the sight of a subject, he/she perceives the language as a unified whole. That kind of mixed type of communication allows moving between different spheres of text: new possibilities of signification enable to link fundamentally different information and genres. This presentation tries to explain that kind of signification processes in the framework of radical democracy and the concept of politics by Chantal Mouffe which stresses that there are two ways of conceptualizing publicity/political space: antagonism and agonism.
5) Jeanne Simon Ph.D. Universidad de Concepción. Chile
Elizabeth Parra, Ph.D. Universidad de Concepción. Chile
El conflicto intercultural desde el prisma de la semiótica: un estudio de caso del conflicto mapuche en Chile
Durante los últimos años, el reconocimiento de la naturaleza multicultural de las sociedades ha crecido y América Latina ha contribuido al deseo de construir una comunidad política plural unida por sus valores y convivencia. No obstante, en América Latina, aun existen actores políticos que mantienen un discurso de un Estado, una nación, marginalizando a las culturas y a sus miembros, tal es el caso del pueblo Mapuche en Chile.
El análisis semiótico y hermenéutico del discurso que visualiza el conflicto entre el pueblo mapuche y el Estado de Chile a través del discurso mediático y político permite identificar la representación del pueblo mapuche (el Otro) construida sobre la base de elementos de significación de carácter discriminatoria y con una fuerte connotación negativa. A partir de las tensiones sobre las relaciones interculturales y las conceptualizaciones de ciudadanía, hemos identificado los siguientes marcos interpretativos utilizados por los actores políticos para entender la dinámica del conflicto entre el Estado y el pueblo Mapuche desde un enfoque político y democrático: pluralismo cultural, interculturalidad, unidad nacional y autodeterminación.
El estudio se enmarca en una perspectiva hermenéutica y semiótica en tanto se limita al estudio del discurso como interacción social de las relaciones conflictuadas entre el Estado chileno y el pueblo mapuche a nivel nacional. La hermenéutica y la semiótica permiten al investigador analizar el discurso enunciado por los grupos de poder cuya lógica ha sido descontextualizar y resemantizar el conflicto intercultural desde una única mirada restringiendo la posibilidad de tener acceso a diversas y variadas visiones sobre éste. En este estudio se analizan el discurso púbico de los principales actores políticos para identificar sus marcos interpretativos y la conceptualización del otro, el Mapuche. Entre los resultados se espera evidenciar que el discurso de la prensa y el discurso político, dos tipos de discursos que conforman el discurso público generan visiones al margen de la visión del pueblo mapuche lo que propicia el mantenimiento y o exacerbación de la mirada del eje del poder. Por tanto, es posible afirmar que el discurso público dominante hegemoniza el decir, buscando deslegitimar al Otro transformando el conflicto en una estrategia discursiva para mantener el poder y de paso, deslegitimar al Otro como ciudadano/a.
Palabras claves: Interculturalidad, discurso, semiótica
Intercultural conflict seen from the prism of semiotics: case study of public discourse on the mapuche Conflict in Chile
Jeanne Simon Ph.D, Elizabeth Parra, Ph.D.
In the last few decades, there is a growing recognition of the multicultural nature of Latin American societies, contributing to the desire to build a plural political community characterized by shared values. Still, some political actors maintain the one nation, one State discourse, which marginalizes other cultures, such as the case of the Mapuche people in Chile.
To visualize the conflict between the Mapuche and the Chilean state, the present paper presents the results of a Semiotic and hermeneutic analysis of the mediatic and political discourse, identifying the representation of the Mapuche (the Other) whose construction is based in discriminatory and strongly negative elements.
Based in the identified tensions and conceptualizations of citizenship, we have identified the following interpretative frameworks used by political actors to explain the dynamic of the conflict between the state and the Mapuche: national unity, self-determination, cultural pluralism, and interculturalism.
Working within a hermeneutic and semiotic perspective, the study of discourse is understood as social interaction of conflictive relations between the Chilean state and the Mapuche at the national level. Consequently, we analyze the discourse enunciated by powerful groups whose logic has been to decontextualize and resemantize intercultural conflict from a single perspective, restricting the possibility of accessto diverse and varied visions on this. We identify the principal interpretative frameworks and the conceptualization of the other, the Mapuche. The results will identify the mediatic discourse and the political discourse, which together form the public discourse, generating visions that marginalize Mapuche understanding and tend to maintain or strengthen the perspective of powerful groups. Therefore, we can affirm that the dominant public discourse hegemonizes the discourse, seeking to delegitimize the other transforming conflict into a discursive strategy to maintain power within the dominant culture and denying the Mapuche Chilean citizenship.
Keywords: Intercultural conflict, discourse, semiotics, citizenship
6) Lazaros Papoutzis, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Anastasia Christodoulou, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
Ifigeneia Vamvakidou, University of Western Macedonia
Argyris Kyridis, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
The uprising of social values as a stake of the 2012 Greek elections campaign. Syriza party followers are designing the new posters for their party campaign.
Election campaigns became the most suitable spatio-temporal contexts where and when any (possible) President will implicitly or explicitly connect to some powerful mental images, adapted to the social and cultural embeddings. In this paper, we focus on the study of 25 election campaign posters during the 2012 election campaigns in Greece as they had been ordered and produced by particular followers-designers of the left-orientated party of Syriza. In the Greek elections of 2012, Syriza's rise has put pressure on the traditional forces to create a wider coalition and had produced many “alternative” posters. The aim of this piece of research is to illustrate the socio-cultural meaning of these posters: the literature offers three general conceptions of the receivers, as-mass, as-outcome, and as agent. The audience-as-agent conception (poster creators as transcoders of political ideology/ followers-designers) has largely come to dominate our understanding of the engagement between the viewer and text, therefore this model allows us (the viewers) to move toward the idea that viewer engagement can itself create social value— whether cultural or political. Our research is based on socio-semiotic methodology (Barthes, 1977; Kress, et al 1996; Lagopoulos & Boklund-Lagopoulou, 1992; Randviir & Cobley, 2010), which is not confined to a formalistic approach of texts, but scrutinizes them as an integral part of a material, socioeconomic and political context. We apply this methodology in order to determine the messages ideology in relation to the world of left-orientated politics. The analysis led to a series of important data referring to the structuring of the verbal and iconic message of the posters and how this messages and signs are connected with "new forms" of politics, which are reproduced by Party followers. Political posters have the potential for meaning (are signs with appearance, information and targets), but that meaning probably, cannot be directly transmitted from any designer to the gaze of voters. It can only be mediated through the voters’ social context, which lies outside the designer’s control. This semiotic mechanism, in which followers-designers and voters are connected through posters, is where socio-cultural value being more realized.
7) Mari-Liis Madisson
The construction of the New World Order narrative in online-communication of the extreme right
After the Global Financial Crisis and especially after attacks of Breivik, the public and academic discourse is full of anxious visions about the expansion of the extreme right ideology into the Internet. People are worrying about the radicalization of the lone wolves; about potential spontaneous riots which are facilitated by social media and mobile technologies; and also about the hate-speech which can be effectively spread via Youtube videos or blogs. The general aim of my study us to create a framework that helps to understand the signification-processes that prevail in the online communication of the extreme-right. I believe that by understanding the dominant mechanisms of extreme right meaning-creation and its specificities in hypermedia environment; it is easier to map the degree of radicalization of some ideas. It may also help to develop ways how to interact with those seemingly encapsulated communities.
The aim of this presentation is to explain the paradoxical tendency that in the context of information overflow of digital age, where one could theoretically reach for a heterogenous spectrum of different viewpoints; the extreme right communication seems to be framed by one-sided or even hermetic interpretative schemes. Extreme right representations that often combine elements of various discourses and modes; tend to be reduced to one all-embracing meaning: New World Order (NWO) conspiracy. In NWO visions institutions that possess global economic or political power (e.g. UN, WTO; EU; Trilateral Commission; Bilderberg Group) are seen controlled by malicious conspirators and the main purpose of their activities is to undermine the existing democratic world order which is based on democracy and sovereignty of different countries. According to NWO interpretations of extreme right, the main aim of conspirators is to establish a global authoritarian regime, and for doing that the strong identity markers (race, nationalism, (Christian) morality) have to be weakened. The cultural homogenization, global economy and massive migration are seen as the signs of the success of far-reaching NWO conspiracy.
In this study I try to show the semiotic logic that frames NWO narratives in extreme right online communication. For doing that I combine the frameworks of cultural semiotics (Lotman, Eco); ideas of cyber-narratology (Aarseth, Landow, Ryan) and critical studies of conspiracy theories (Ballinger, Fenster, Knight). My presentation has predominantly theoretical orientation but I also illustrate my statements with examples that are based on non-participatory observation in Estonian extreme right blogs.
8) Nicolae-Sorin Drăgan, Communication and Public Relations Faculty of the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration (NUPSPA), Bucharest, Romania
From Alberti’s window to today’s interface. A semiotic reading of the seeing metaphor in the political discourse
What do Alberti’s  window, Pinker’s  window, Alice’s  mirror and the windows proposed by the new media have in common?
All four represent metaphors for seeing,an interface through which man is granted access to reality. The window motif updates the issue of the identity-alterity, interiority-exteriority report. We suggest the complementary solution of the “seeing”, “speaking” and “understanding” operators for any grid of semiotic reading of the world. The ontological structure of seeing – speaking – understanding provides an isomorphic reproduction of triangular semiotic models.
Looking beyond the seeable (signs), speaking with purpose (conveying a cultural content) and understanding the semiotic of place (constructing meaning) represent requirements to be assumed in the political discourse.
Where is the cultural sign interpreter placed with regards to the interface? The interiority-exteriority dichotomy is construed today in Shakespearean terms: to be or not to be (on screen)? The paradoxical report them between closeness and opacity is well known. In an epistemological sense, taking a closer look at something does not mean seeing better. The issue of the subject position within the semiotic act is crucial (the principle of non-determination). For this purpose, we have introduced the term “semiotic distance”. Being on screen, in various poses, does not guarantee the exact perception of reality. Sight is an incomplete instrument of knowledge, which needs the mediation of other senses in order to access the construction of meanings (Stoichiță, 2013: 82-85). It is the reason for which the construction of significance becomes an operation involving all three operators: seeing, speaking and understanding.
The paper examines the role of the imaginary, of the symbolic representations conveyed in the message construction, in the preferential enabling of certain codes, a fact which directs both the political discourse construction as well as the negotiations of power relations. Furthermore, we have undertaken to identify the constituent signs of metaphorical representations specific to the pragmatic level of political discourse, the coherence between ”speaking” and “doing” (J.L. Austin’s How to Do Things With Words). Our hypothesis is that the emphasis on the cultural and social “genealogy” of signs (myths, images and connotations activated), including in the “rhetoric archive” of cultural tradition allows the reading of any type of reality (Beciu, 2009: 25).
The Romanian politician (for instance) cannot decide between logical constructions, specific to the western discourse, such as “this is where we stand”, followed by an adequate argumentation and indicative constructions, specific to the eastern discourse, such as “let me tell you a story”, followed by an enlightening moral. The absence of order in the rational and argumentative discourse from the local public level metabolism leads to difficulties in adapting to the linguistic, social norms, etc., specific to the western world.
Keywords: metaphor; cultural tradition; political discourse; political semiotics; semiotics and communication.
BARTHES, Roland.  (1997). Mythologies. Iași: Institutul European Publishing House.
BECIU, Camelia. 2009. Comunicare și discurs mediatic. O lectură sociologică. Bucharest: Comunicare.ro Publishng House.
BORȚUN, Dumitru. 2010. Semiotică. Teorii ale limbajului, SNSPA Course. Faculty of Communication and Public Relations. Bucharest.
CHOMSKY, Noam.  (1988). Language and Learning. The Debate between Jean Piaget and Noam Chomsk. Bucharest: Editura Politică.
ECO, Umberto.  (2008). A Theory of Semiotics (II – Revized Edition). Bucharest: Trei Publishing House.
SOLOMON, Marcus. 2011. Paradigme Universale. Bucharest: Paralela 45 Publishing House.
STOICHIȚĂ, Victor Ieronim. 2013. Efectul Sherlock Holmes. Trei intrigi cinematografice. Bucharest: Humanitas Publishing House.
We are referring to Leon Battista Alberti (1404-1472), whom, in a treatise entitled On painting, defined the frame as “an open window through which I see what I want to portray”. For details, see Victor Ieronim Stoichiță, Efectul Sherlock Holmes, Trei intrigi cinematografice, Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2013, p.10 and Vezi? Denspre privire în pictura impresionistă, Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2007.
See Steven Pinker, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, Penguin Book (Viking Penguin), 2007.
 See Lewis Carroll, Alice in Mirrorland, Curtea Vehe Publishing House, Bucharest, 2013.
9) Pietro Restaneo, PhD student, Sapienza University of Rome
Gramsci’s Prision Notebooks: a semiotic approach to culture?
During his university years in Turin, Antonio Gramsci studied linguistic under professor Matteo
Bartoli. Bartoli was a prominent Italian linguist who gave important contributions to 'spatial' or 'areal' linguistics, and was among the founders of the 'neolinguistic' school. The primary objective of the school was to oppose the German neogrammarian (Junggrammatiker) school of linguistics, which excluded semantic (i.e. social) factors from the study of language.
In recent years many studies have showed the deep influence that ideas belonging to the neolinguistic school had on Gramsci's political theory, particularly on the elaboration of the concept of 'hegemony'.
In the light of these new studies, the present paper will explore the notion of 'culture' in Gramsci's Prision Notebooks, focusing on its relationship with language and linguistics. Many passages of the Notebooks, in fact, show the deep connection between culture and language, albeit this connection never being closely examined («language holds elements of a conception of the world, and of a culture», Q11§12).
The aim of our paper will be to answer the question «Can we speak of a
'semiotic approach' to culture in Gramsci? And if so how is it defined?». We will be answering this question by critically compating Gramsci with another author, who puts the connection between culture and language at the very core of his thought: the culturologist Juri M. Lotman.