WP62 Semiotic and spatial scope: Towards a materialist semiotics

Blommaert & Huang
Collection: Key word


We wish in this paper to join a project that, in our view, ties together much of Gunther Kress? work, and can also be found, among others, in the ?Geosemiotics? developed by Scollon & Scollon (2003). This project is the construction of a genuinely materialist theory of signs: a study of signs that sees signs not as primarily mental and abstract phenomena reflected in ?real? moments of enactment, but sees signs as material forces subject to and reflective of conditions of production and patterns of distribution, and as constructive of social reality, as real social agents having real effects in social life. The angle from which we approach it is from questions of public space. More in particular, our point of departure is sociolinguistic-ethnographic research in areas marked by ?super-diversity?, extreme forms of social, cultural, linguistic diversity emerging from post-Cold War migration movements into the urban centers of Western Europe (Vertovec 2006). We will draw on work done in London Chinatown (Huang 2010) and in a popular inner-city neighborhood in Antwerp, Belgium (Blommaert 2010). From empirical reflections on signs in public space ? currently captured under the term ?Linguistic Landscape? studies ? we will move to make a simple point, that signs rarely have a general meaning and mostly have a specific meaning. This simple empirical observation, however, draws semiotics into a different theoretical realm and propels us towards materialist and ethnographic approaches to signs.