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Educating for Nationhood

A Semiotic Reading of the Memorial Hall for Victims of the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders

Patrizia Violi

This article analyzes the Memorial Hall for Victims of the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invaders, opened in its present form in 2007 to commemorate the massacre perpetrated by the Japanese in 1937, when in the course of six weeks a significant number of harmless civilians were brutally slaughtered. The memorial is a highly complex semiotic object: it includes a large museum but is also, and perhaps above all, a huge thematic park that occupies an extremely large surface area of seventy-four thousand square meters. Through a close reading of the site, this article seeks to show how the Nanjing Memorial, more than serving the function of conservation and transmission of a tragic, traumatic memory, is mostly a monument to Chinese nationhood, an important step in the construction of a new national identity.

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A. Lorraine Kaljund

Ethnographic studies of legal materiality and the bureaucratic mundanities of law often juxtapose their richly empirical approach to the material assemblages of law with the ‘grand talk’ and conceptual abstractions of law. This article considers the intersection of formal legal discourse and the mundanity of bureaucratic practice through an examination of two judicial opinions concerning the legal significance of the Bates number, a sequential digit inscribed onto documents produced in US pretrial discovery. Through this analysis, the article both illustrates the Bates stamp’s role in the material constitution of law, and offers a reminder that the stories law tells about its own materiality can offer insights into, and enact and extend, the sociolegal agency of bureaucratic tools.

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Gresham's Law, Conceptual Semantics, and Semiotics of Authoritarianism

Do “Bad” Concepts Drive Out “Good” Ones?

Kirill Postoutenko

The aim of this article is to explore to what extent the rule of economics commonly known as Gresham's law (“bad money drives out good money”) can be extrapolated to verbal language (“bad concepts drive out good concepts”). Consequently, the goal of this article is twofold. First, for Gresham's law to be applied simultaneously to money and language, its unfortunate (“good”/“bad”) and obscure (“drives out”) wording should be clarified. Second, one should identify the contexts in which the validity of the law could be assessed best, and run a very preliminary test. For this purpose, the circulation of the adjective (“hard”, “strong”, or “stable” in Russian) in the word combination (“hard currency”) in use in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s was scrutinized.

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Perspectives of (and on) a Comedic Self

A Semiotics of Subjectivity in Stand-up Comedy

Marianna Keisalo

Current stand-up comedy relies on original expression, requiring the performer to develop a unique and engaging comedic viewpoint. This calls for the comedian to be able to shift between different, often contradictory, perspectives on the world and on him/herself and transmit them to audiences. Based on ethnographic research in Finland, I show how the stand-up comedian performs as both sign and sign-maker. As a sign-maker, the comedian is the contextual ground, the taken-for-granted source and frame of the performed material. As a sign, the comedian is a figure the audience needs to interpret and understand as part of the performance. More generally, my aim is to shed light on how cultural concepts of self, subjectivity, and person are engaged in the processes of developing and performing stand-up comedy.

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Introduction

(De)materializing Kinship—Holding Together Mutuality and Difference

Kathryn E. Goldfarb and Caroline E. Schuster

Although kinship studies have traditionally focused on ‘solidarity’ and ‘mutuality’, dis-alignment, exclusion, and difference are equally crucial foci for analysis. In this introduction, we explore articulations of mutuality and difference through the lens of materiality, particularly the matter of politics and value and the semiotics of material life. We suggest that non-mutuality and exclusion are especially apparent in contexts where kinship intersects with the consolidation of economic and human capital. We then draw attention to the ways in which material signs are productive forces of relatedness in day-to-day interactions between humans, non-humans, and other material things. By examining the gaps and fissures within kinship through the lens of material practice, the contributors to this special section uncover new opportunities for critical engagement with theories of difference, semiotics, and value.

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Michele Friedner

Through engaging with this collection of articles devoted to cognitive disability, I offer concluding remarks concerned specifically with the heuristic and experiential value of the concept of ‘the social’. I argue that an exploration of cognitive disability opens up a space for anthropologists to consider their own language and semiotic ideologies and to consider how to attend to and produce knowledge with nonlinguistic subjects. Beyond this, how might anthropologists also consider how to make their own works cognitively accessible?

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Denis Vuka

This article examines the visual construction of the myth of the Albanian national leader in history textbooks. By applying visual social semiotics, it explores the function and usefulness of this myth during the critical years of Albania’s self-isolation from 1978 to 1990. Depicted in recurring episodes that were decisive for the existence of the national community, a capable leader emerges as its savior. His figure is perceived as a symbol of unity and as the only actor able to pave the way toward a bright future. This article argues that this myth served to legitimize power and secure social cohesion.

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Dancing on the Threshold

A Cultural Concept for Conditions of Being Far from Salvation

Gregor Rohmann

“Dancing mania” and “St. Vitus dance” were culturally formed illness concepts that enabled late medieval people in the Rhine area to act out states of liminality. The semiotics of these trace back to ancient Platonic cosmology, which had been transmitted into medieval theology by late antique Neoplatonism. In this article the iteration of these motifs especially through the early and high Middle Ages is scrutinized. When “dancing mania” emerged in the fourteenth century it was thus neither an early case of mass hysteria nor a particular form of religious deviance, as is still assumed frequently.

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Death of a Statesman - Birth of a Martyr

Martyrdom and Memorials in Post-Civil War Lebanon

Are John Knudsen

This article furthers the study of post–civil war memorialisation in Lebanon by analysing the trajectory of the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri from statesman to martyr. This transformative process offers a window into the symbolism of Lebanese statehood, and demonstrates how the politicisation of confessional martyrs is used to decry injustice and stake out claims to the state. There is no tradition for prosecuting and punishing political murders in Lebanon, causing victims to be pronounced martyrs. Impunity is therefore the major reason why martyrs and memorialising are so widespread. To this end, the article offers a semiotic reading of Hariri’s posthumous transformation from political patron to patron saint, and is a contribution towards the importance of martyr symbolism for understanding the purported weakness of Lebanese statehood.

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The New Spanish Memory Comics

The Example of Cuerda de presas

Anne Magnussen

Since the end of the 1990s, more and more Spanish comics have focused on the recent Spanish past, including the memory of the Civil War (1936–1939) and the succeeding dictatorship. This article offers an analysis of a particular comics volume, Cuerda de presas (2005) by Jorge García and Fidel Martínez, and discusses the way in which it interprets the role of the past in Spanish society thirty years after the political transition to democracy. I argue that Cuerda de presas participates in the questioning of the dominant memory about the past. It does this by undermining narrative coherence and by pointing to the plural and unstable characteristics of memories. Charles Peirce's semiotics constitutes the framework for the analysis, according to which there is a dynamic relationship between Cuerda de presas and Spanish society.