The Semiotics Workshop

Culture in Context

Spring 2020 Schedule

Thursday, April 23 
Wee Yang Soh (PhD Student, Anthropology, University of Chicago)
“‘It’s Dangerous to Talk Like Americans’: How an Image of the US in Decline Mediates Racial Discourse in Singapore”
Thursday, May 14
Krystal Smalls (Assistant Professor, Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)
Thursday, May 21
Francis Cody, (Associate Professor, Anthropology and Asian Institute, University of Toronto)
Thursday, June 4
Josh Babcock (PhD Candidate, Anthropology, University of Chicago)
“”Code-Switching,” Community, and Standardizing Singlish”
Thursday, June 11
Ricardo Rivera (PhD Candidate, Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley)
“History, Rupture, and Excess: Quran Translation in Adjara, Georgia”

Fall 2019 Schedule

Thursday, October 3 
Hannah McElgunn (PhD Candidate, Departments of Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Chicago)
“Death by the Commons”
Thursday, October 24
Gregory Thompson (Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Brigham Young University)
“Our Lady of the Underpass: Toward an Anthropological Theory of Vision at the Ontological Turn”
Thursday, October 31
Sharese King (Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Linguistics, University of Chicago)
“Rethinking Race and Place: The role of persona in sound change reversal”
Thursday, November 14 
Alexander Ward (Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences, University of Chicago)
“Values in Conflict: Expert Interpretations of the Persepolis Fortification Archive”
Thursday, December 5
Rebecca Journey (PhD Candidate in Anthropology, University of Chicago)
“Urban Living Room”

Spring 2019 Schedule

Thursday, April 11 
Perry Wong (PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology)
“Introducing Mayan from Cunén: Constructing an Ethnography from the Inside Out”
Thursday, May 2
Kristin Hickman (PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology)
Thursday, May 16
Moodjalin Sudcharoen (PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology)
“What’s in the Surname ‘Without-A-Surname’: Bureaucracy and Naming of ‘Alien Kids’ in Thai State Schools.”
Thursday, May 23 
Elizabeth Mertz (Research Professor, American Bar Foundation; 
Professor, Law School, University of Wisconsin )
“Negotiating Race and Gender between Law and Life: U.S. Law Professors”
Thursday, June 6
Jack Mullee (PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology)
Flows, flows, flows!: Pattern and Capacity as Metasemiotic Effects (in São Paolo Health)”

Winter 2019 Schedule

Thursday, January 17 
Adam Sargent (Postdoctoral Researcher, Northwestern University)
“The Hazards of Training: Ideologies of Labor and the Consequences of Toil in India’s Construction Industry”
Thursday, January 31
Christopher Bloechl (PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology)
“Unacknowledged Regimentation in Standardized Yucatec Maya”
Thursday, February 14
Patrick Lewis (PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology)
“Memurluk, Kurdish Youth and the Turkish State: Public-Making, Value-Creation, and State-Formation in New Institutions of Higher Education in North Kurdistan/Southeastern Turkey”
Thursday, February 28 
Britta Ingebretson (PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology)
Thursday, March 7
Alaina Lemon (Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan)
“Haptics in Semiosis: The Feeling of Being Animated”
Thursday, March 14
Shalini Shankar (Professor, Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University)
“Entailments of Generation: Potential and Excess of a Fraught Social Category”

Fall 2018 Schedule

Thursday, October 11 **from 5-6:30pm**
Meghanne Barker (Harper Schmidt Fellow, University of Chicago)
“Meeting a Stranger”
Thursday, October 25
Elise Kramer (Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign)
“Coherent Incoherence: A Genealogy of Deliberate Nonsense”
Thursday, November 8
Hannah McElgunn (PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology)
“Language at the Center of the Universe”
Thursday, November 29 
Lily Ye (PhD Candidate, Department of Comparative Human Development)
“Doing Science in American Education”
Thursday, December 6
Alice Yeh (PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology)
“The Double-Dealer’s Soul: Thinking About Confession in the Age of Xi Jinping”

Spring 2018 Schedule

Thursday, March 29
Lily Chumley (Assistant Professor, Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University)
“Fertile Virtue Wealth: Gendered Agencies and the Linguistic Administration of Market Socialism”
Thursday, April 12
Angela Reyes (Professor, Department of English, Hunter College)
“Real Fake Skin: Semiotics of Skin-Lightening in the Philippines”
Thursday, April 19
Cécile Canut (Professor, Université Paris Descartes)
Thursday, April 26 
Colin Halverson (Post-Doctoral Fellow, Vanderbilt University)
“Standard and Legacy”
Thursday, May 10 
Chris Bloechl (PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago)
“Authoritative ‘Mixed’ Maya At a Presbyterian Church in Yucatán
Thursday, May 24 
Erik Skjon (PhD Candidate, Departments of Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Chicago)
“An Ecology of Value”

Winter 2018 Workshop Schedule

Thursday, January 11
Britta Ingebretson (PhD Candidate, Departments of Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Chicago)
“”She has two sons:” Reproducing State Discourses in Rural China”

Thursday, January 25
Yaqub Hilal (PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago)
“The Semiotics of Liberal Personhood”

Thursday, February 15, 3:30-5pm
Natalja Czarnecki (PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago)
“What Gender is Soviet Technoscience? Translating Food Safety Codes with the EU Harmonization Unit at the National Food Agency in Post-Soviet Tbilisi, Georgia”

Thursday, February 22
Ilana Gershon (Associate Professor of Anthropology, Indiana University)
“Hailing the U.S. Job-Seeker as a Failing Neoliberal Subject”

Fall 2017 Schedule

Thursday, October 5
Erik Levin (PhD Candidate, Departments of Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Chicago)
“Have You No Sense of Dicent-cy?: The Amawaka Sensorium and The Practice of Perspectivism”

Thursday, October 19
Perry Wong (PhD Student, Departments of Anthropology, University of Chicago)
“Jurisdiction Over People and Lightning”

Thursday, November 2
Mark Anthony Geraghty (Postdoctoral Fellow, Jackman Humanities Institute, University of Toronto)
“The Essential Inaccessibility of the Law: Prosecuting Crimes of Genocide Ideology in the New Rwanda”

Thursday, November 16
Yazan Doughan (PhD Candidate, Department of Anthropology, University of Chicago)
“Being a Patriot, Becoming an Activist”

Thursday, December 7
Summerson Carr (Associate Professor, School of Social Service Administration, University of Chicago)
“American Spirit: Performance, Presence, and Profit”

2017-2018 workshop schedule

Coming soon!

19th Annual Michicagoan Conference CFP

19th Annual Michicagoan Conference

May 5-6, 2017

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor


2017 Conference Theme

The Writing’s on the Wall


With a keynote address by

Friederike Lüpke

Professor of Linguistics, Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa

SOAS, University of London


The annual Michicagoan Conference focuses on the social and cultural analysis of semiotic forms centering on language, providing graduate students with an attentive forum in which to present their work and have it discussed by faculty and students. The conference promotes ongoing scholarly exchange and collaboration among students and faculty of the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, and regional affiliates. We welcome work from graduate students at all stages and encourage participants to submit formal conference papers as well as to present their proposals and research reports. Commentators for each panel are drawn from participating faculty.


This year’s Michicagoan theme addresses signs of inevitability and the inevitability of signs. Linguistic anthropologists have long emphasized the contingency and unpredictability of semiotic and sociohistorical processes. But what about when things just seem inevitable? Looking at symptoms of imminent language death, benchmarks of language development, or compulsive patterns of interaction — certain signs, sequences, and structures seem bound to repeat. Not only attuning to future-oriented acts of forecasting, predicting, and prophesizing, “The Writing’s on the Wall” asks participants to investigate the pragmatics of backward-looking, told-you-so reconstructions of the past.


Participants might consider the following dimensions of inevitability:

– Authority and expertise: Predicting the future or reconstructing the past often requires rituals, experts, and authorized genres. What kinds of expertise is drawn upon in interpreting the inevitable? Who or what can make a prediction? How do these prognostications and post-factum assessments circulate in public space?

– Mediation and writing: Predictions can be mediated by objects and technologies, and by forms of writing, reading, and analysis. Auguries, regressions, weather forecasts — what technologies and literacies are mobilized to read the past or future?

– Prediction and failure: To utter “the writing was on the wall” offers a retrospective account for a seemingly inevitable outcome. But what about cases when the inevitable doesn’t happen? How do actors deal with interactional breakdowns, failed signs, or ambiguous results?

Any research topic addressing the spirit of the theme is welcome, but some might include:
–        Language change and shift
–        Language death
–        Scientific prediction and forecasting
–        Speech acts and performativity
–        Political speech
–        Religious language, divination, prophecy
–        Ritual semiosis and materiality
–        Entextualization and dialogism
–        Semiotics of temporality
–        Natural language processing


Students will have 15 minutes to present. To apply, submit a 250-word abstract to the link below. If abstracts are accepted, complete papers will be due by April 21. There is no registration fee for the conference. Transportation expenses for Chicago student presenters will be covered. Meals will be covered for all registered attendees.


Submission link:

Deadline: March 3, 2017


All other inquiries, including questions concerning access for persons with disabilities, can be directed to

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