We are happy to invite You to the next Tartu Summer School of Semiotics taking place August 15-18 2017 in Tartu. The topic of TSSS 2017 is “Generalising Gently”, which addresses the central and problematic nature of generalisations in semiotic and semiosic processes.

Registration is now open!

TSSS 2017 Book of Abstracts.

Semiotics relies on generalisations both at the level of knowledge production and at the level of its research objects. As a metadiscipline, semiotics provides the tools of translation between different scientific languages, exemplifying the complementarity of different kinds of knowledge in our understanding of reality. Semiotics as a discipline provides specific conceptual generalisations while modelling the semiotic constitution of reality. Besides the production of generalised knowledge, the processes that semiotics studies are themselves built on generalisation, such as perceptual categorisation and schematisation, the formation of behaviour patterns, language based modelling, cultural rituals, and habits. We invite submission of papers to the summer school that discuss the particularities of semiotic knowledge as a form of generalised knowledge as well as papers that focus on the role and functioning of different types of signs, sign systems and languages of culture as means of generalisation.

While trying to provide generalised knowledge of different semiosic phenomena, a tension between the semiosic existence of the objects of study and the semiotic attempts at knowledge production is revealed. All generalisations decontextualise knowledge and yet, the objects of semiotic research (from organisms to cultures) are in principle contextual phenomena. Generalised knowledge also strives towards atemporality—a claim for applicability to the past (the capacity of reconstruction) just as much as to the future (the capacity of predictions). Yet the generalisations and predictions face the necessary unpredictability of semiotic systems. Generalisation is indispensible to cognition, but too often are the particulars of experience eclipsed by bad totalities. Uncareful generalisations can harm studied subjects and communities. Hence the necessity to conduct scientific generalisations in a responsible and gentle manner.

The length of presentations will be 20 minutes for talk and 10 minutes for questions.

Confirmed plenary speakers:

Robert Innis, University of Massachusetts Lowell and Aalborg University

Paths of Abstraction between Feeling and Form

ABSTRACT. Abstraction is a semiotically important ‘border concept’ with a rich history, appearing in different contexts and disciplines: philosophical, psychological, linguistic, sociological, economic, and so forth. Abstraction is both an action and a process occurring in what Peirce called ‘the bottomless lake of consciousness.’ It occurs at the borders of our differentiated creation of the Jamesian worlds or universes of meaning or significance, what Ernst Cassirer called the ‘form worlds’ in which we live out our lives. Abstraction creates or recognizes the significant joints in experience and the dynamic life-lines or intentional bonds that involve all levels of our lives as embodied, feeling, acting, and sign-using beings, carried in, or enfolded in, the flux of time. Understanding abstractive processes—and models of abstractive processes—involves reflecting especially on the complex interplay between perceptual and affective processes and their relationship to explicitly semiotic processes as defining the ultimate matrices of our lives. In her Philosophy in a New Key, following up hints from Gestalt psychology, Susanne Langer argued that “meaning accrues essentially to forms,” which emerge, with varying degrees of spontaneity and control, from processes of perception and the segregation of the experiential field. “The abstractions made by the ear and the eye—the form of direct perception—are our most primitive instruments of intelligence. They are genuine symbolic material, media of understanding, by whose office we apprehend a world of things, and of events that are the history of things.” Accordingly, for Langer, not only is a symbol “any device whereby we are enabled to make an abstraction” but abstraction is ‘pushed down’ to the fundamental levels of sentience and affectivity and ‘pushed up’ to the whole realm of circulating symbolic forms that make up cultural life as intersecting webs of signification and communication. This lecture will chart from the point of view of a philosophically oriented semiotics the variety of and relations between pivotal ways we can thematize abstractive processes. Not only does a ‘big tent’ semiotic framework throw a powerful light on the complex problem of abstraction, but focusing on the problem of abstraction and how to model it also illuminates the scope and nature of the multiple forms—perceptual, affective, linguistic, aesthetic, cultural—semiosis both takes and gives rise to.

Robert E. Innis is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell and Obel Foundation Visiting Professor at the Niels Bohr Center for Cultural Psychology at Aalborg University. He has published many articles, monographs, and books on the intersections between philosophy and the human sciences, with special focus on philosophical semiotics, aesthetics, the philosophy of technology, and the philosophy of religion. His books include Karl Bühler: Semiotic Foundations of Language Theory, Semiotics: An Introductory Anthology, Consciousness and the Play of Signs, Pragmatism and the Forms of Sense, and Susanne Langer in Focus: The Symbolic Mind. He was named University Professor at UMass Lowell and has been Humboldt Fellow at the University of Cologne and Fulbright Professor at the University of Copenhagen.

Frederik Stjernfelt, Department of Communication and Psychology, Aalborg University

Generalities in sciences

ABSTRACT. My contention is that generality is a much more pervasive issue in the sciences than often assumed. Aristotle famously said that there is only sciences of the general, while some neo-Kantians thought there were sciences of the universal and the particular, respectively. But even "idiographic" descriptions of singular events strive for making such events understandable in terms of the use of general predicates, laws, patterns, tendencies, the specific variations of which are judged explanatory of the particular. This paper compares some classical accounts for generality in the sciences and particularly zooms in on the distinction between "regional ontological" (Husserl's concept) general concepts on the one hand, and "empirical universals" on the other hand. Can they be distinguished, how can they be distinguished, and how are these aims connected to the relation between philosophy and the sciences?

Jaan Valsiner, Niels Bohr Professorship Centre of Cultural Psychology, Aalborg University

Abductive Generalization in Science: Semiosis of emergent rationality

ABSTRACT.  Scientific knowledge entails generalization that happens on the border of what is already known and what is not yet known. In contrast to the processes of deduction (based on what is believed to be known) and induction (what is partially known but impossible to generalize), the operation of abduction suggested by Charles Sanders Peirce in late 19th century offers a realistic alternative (generalizing from inductive evidence to believable abstract explanation). Abduction would gurantee the investigation of emergent rationality for new generalizations in the sciences, yet it remains in principle incapable of proof of adequacy of the semiosis of generalization since it operates backwards in irreversible time.  Hence it provides gentle—rather than robust—solutions to the generalization problem.

Jaan Valsiner is Niels Bohr Professor of Cultural Psychology at Aalborg University, Denmark. He is the founding editor (1995) of the Sage journal, Culture & Psychology.  And of The Oxford Handbook of Culture and Psychology (2012). He is also the Editor-in-Chief of Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Sciences  (Springer, from 2007) and the Springer Briefs series Theoretical Advances in Psychology (from 2017) In 1995 he was awarded the Alexander von Humboldt Prize in Germany for his interdisciplinary work on human development, and Senior Fulbright Lecturing Award in Brazil 1995-1997. He is the winner of the Hans-Kilian-Award of 2017 for his interdisciplinary work uniting social sciences.  He has been a visiting professor in Brazil, Japan, Australia, Estonia. Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Norway, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Denis Bertrand,

Semiotics in France: Post-Greimassian research

ABSTRACT. 2017 is the year of the 100th anniversary of A. J. Greimas – a time to pay homage and to look into the future. The seminar will revisit the main concepts and methods of his Narrative and Discursive Semiotics and study the five main orientations in semiotic research since Greimas' death:

  1. Tensive Semiotics,
  2. Semiotics of enunciative instances,
  3. Semiotics of interactions,
  4. Semiotics of Practical operations, and
  5. Semiotics of Iconicity.

This will be done via studying examples, with more focus on complementary than opposing conceptions. In addition, the tools will be used to investigate the fascinating field of political discourses in France's election year.


This event has been supported by the University of Tartu's ASTRA project PER ASPERA (European Union, European Regional Development Fund), Cultural Endowment of Estonia, The Gambling Tax Council, IUT2-44, Base funding to research of national importance, Estonian Semiotics Association.