The Semiotics Workshop

Culture in Context

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Autumn 2016 Schedule

The Semiotics Workshop Autumn 2016 Schedule:

October 6th – “Grading, Gradients, Degradation, Grace”

Paul Kockelman

Professor of Anthropology

Yale University


October 20th – “‘All there is’: On reconciliation and the poetics of a singing voice”

Robyn Taylor-Neu

Masters in Arts Program for the Social Sciences

University of Chicago


November 3rd – Title TBA (dissertation chapter on democracy as creative vs. reactive enterprise)

Averill Leslie

PhD Candidate, University of Chicago


December 1st – “Exercising Socialist Laborers: Production Calisthenics and the Politicization of Fatigue during the Great Leap Forward China”

Bing Xia

Masters in Arts Program for the Social Sciences

University of Chicago

Michicagoan Schedule

The 18th Annual Michicagoan Graduate Student Conference in Linguistic Anthropology

May 6-7, 2016

3rd Floor Theater, Ida Noyes Hall

University of Chicago


Friday May 6th

9:00 Breakfast and Registration

9:30 Opening Remarks



Panel I: Mobilities and Transnationalisms (9:45 – 11:15)

9:45 A Partner for Peace

Yaqub Hilal

10:00 Mediating Infrastructures: Security and Biometric Belonging in Urban Pakistan

Zehra Hashimi

10:15 On the (An)Aesthetics of Translation: Alienation and Techno-linguisic dependency in Sino-African Mass-Migrancies

Jay Schutte

10:30 Lei Feng wouldn’t drive an Audi

Britta Ingebretson

10:45 Discussant Kristina Wirtz (and audience discussion)
11:15 Break (11:15-11:30)

Panel II: Multimedia and Meta-media (11:30 – 1:00)

11:30 Echo in the archive: Tanya Tagaq’s Nanook of the North

Robyn Taylor-Neu

11:45 You are the problem who is problematizing it”: A frame analysis of Korean Buddhist spontaneous question-answer sessions on YouTube

Yeon-ju Bae

12:00 Musical Lyrics and Youtube Commentary on Kurdish Identity Politics

Sevda Arslan

12:15 Who’s ‘More Musical’?: Underscoring Distinction in Ex-YU Hip Hop DJing

Owen Kohl

12:30 Discussant Ilana Gershon (and audience discussion)



Lunch (1:00 – 2:00)


Panel III: Modeling Identities Multimodally (2:00 – 3:30)
2:00 The Problem and Appeal of Authenticity in Mediatized Maya Discourse

Chris Bloechl

2:15 Technologies of the Hand: Bets, Being a Man, and “Half-Handshakes” in Laos

Chip Zuckerman

2:30 Mediatization and the Assemblage of Political Agents in Turkey’s Kurdish Conflict

Patrick Lewis

2:45 The Role of Trolling in Shaping Cultural Discourse and Identity: a case study of an anonymous internet message board

Marc Lehman

3:00 Discussant: Alaina Lemon (and audience discussion)
3:30 Break (3:30-3:45)

Panel IV: Institutions of Mediation (3:45 – 5:15)

3:45 Seeing the Forest for the Trees: How a Village Council Debates Land Use in a Protected Rainforest

Jessica Pouchet

4:00 Biographies of “Marginal Men”

Perry Wong

4:15 Language as semiotic technology at the International Atomic Energy Agency
Anna Weichselbraun
4:30 The Art of Knowing: Depersonalized Voices and Technologies of Mediation in Turkey’s Kurdistan

Özge Korkmaz

4:45 Discussant: Matthew Hull (and audience discussion)
5:15 Break (5:15 – 5:30)
5:30 – 7:00 Keynote Address: A Short History of Vowels

John Durham Peters




Student Dinner



Saturday May 7th


9:00am Breakfast

Panel V: Framing Absence, Personifying Presence (10:00 – 11:30)

10:00 Speaking in Ashes: Embodied Space in Divination and Grammar

Joshua Shapero

10:15 Coded Engagements: Teasing Siri with ‘Nandeyanen’

Bill Feeney

10:30 The Importance of a Frame

Meghanne Barker

10:45 The Social Media Life of a Deceased Tibetan Poet: Blue Lake, Identity Formations, and WeChat

Huatse Gyal

11:00 Discussant: Chris Ball (and audience discussion)
11:30 Break (11:30 – 11:45)



Panel VI: Translating Medical Assemblages (11:45 – 1:15)

11:45 From Tantra to Textbook: Textual Transformations of Tibetan Medicine

Todd P. Marek

12:00 Trauma as Sign: Temporality and Narrative in “Post-Traumatic Growth”

Livia Garofalo

12:15 Sieving Uncertainty

Colin Halverson

12:30 Billable Language and Artifactual Technologies of Social Work

Matilda Stubbs

12:45 Discussant: Summerson Carr (and audience discussion)



Lunch (1:15 – 2:30)




Panel VII: Reforming the Political, Revealing the Religious (2:30 – 4:00)

2:30 Chronotopes of “We-Ness”: Legacies of an Authoritarian Past and Disappointments with Democracy in the 2014 Indonesian Presidential Campaigns

Fadi Hakim

2:45 Confessional discourse and the language of the liberation-oppression paradigm in the first decade of the P.R.C.

Alice Yeh

3:00 Figuration as Semiotic Technology at the Islamic Center of America

Amanda Kemble

3:15 Reading Prophecies, Taming Demons: Buddhism in Sertar, 1950-1987

Jin Li

3:30 Discussant: Justin Richland (and audience discussion)
4:00 Break (4:00 – 4:15)

Panel VIII: Quantification and Qualification (4:15 – 5:30)

4:15 Technologies of Visualization, Technologies of Scale: Maps, National Crisis, and the Legitimacy of Law in Singapore Urban Planning

Josh Babcock

4:30 Towards a Semiotics of Units: The Rhemacity, Dicensity and Argumencity in the Evolution of Technological Language

Yukun Zeng

4:45 Dangerous evaluations: 360-degree feedback in South Korea

Michael Prentice

5:00 Discussant: Michael Lempert (and audience discussion)
6:00 Dinner and reception

Spring 2016 Schedule

The Semiotics Workshop Spring 2016 Schedule


April 7th – “Semiotic Affordances and Constraints at a Yucatec Maya Radio Station”

Chris Bloechl

PhD Candidate, Anthropology

University of Chicago

Discussant: Hannah McElgunn, Anthropology


April 21st – “Andino-futurism, Tupak Katari in space, and Decolonizing Time during Bolivia’s Pacha Kuti

Karl Swinehart

Assistant Professor, Linguistics

University of Louisville

Discussant: Chris Bloechl, Anthropology


May 4th – “Linguistic Manifestations in Encounters of Loss”

Barbra Meek

Associate Professor, Anthropology

University of Michigan

(Joint workshop with Language Variation and Change)


May 6th and 7th – Michicagoan Graduate Student Conference in Linguistic Anthropology


May 19th – TBA

Giovanni Ricci

PhD Candidate, Anthropology

University of Chicago

Discussant: Zeb Dingley, Anthropology


June 2nd – TBA

Britta Ingebretson

PhD Candidate, Anthropology and Linguistics

University of Chicago

Michicagoan Conference, May 6-7, 2016

Technologies of Semiosis

18th Annual Michicagoan Conference

May 6–7, 2016


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 from the Universities of Michigan and Chicago and beyond. We welcome work from post-baccalaureate students at all stages, and encourage participants to submit formal conference papers as well as to discuss their dissertation proposals and research reports. Commentators for each panel are drawn from participating faculty. The conference promotes ongoing scholarly exchange and collaboration among students and faculty of the two host institutions and regional affiliates.


This year, meeting at the University of Chicago, our theme is “Technologies of Semiosis.” Our keynote speaker this year is John Durham Peters, A. Craig Baird Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa. We seek papers taking semiotic, sociolinguistic and linguistic anthropological approaches to the ways in which language and other semiotic forms are intertwined with technology. We encourage participants to interpret the concept of technology broadly, focusing on one of the themes below or expanding into other domains:


  •      Media: How are the semiotic affordances of different media – be they written text-artifacts, television, radio, film, or more novel technologies of communication – used to interactional ends? How do different types of media intersect, or, as affordances, overlap? What temporalities do they call forth? What kind of material infrastructure do they rely on and bring into being? How do different artefactual modalities of representation, like graphic inscription, audio transcription, or translation across media, function as kinds of semiotic technologies?


  •      Language as technology: How can language and its use serve as a kind of technology? In what ways can language be understood as a kind of technique, knowledge, skill or craft? How does an attention to different sensory modalities, like the visual and the sonic, contribute to this sort of analysis? Here we might consider such concepts as voice, noise and gesture, among other things.


  •      Emergent structures of machine-human interaction: Moving away from face-to-face interaction, what of non-face-to-face human-machine/machine-human interaction? What consequences do such interactional modalities have for language? What new theoretical approaches might need to be elaborated to account for machine-mediated human interaction? What might attention to these microstructures reveal about larger scale processes?

Presenters will have 15 minutes to present research papers or project proposals, and they will be asked to submit completed papers to their assigned discussant by April 22nd. There is no registration fee for the conference. Transportation will be covered for all Michigan presenters. Meals will be covered for all registered attendees.


To propose a presentation, please submit the following materials, as email text or attachment, to by March 11, 2016:

  1. Title of presentation
  2. University and departmental affiliation
  3. Abstract of 250 words or less
  4. Audio-visual requirements


All other inquiries, including questions concerning access for persons with disabilities, can be directed to Hannah McElgunn ( or Janet Connor (

Winter 2016 Schedule

The Semiotics Workshop Winter 2016 Schedule


January 14th : “Mane, Mothers and Regulating Circulations”

Bill Feeney

PhD Candidate, Anthropology

University of Chicago

Discussant: Perry Wong, Anthropology


January 28th – “Objects and artifacts: the thinginess of bureaucratic objectivity”

Anna Weichselbraun

PhD Candidate, Anthropology

University of Chicago

Discussant: Lily Ye, Comparative Human Development



February 11th – “Recursive Republican Racialization: Economic Moralities and the Language of Exclusion in Senegalese Households in Paris”

Chelsie Yount

PhD Candidate, Anthropology

Northwestern University

Discussant: Omer Ahmed, Anthropology


February 25th – “You become everyone”

Colin Halverson

PhD Candidate, Anthropology

University of Chicago

Discussant: Giovanni Ricci, Anthropology


March 10th – Antics of the Virtual: The Otherness in the Self in the Japanese Expression, Nanchatte

Miyako Inoue

Associate Professor, Anthropology

Stanford University

Discussant: Bill Feeney, Anthropology

Autumn 2015 Schedule

We’re pleased to announce our schedule for Autumn 2015.
October 8th – Net-Savvy Cats and Newbie Dogs: Textual Materiality and the Embodiment of Computer-Mediated “Voices”
Elise Kramer
Lecturer, Anthropology
UC San Diego
Visiting Professor, UIUC
Discussant: Alice Yeh, Anthropology
October 22nd – “What Standards Want: Learning to Read the Next Generation Science Standards”
Lily Ye
PhD Student, Comparative Human Development
University of Chicago
Discussant: Colin Halverson, Anthropology
November 5th – Made in Other Words: Translating the Anglochronotopia in the Sino-African Encounter
Jay Schutte
PhD Candidate, Anthropology
University of Chicago
Discussant: Britta Ingebretson, Anthropology
Friday December 4th – Title TBA
Kathryn Graber
Assistant Professor, Anthropology Department and Central Eurasian Studies
Indiana University Bloomington
Discussant: Jonah Simpson, Anthropology

Spring 2015 Schedule

The Semiotics Workshop is pleased to announce our Spring 2015 schedule:


April 16th: “Signs of Disease”
Colin Halverson
PhD Candidate, Anthropology
University of Chicago
Discussant: Kieran Kelley, Anthropology

May 8th and 9th: Michicagoan Conference at University of Michigan

May 21st: Title TBA
Beth Brummel
PhD Candidate, Anthropology
University of Chicago
Discussant: Chris Bloechl, Anthropology

Friday, June 5th: Title TBA
Joint session with Language Variation and Change WOrkshop
John Haviland
Distinguished Professor, Anthropology

Winter 2015 Schedule


The Semiotics Workshop is pleased to announce the Winter 2015 schedule:


January 15th: “Nimeboeka: Ideologies of Sheng as ideologies of youth”

Elizabeth Brummel

PhD Candidate, Anthropology

Univ. of Chicago



January 29th: “Mane, Mothers and Regulating Circulations”

William Feeney

PhD Candidate, Anthropology

Univ. of Chicago


February 12th: “‘From Paper Buildings to Building Paper: Translating the Plan on a New Delhi Construction Site”

Adam Sargent

PhD Candidate, Anthropology

Univ. of Chicago


February 26th: “Elegance versus brawn: Gendered ideologies of self and consumption practices among Muslim diasporic youth in Northern Marseille”

Cécile Evers

PhD Candidate, Anthropology

Univ. of Pennsylvania


March 5th: “Semiotics of Spelling Bees: Soundscapes of Language and Materiality”

Shalini Shankar

Associate Professor, Anthropology

Northwestern University


Autumn 2014 Theme & Schedule

The Semiotics Workshop is pleased to announce this year’s theme and the Autumn 2014 schedule:

Materiality and Mediation

Moving beyond a construal of materiality as that which contrasts with the “ideational” or the “symbolic”, this year we seek papers that interrogate the concept of materiality. We are interested in how materiality comes to be actualized and through what reflexive processes something comes to be understood as material or immaterial. That is to say, how is (im)materiality mediated? These questions presuppose that materiality is not an inherent property, but rather precipitates over time.

Given materiality is not an inherent property, we seek papers addressing what counts as (im)material for different social groups. At stake is how qualia are embodied, socio-culturally organized, and shared, and, following that, how qualia are made to be similar or different through their materializations. Crucial here are the metrics, standards, and other mediating semiotic technologies of different regimes of practice and expertise. How are these technologies employed by the groups we study, but also within academia?

Finally, we are interested in not only the construal of materiality, but also the movement from one kind of materiality to another. This question includes, but is not limited to, how practices of representation – like archiving, documentation, or even writing – negotiate issues of materiality.



October 9: “Cadastral Mapping, Semiotic Ideology, and the Recalcitrant Human Landscape:  Dili, Timor-Leste”

Gabriel Tusinski

PhD Candidate, Anthropology

Univ. of Chicago

Discussant: Jack Mullee


October 23: “The Limber Corpse: The Semeiotic Agency of the Dead”

Zoe Crossland

Associate Professor, Anthropology

Columbia University

Discussant: Menna Khalil

(Joint meeting with the Interdisciplinary Archaeology Workshop)


October 30: “Luck as quality and substance in northern Peru”

Marieka Sax

PhD, Anthropology

Carleton University

Discussant: Duff Morton

(Joint meeting with the Workshop on Latin America and the Caribbean)


November 13: “The Semiotics of Spirits and Spanish: Code-Switching in Cosmological Discourses as Epistemological Strategy amongst the Inuya River Amawaka”

Erik Levin

PhD Candidate, Anthropology and Linguistics

Univ. of Chicago

Discussant: Hilary McMahan


November 20: “Temporalities of Care in Neoliberal Jordan”

Yazan Doughan

PhD Candidate, Anthropology

Univ. of Chicago

Discussant: Zachary Sheldon

2014 Michicagoan Schedule

“Coordinating Continuities: Language and Sameness Across Time and Space”
The Sixteenth University of Michigan – University of Chicago Graduate Student Conference in Linguistic Anthropology
To be held at the Gordon Center for Integrative Science, W301, 929 East 57th Street, University of Chicago, May 2nd and 3rd, 2014
Keynote Speaker: Penelope Eckert, Linguistics & Anthropology, Stanford University
 The theme for this year’s Michicagoan “Coordinating Continuities,” draws attention to how contexts with discrete spatial and temporal orders are brought into alignment. By attending to the synchronization of such chronotopic frames, we hope to bring into focus the work done in producing coherent continuities – of ‘a’ language, nation, history, narrative, and so forth – out of what might otherwise be distinct and distant temporal, spatial, and ontological orders. We ask not only what present ties to past, future, and remote contexts are brought into being, but how coherence is created, maintained, and systematized across scales and not withstanding potentially conflicting ideological frameworks.
Conference Schedule
Friday, May 2nd
12:00pm                Registration and Lunch
1:00pm                  Panel 1: (Re)placing and (Re)identifying
2:45pm                  Panel 2: Marginality and the Construction of Memory
5:00pm                  Refreshment Break
5:30pm                  Keynote Address: Penelope Eckert, Stanford University
6:30pm                  Student Dinner at Haskell Hall, 1126 East 59th Street
Saturday, May 3rd
9:00am                  Breakfast
10:00am                Panel 3: Text and Representation
12:00pm                Lunch
1:00pm                  Panel 4: Modes of Indexicality
3:00pm                  Refreshment Break
3:30pm                  Panel 5: Coordinating the Nation-State
5:30pm                  Dinner
6:30pm                  Party at Haskell Hall, 1126 East 59th Street
Funded by The Student Government, The Lichtstern Fund, The Humanities Division, The Department of Linguistics, The Student Catering Fund, and The Center for the Study of Communication and Society

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