First Encounter: The Past of Them and/or Us
‘False’ Prehistoric mother goddesses : a distorted cultural dialogue
Université de Limoges & Institut Universitaire de France
A significant amount of female figurines, dating back to 25 000 to 3500 BC, were discovered in the Mediterranean area. The analysis of these figurines gave researchers substantial hints to build a representation of a specific world. This world is the one of the Old Europe, dominated by the Great Goddess around whom are flourishing prosperous agrarian communities. The latter live in harmony with their environment, an environment in which women have a predominant part as they lead the decision making process. The figurines bore several names such as mother goddesses, Venus or Great Goddesses.
This theory was founded during the 19th century through the research of several scholars, especially one led by the Swiss J.J. Bachofen, which delt with a primitive matriarcal society. Incorporated to marxists’ speech, this interpretation was used by psychoanalysts, but above all by a Lithuanian archeologist called Marija Gimbutas. Relying on archeological discoveries, she offered an evolutionist vision of human development. Following Bachofen steps, she intended to identify a precise chronology for the break between matriarcal and patriarcal societies. Her research resulted in the concept that the Old Europe dominated by the Great Goddess was spoilt by the ones she called the Indo-Europeans invaders.
My aim in this presentation is :
- first to show how Majira Gimbutas rebuilds a complete semiologic system through a pictorial writing that she decyphers so as to bring to light the cultural and ideological contents from the Old Europe ;
- secondly, to show how this construction lies on a highly questionable theoretical mainstay that does not withstand recent discoveries, all the more so when the figurines identity is concerned ;
- finally, to show that this approach implies the reconstruction of a system of ideas which defines how members of a society perceive and react to specific events. Each event is given a unique meaning, which is not always the one it was conveying originally. Indeed, each culture attempts to encode one another through their own labelling systems and intellectual frameworks. These cultural interlacing suppose that each society comprehends foreign concepts relying on its own experience. In other words, past events are interpreted differently depending on the point of view adopted.
The prehistory of Ego-culture: Tracing the development of group identity by way of early body ornaments
Aristotle University, Thessaloniki
Recent archaeological discoveries, such as the shell beads found at Blombos Cave, South Africa, and Grotte de Pigeons, Morocco, suggest that self-decoration had been in place by around 80 thousand years ago. While most scholars seem preoccupied with the symbolic connotations of Middle Stone Age/Palaeolithic traditions, this paper sets out to explore their aesthetic and agentive dimensions, for the purpose of explaining how various ornamental forms would have guided interacting groups in forming their own identities. To this end, I shall be integrating semiotic theory with a radical new paradigm in the archaeology of mind, known as the Material Engagement Theory. Abridging, specifically, Peirce's pragmatic approach (Lefebvre 2007) and Malafouris' enactive take on aesthetics (2011) will let me trace the bidirectional interplay between aesthetic ideals and material agency, as it is not only that artistic forms would have helped their wearers exert agentive power (Gell 1998), it is also that their agentive effects would have actually shaped their users' taste. I will be arguing that, by attending to the interrelation between form, effect, and affect, members of social groups would have come to appreciate the ways in which their ornamental culture resembles and differs from that of neighbouring groups. Put in the terms of cultural semiotics (Sonesson 2016), models of Ego-culture would have come to evolve along Alter-cultures that also employ ornaments, and against Alius-cultures that have yet to discover or adopt self-adornment. I will thus be concluding that early body ornamentation must have played a catalytic role in the formation and communication of distinct group identities.
Gell, A. 1998. Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. Oxford, Clarendon Press.
Lefebvre, M. 2007. Peirce's esthetics: A taste for signs in art. Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, 43, 319–344.
Malafouris, L. 2011. The aesthetics of material engagement. In R. Manzotti (Ed.), Situated Aesthetics: Art Beyond the Skin (pp. 175–194). Exeter: Imprint Academic.
Sonesson, G. 2016. The eternal return of the new. From cultural semiotics to evolutionary theory and back again. In E. Deltsou and M. Papadopoulou (Eds.), Changing Worlds & Signs of the Times (pp. 68–87). Volos: The Hellenic Semiotics Society.
Intercultural Competition over Resources via Contests for Symbolic Capitals
Unit of Culture Research, Tel Aviv University
Collective competition over resources is attested since the dawn of history, and probably long before that. Written and archaeological evidence of competition goes back to at least the fourth millennium BC. According to accepted views, selection has favored humans because of their ability to have cumulative cultures, which has made flexible adaptation possible. One major factor of this adaptation has been the ability to handle power contests without engaging physical force. Prestige, i.e., status acquired through comparative ranking, has made it possible to manage contests by displaying the possession of assets, whether material or symbolic. Such assets have been able to deter external assaults, thus protecting the owning group from losing its resources or ability to reach some. However, while some material assets could create status by the evidence of their obvious usefulness (such as foods, husbandry and tools), symbolic assets had to be first accepted as creating similar usefulness before they could function as capitals. Thus, material objects like ornaments, sculptures, furniture or gems, as well as texts, pictures, designs, or social and state organization models, could not function for creating advantages in competition unless acknowledged. An intergroup stock exchange of such assets turns out to have been determinative since antiquity in hierarchizing the various ethnic and political groups vis-à-vis each other, allowing some to have more say than others. To win the competition, ‘better elements’ always had to be shown as pertinent to the claimant group, and therefore the repertoires of elements quickly crystallized to encompass a variety of components: from impressive buildings, like pyramids, city gates, hanging gardens and temples, to claims about freedom, quality of life and wealth, more powerful gods, better justice, personal security, and any possessions or principles that happened to gain universal recognition as valuable. This ample repertoire has not changed much since ancient Egypt with its pyramids (or chariots, horses and ornaments) or its Ma’at (‘justice’) concept, or since rulers of big and small states in the ancient Fertile Crescent boasted about the high quality of life for everyone within the territories they ruled. In this paper, I will try to discuss, with the help of various examples, the powerful functionality of symbolic capitals in intergroupal competition.
Second Encounter: From Discovery to Enlightenment
The relation of pictorial to verbal resources in Sahagún’s Codex Florentino
Cognitive Semiotics, Lund
Many travel accounts after Columbus and Cortez were richly illustrated, and so were those accounts written by representatives of the earlier dominant culture assimilated into the new occidental culture. Several books by Serge Gruzinski discuss this confrontation of images, although taking a very slight interest in the pictures as such. Bernadette Bucher, who uses a rather idiosyncratic version of semiotics, analyses in detail the travel accounts of Le Bry, but with a clear ideological slant that does not permit of any nuances. Here we will consider the work of the Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún, who has often been said to be the first anthropologist, because he collected descriptions of their ancient beliefs from members of the elite of Aztec culture. However, much less have been made of the fact that Sahagún also had native artists create (or perhaps copy) illustrations for the book which is now known as Codex Florentino. Just as the text, these images are clearly the result of the encounter between two cultures, and the goal of the present paper is to discuss the potential similarities and differences between the mestization of cultures as it appears in two different semiotic resources. The art historian Ellen Baird has studied the pictures appearing in the preliminary version of Sahagún’s work, Primeros Memoriales, but there is, as far as I have been able to acertain, no study of the rather different pictures in the final work. We will look at what this means for the intercultural exchange occurring at the time, adopting the perspective of Cultural Semiotics, and we will consider the possible narrativity of the pictures conveying information on Pre-Cortesean culture, as a variant of making pictorial affirmations, which may, in the end, be a much more relevant potentiality than it appears, given our present-day notion of how pictures transmit meaning.
Germaine de Staël and the Narrative(s) of Her Alter-Ego Corinne: The Example of Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s Portrait.
Anna Cabak Rédei,
Cognitive Semiotics, Lund
The Swiss/French writer and political thinker Germaine de Staël (1766–1817) was the daughter of Mme Necker and M. Necker, both of Swiss origin and Protestants. Before the revolution her father had been minister of finance and her mother used to host of one most important salon in Paris. Mme de Staël, as she was called after the marriage in 1786 with the Swedish ambassador to France, Carl-Magnus de Staël von Holstein, was thus born into one of the most illustrious circles of Parisian cultural and political elite. Germaine’s political ideas and background made her a target for Napoleon’s animosity. This resentment between the two affected her self-perception, which was based on her idea of representing the French culture, or even the genius of the Parisian salon. However, that self-image might have been a ‘mask’ hiding de Staël’s true longings, namely to be loved and appreciated as a person and woman, at the time incompatible with being a ‘genius’, a concept reserved only for men (Rogers, 1961, pp. 107-109; Isbell, 1998, pp. xiii-xiv). Germaine never stopped struggling for merging the two poles of her personality, and the creation of an alter-ego, the ‘genius’ Corinne, might have been an attempt to solve this issue. Nevertheless, 1807 Germaine de Staël published an autobiographical novel with the title Corinne, or Italy. But ultimately, the normative idea of womanhood seemed to have been a too hard nut to crack, even for Germaine. The latter is a question that this chapter aims at elucidating, by a cultural semiotic analyse of Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s (1755-1842) portrait Portait of Mme de Staël as Corinne on Cap Misenum (1808-1809). In the portrait two narratives, or discourses, seem to meet and compete about what it is to be a woman, and to be a genius. Vigée-Lebrun had also been Marie-Antoinette’s favorite portraitist (West, 2004, p. 4).
Rogers, Carl (1961) : On Becoming a Person. A Therapist View of Psychotherapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Isbell, John (1998). ‘Introduction’, in Germaine de Staël, Corinne, or Italy. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press.
West, Shearer (2004). Portraiture. Oxford & New York.
Cabak Rédei, A. (2015). ”Germaine de Staël and the narrative(s) of her alter-ego Corinne: The example of Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s portrait”. The storytelling Project: 8th Global meeting, Reflecting on story’s place in our lives, Mansfield College, Oxford, United Kingdom, 3-5 September, 2015 (accepted).
Eighteenth-century encounters of the indigenous people of Southern Africa: A cultural-semiotic approach
Cognitive Semiotics, Lund
The naturalists travelling through the rich flora and fauna of Southern Africa in the 18th century did not only encounter never before described animal and plant species; they also encountered African indigenous people and other ways of living. The aim of this paper is to give a contribution to the history of South African cultural encounters seen from the eyes of Swedish travellers. The ego-culture faced severe problems to understand the encountered alien cultures, it was even difficult to understand the other culture as a culture. They were not just other cultures that they could relate to, as extracultures, but often something completely different, non-cultures as parts of the natural history of the human species. The Khoikhoi were among Westerners believed to be the most distant culture, the ultimate non-culture. The Linnaean disciple Anders Sparrman and others, however, tried to transcend this gap between extra-culture and non-culture, and used their cognitive resources, such as empathy and intersubjectivity in order to understand the encountered alien culture.
Third Encounter: The "Broad" Present Age
Intercultural Parallax. Visual Tales and Shifting Types in Sino-Vietnam Ethnic Taxonomy
Ryerson University, Toronto
Vietnam’s 1979 Dân Tộc project involves a state-sanctioned classification of historically colonized aboriginal populations. The ethnic classification practices that characterize the project closely followe a precedent set 25 years earlier by China in the 1954 民族识别 Mínzú Shíbié project (Keyes 2002). One notable exception is the split (or dismissal) of a novel ethnic group officially inducted as “Yizu” (彝族) by China, a group that subsumes more than 100 distinctive ethno-linguistic groups two of which now correspond with a pair of official nationalities in Vietnam—Phù Lá and Lô Lô. The taxonomic rift or shift this introduces serves as the focal case study of this paper. It also serves as one index among many of an earlier folk taxonomy that is still widely acepted locally in the region—one that is still shared on both sides of the Sino-Vietnam border (Pelkey 2011). Since both groups also subsume ethnolinguistically diverse populations, this, in turn, is itself a token of ethnic agglomeration practices in the region that are centuries old (Bradley 2005). In recent years, many efforts have been made to study the methods, history and consequences of the grand-scale 20th century ethnic classification schemes on both sides of the border (Keyes 2002, Culas & Robinne 2009, Mullaney 2011, Ito 2013). Scholars have proceeded primarily from sociopolitical, sociolinguistic and recent ethnohistorical perspectives; but in order to understand the intercultural meanings and structural dynamics such projects generate, it is necessary to move beyond ethnic onomastics and socialist geopolitics.
Drawing on ideas from cognitive linguistics and narratology, using methods of visual content analysis and historical reconstruction, this paper re-orients the field of inquiry toward cultural semiotics. With Ego, Alter and Alius dynamics in focus (Sonesson 2000), the paper analysis draws attention to shifting relationships that hold between the major parties involved. Just as Ego vs. Alter identities must shift between the Han Chinese and Viet Kinh in relation to each other, Alter and Alius dynamics that hold within a given Ego frame must shift as well—between Yizu in China and Phula/Lolo in Vietnam (not only relative to Ego-constructed borders but also relative to each other). All the while, in the background—on both sides of the border, but especially in China—embedded Alius identities persist unofficially in untold numbers.
Visual propaganda plays a crucial role in the generation, enforcement and reinforcement of static, monocular (but non-parallax) versions of this narrative from either a Chinese or Vietnamese perspective. Because the widespread dispersal and acceptance of complex, creative analogies, or prototypes, necessarily involves cognitive compression (Fauconnier & Turner 2002, Hofstadter and Sander 2013), such processes are often best facilitated by the mediation of vivid visual exemplars over and beyond institutionalized linguistic terms. When the semiotic object of such a process happens to be a new linguistic node on an ethnic taxonomy, the representamen in question is referred to as an “ethnonym”. While ethnonyms have received much attention in this regard, the vital role that visual representamena play is neglected. And yet the visual/pictorial modality of this strategy has been in full force since the 1950s. This is evidenced in the production and distribution of a wide range of artifacts ranging from full-colour coffee-table gift books and bookstore postcard sets to commemorative postage stamp sets for collectors and choreographed performances in reified ethnic garb on public television. The paper discusses comparative visual examples from China and Vietnam to illustrate how the prototypes are established and maintained. The compressed narratives that result are highly effective at shaping the assumptions and ideologies of citizens and non-citizens alike—that is, at least, until the narratives are set in contrast across some border of perspective—in this case the border separates a contrast between the new party line in China and an older version of the story still being told in Vietnam.
Bradley, David. 2005. “Language Policy and Language Endangerment in China.” International Journal of the Sociology of Language 173: 1–21.
Culas, Christian, and François Robinne. 2009. Inter-Ethnic Dynamics in Asia: Considering the Other Through Ethnonyms, Territories and Rituals. London: Routledge.
Eira, Christina, and Tonya N Stebbins. 2008. “Authenticities and Lineages: Revisiting Concepts of Continuity and Change in Language.” International Journal of the Sociology of Language 189: 1–30.
Fauconnier, Gilles, and Mark Turner. 2002. The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending And The Mind’s Hidden Complexities. New York: Basic Books.
Hofstadter, Douglas, and Emmanuel Sander. 2013. Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking. New York: Basic Books.
Ito, Masako. 2013. Politics of Ethnic Classification in Vietnam. Minako Sato, (trans.). Kyoto: Kyoto University Press.
Keyes, Charles. 2002. “ ’The People of Asia: Science and Politics in the Classification of Ethnic Groups in Thailand, China, and Vietnam.” Journal of Asian Studies 61 (4): 1163–1203.
Mullaney, Thomas. 2010. Coming to Terms with the Nation: Ethnic Classification in Modern China. University of California Press.
Pelkey, Jamin R. 2011. Dialectology as Dialectic: Interpreting Phula Variation. Berlin: De Gruyter.
Sonesson, Göran 2000: “Ego meets Alter: the meaning of otherness in cultural semiotics”. In Semiotica 128 (3/4), 537–559
Cultural Exchange as a Scratching on the Surface: Semiotic Presence of ”American” imagery in Theme Park Architecture.
School of Architecture, Lund
In retrospect, it is not very controversial to claim that in the second half of the 20th century American culture – or rather: cultural stuff from USA – has had an immense influence on other cultures, nations and on the world at large. The political, industrial and military lead of USA in the late modern era created an ambivalence among other cultures as regards how to deal with American culture, and tended to divide the non-American cultures in the world into either followers or haters. Semiotic accounts of cultural influence – such as that of Lotman, Sonesson, Posner and Cabak Redéi, including here also a Peirce-inspired view of cultural encounters, as well as the post-colonial view of Bhabha – show a more reciprocal pattern of cultural exchange, while acknowledging also the divide between an appreciated and a detested “other”. One area where a certain measure of American influence – also in this reciprocal form – is produced, is in the field of architecture and the image production that support decisions to build houses, parks, roads and cities. Americanisms come in a broad range of varieties, and the conditions affecting their adoption are correspondingly complex. Here a case of proposed architectural development in the city of Malmö in the south of Sweden will cast light specifically on the issue of visual and material presence of USA-related matters in Scandinavia, but also on Scandinavian matters in the minds of an USA-based agent of image-making. The study concerns the envisioning and visualisation of a new “Scandinavian Theme Park” made by Swedish planning authorities in collaboration with globally working American design consultants. While Americanness is conveyed in the form of a promise of good amusement design with reliable effect wherever it is situated, Scandinavian culture is represented in the visualised proposals by cultural clichés such as vikings, trolls and cars. The image of Americanness is produced in the non-American (Scandinavian) culture as something to be reached for. And the image of Scandinavia is brought back to Scandinavian culture as stereotypes. What, one may ask, is sacrificed when one cultural value is preferred before another, and how, in a semiotic perspective, are these values created?
IKEA - "The Swedish solution" from a German point of view
Department of modern languages, Uppsala University
The Swedish furniture company IKEA is famous worldwide for its sucessful advertising and communication strategies. In Germany, which still in 2016, is the company´s top-selling market, IKEA has managed to carve a unique niche positioning with its so called ”Swedishness” construction. A striking example of this is the campaign launched by IKEA on St. Knut´s day, the date that traditionally ends the Christmas holidays in Sweden. In its audivisual advertising, IKEA invented a Swedish tradition of throwing out the Christmas tree through the window in order to create more space for IKEA furniture at home.
In order to identify how IKEA created a model of itself – an ”Ego-Culture” – how the company projceted this ”Swedish” self-image in Germany and how it instigated a dialouge with the German market/culture or with its ”Alter-Culture”, I conducted research within an interdisciplinary framework that consisted primarily of cultural semiotics, inter-cultural communication studies with a focus on Sweden and Germany, and advertising research. Especially the theoretical concepts of Ego and Alter cultures were employed in order to grasp the interaction between the Swedish company and the German consumer culture.
The analysis of 48 audiovisual advertisements, published by IKEA during the period 1997-2007 for a German target audience, shows that the company very consciously draws on various notions of ”Swedishness” and Nordic stereotypes. The company constructed a ”Swedish” Ego-Culture, which consisted of already well-known collective representations and popular myths in German culture about the North and the Nordic region. However, in the last few years, the advertisning has also included typical German topics that concern domestic everyday life themes including equality issues such as parental leave after child birth, women´s careers, and wealthy men being interested in home styling. It was also shown that IKEA, in the beginning, mostly made use of existing representations from the Swedish culture but then – as a progression – also started to make use of phenomena within the German Culture, mixed and transformed them into an IKEA construct and presented this as the ”IKEA-Solution”.
”How we shall act on a given occasion”: visual images of recycling and the environmentalist ego.
Middlesex University, London,
& David Machin,
In this presentation we look at a number of images of ‘recycling’ from a commercial image archive. These are images which are designed to be multipurpose, to be used in a range of media outlets and for promotional purposes. We analyse these images, asking what kinds of identities, settings and actions they represent, mindful of the way that to some extent these claim to show elements of the broader processes of environmental awareness and the wider narrative of humanity’s relationship to the planet. We look at some of the ways that these kinds of images are used in the promotional material of local government authorities, in schools and in companies. The semiotic analysis allows us to show that these images encourage us to understand the processes, actions and meanings of recycling not in terms of complex actual concrete processes of recycling itself, nor the actual causes and consequences of the situation that has brought about the promotion of recycling. Rather these images use a range of symbols, objects and settings that suggest attitudes associated with the act, chief among which is the idea of recycling as a result or emblem of moral conversion. We show also here that in order to think about how such images work and are used we need to understand them in themselves as being created to be part of page designs, to work alongside smaller chunks of text and other graphic elements which too work to erase context and clear agency. Purporting to relate to the real world, these photos will be shown not necessarily to promote an action. This is partly because environmental ethics cannot operate in such a way and partly because the relation of the Ego in the pictures to the Alter viewing them is haunted by the Alius of the messy reality of recycling as opposed to the cleanliness connoted in these photographs
The (Pictorial) Construction of Otherness: Anti-Semitic Images in the Third Reich and Beyond.
Michael Ranta, Cognitive Semiotics, Lund
Collective identities of the Self (or Ego) vs. the Other are not only conveyed in and between cultures through verbal discourse, but also through pictures. Such cultural constructions are often established and consolidated by storytelling, where, briefly put, events or situations are temporally ordered. Within cognitive science (e.g. Bruner 1990; Schank 1995), narratives are regarded as crucial and fundamental cognitive instruments or tools. As Schank suggests, the identity of (sub-)cultures is to a considerable extent based upon the sharing of narrative structures. Culturally shared stories – or stories in general – occur frequently in highly abbreviated form, as “skeleton stories” or “gists”, not least in pictorial form. Moreover, in ways that harmonize with Schank’s account of storytelling and cognition, these also imply conceptions of one’s Ego-culture in relation to Otherness. Pictures and visual artworks may be powerful resources for establishing and consolidating cultural stances and framing actions. Put in another way, they may function as cognitive tools or ‘exograms’ (Donald 1991, 2010) for understanding and manipulating varying environmental conditions which we as humans encounter as well as organizing the past into intelligible units. Pictures and visual artworks may be powerful narrative resources for establishing and consolidating cultural stances and framing actions.
In this paper, I shall focus upon demarcation efforts of ‘Jews’ as the Other since the Middle Ages onwards, in the Third Reich’s iconography, as well as in modern, radicalized forms of anti-Semitic picturing in Arab media. Within overarching master stories, staging a pseudo-historical struggle between various protagonists and Jew antagonists, considerable efforts have been made to produce pictorial narratives or gists in order to demarcate the Ego from the other. A number of concrete pictorial examples will be presented from a narratological and cultural semiotic perspective.
Bruner, Jerome 1990. “Acts of Meaning”. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP.
Donald, Merlin. 1991. “Origins of the Modern Mind – Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition. Cambridge, Mass./London: Harvard University Press.
Donald, Merlin. 2010. “The Exographic Revolution: Neuropsychological Sequelae.” In L. Malafouris & C. Renfrew (Eds.), The Cognitive Life of Things - Recasting the Boundaries of the Mind, 71-79. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
Schank, Roger C. 1995. “Tell Me a Story - Narrative and Intelligence”. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern UP.
Inverted cultures in the pictorial ceremonial of the suicide bomber: The case of Reem Raiyshi
Sara Lenninger, Cognitive Semiotics, Lund
On the 24th of January in 2004 a portrait of Reem Raiyshi and her son was published in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. In a short notice the reader was informed that on the 14th of January Reem Raiyshi had killed herself in a terrorist attack at a border crossing between Israel and Gaza. The picture, a still frame from a video, was bought by Aftonbladet from AFP, but has also circulated on the Internet. Although the picture of Reem is her picture - its not unique, but forms part of a subculture: the ceremonial of the suicide bombers seems to require the pictorial rendering of the perpetrator/victim in his or her declaration of the action before completing the act. Published on Internet, and circulating in other mass media, the picture addresses not only the Ego culture of the perpetrator /victim, but also that of the attacked culture.
At that time, after the September 11 attacks, Al-qaida and Hamas practised video recordings showing declarations of a readiness to carry out a suicidal attack. In this project the case of Reem Raiyshi is recognised from within this practice, however the pictorial story (or stories) of Raiyshi also stands out as different. As the mother of two children “her” about-to-die images that have circulated in media soon after, and years after, the attack differ from her contemporary suicide bombers (both female and male).
In the project the case of Reem Raiyshi is discussed in comparison to the pictures of her associated suicide bombers but is also put in the complex relation between media and terrorism that has been recognised at least since the 1970ies. It is recognised that the seemingly simple images, albeit with elements of the threat of violence, is part of a more elaborated but also opportunistic media culture in which the “making of us and them” is polysemous and flexible.