About the Workshop:

This workshop seeks to advance research based on a semiotic framework. Presentations will come from a variety of fields including but not limited to linguistics, psychology, sociology, political science, literary theory, and anthropology. By not limiting the topic of research by area, period or discipline, the workshop encourages discussion to center on how to study social and cultural phenomena as embedded in a meaningful context. By building on many seminal studies that have used semiotic approaches, the goal of the workshop is to continue to develop the rigorous analytic framework that provides the method for clearly defining linkages between the object of analysis and its context.

If you encounter problems with this website or have questions about the workshop, please contact the graduate student coordinators Rachel Howard (rhoward3@uchicago.edu) and/or Grigory Gorbun (ggorbun@uchicago.edu)

2018-2019 Theme: 

“The Semiotics of Sociocultural Categorization”

The Semiotics: Culture in Context Workshop is now accepting submissions for the 2018–2019 academic year. As usual, this workshop serves as a forum for scholars attuned to the emergent production of cultural and linguistic phenomena via diverse semiotic processes. Our theme for the year is “The Semiotics of Sociocultural Categorization.”

In semiotic analysis, categorization has typically been structured around either: 1) adherence to what has been termed an “Aristotelian” vision of categorical inclusion based upon uniform defining attributes of all members (Frege 1952), or 2) membership based upon polythetic “family resemblance” and even degrees of conformity to “stereotypy” (cf. Wittgenstein 1953 and Putnam 1975). In the 2018-2019 academic year, the Semiotics Workshop welcomes papers that ethnographically address the formation of categories in social life; especially but not limited to those categories that come to divide or unite people, institutions, or events emergent in social processes. What are the constructed divisions that occur between what appear to be self-contained or obvious categories amongst political communities, social groups, or events (Yurchak 2012; Silverstein & Lempert 2012)? What holds together members of a group, a place, or an age? And finally, how are categories implicated in the project of scale-making (Carr and Lempert 2016), or other projects of standardizing and normalizing social practices?

Through this theme, we welcome papers that ethnographically attend to the topic of categories as emergent sociocultural facts, or as relations between and among the social practices of boundary-making. We also welcome reflections on and new renditions of the classical theme of categorization, whether property-based, prototypical, or polythetic. In support of this theme, some questions that may be considered include: what is the role of categorization and schemata that appear to be taken-for-granted in people’s conduct of social life, and that unite or oppose kinds of people, events, institutions? What are the ways in which different models of social differentiation work as instrumentalities and entailments of such models in social life (Gal 2018)? How do inhabitable categorical binaries and continua emerge with their expression in particular institutional sites?