giovedì 19 ottobre 2017
Anthropology of globalization for Global Governance #07
18 10 2017. Culture is symbolic. This is the topic for this class. I stated all along my source, namely Ferdinand De Saussure and his “Course in General Linguistics” (1916), then pragmatic semiotics as delimited in the works of Umberto Eco, and eventually Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.
The aim of the class was to clarify the meaning of this sentence by Max Weber that we shall read next class reported by Clifford Geertz: “Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun”.
We analysed what a SIGN is made of, that is its SIGNIFIER (significant in the original French, significante in Italian) and a SIGNIFIED (signifie, meaning, significato).
We insisted on the ARBITRARY link between the two parts (Language is not a NATURAL link towards reality).
Then we discussed about the REFERENTIAL THEORY of the signified and the more useful THEORY OF USE of the signified. According to the first, the meaning corresponds to “the real thing” or the “mental image” we can formulate for that sign. But we have seen this be too weak a theory to explain the most interesting part of human communication, which is made of signs for which one can hardly detect a physical referent or a mental image. With a few examples we have insisted that signs derive their meaning from the shared usage with other people, among other signs. Their meaning is given by their contextualization among other signs, in what we can figure out as a semantic web, a specific interconnection of signs. Meanings are public, not the minds of people.
Signs are arbitrary not in the sense they are totally random, but in the sense the connection between signifier and signified is established by culture, i.e. it may transform from context to context.
In order to exemplify this complex relation between sings and culture we watched this video on Ochobo, a Japanese aesthetic principle.
We ended class noticing that the intersubjective existence of Ochobo makes it quite different from the objective reality of stones and the totally subjective belief in fairies. Signs as cultural means of expression are a tricky object of research and analysis. We have to move towards symbolic anthropology to collect the tools and method that may help us develop a sound understanding of cultures as webs of signs.
Q1 Identify and analyse an ochobo-like thing of your knowledge. Focus on its being not related to “one physical thing”, but the expression of cultural creativity in elaborating a notion which has no concrete referent and whose meaning must be identified in the usage of that sign.