9 jun. 2011

Bullshit Fields (15)


Semiotics once seemed to be the field of the future, or at least of the present, before Umberto Eco became a best-selling novelist. It is not "bullshit" per se, but it tied its fortunes to structuralism and has lost its luster with the decline of this larger movement. People who don't like poststructuralism and postmodernism don't want to return to structuralism either, so there's no natural constituency for semiotics as an explanatory framework. Cultural studies uses some semiotics, to the extent that it's based on Barthes' "mythologies," but the influence there is attenuated.

The idea of semiotics was to study everything else as a language, not just language itself. A few problems emerged: other languages, other systems of signs, were simply not as complex or interesting as language. Secondly, linguists were all not interested in the Saussurean idea of the sign. There was a lot more to do in linguistics than try to refine an idea from the early stages of the discipline. Structuralism in linguistics was associated with an earlier model, more descriptive and anthropological.