From an Academic Perspective:
Semiotics is a way of understanding how we are separated from the beasts! It is a fundamental body of academic thinking that suggests that Language is the primary mode by which human beings attain consciousness are able to communicate with sophistication and thereby able to address ideas of being – ontology – and knowing/understanding – epistemology. In other words, the foundation point for recognising human civilisation. So pretty big ideas!
One way of understanding the world and oneself (ontology) and discovering how we know anything (epistemology) is to look at the theory of symbolic interactionism.
Symbolic interactionism is a recognised sociological theory that proposes the idea that reacting, interacting, responding and developing is the process through which we essentially become aware of ourselves (our identity) and our place in society and in relation to others. Overall, it is the process that makes us human – as opposed to non-human life forms.
It is a philosophical position that offers an opportunity to interpret, define and understand the relationship between ourselves as individuals and ‘the other’, which for Mead is the central mechanism of existence that ‘enables the human being to make indication to himself of things in his surroundings and thus to guide his action by what he notes.’ (1934, p. 180) In other words, symbolic interactionism identifies the process in which the individual and the community can be recognised in a symbiotic relationship of both ‘self’ and ‘other’.
Let’s make it easy
- This means essentially that we understand who and what we are through interactions with others.
- At the heart of this thinking is the idea that language is key to our understanding.
- At the heart of this idea is the notion that language is made up of various signs and symbols, so we need to understand and break down the concept of semiotics which is the study of signs.
As Howell puts forward, ‘through language and structure we become . . . we attain consciousness of self as generalised other’ (2000, p. 27), recognising, in a later work, that the ‘community and self are intrinsically linked.’ (2013, p. 89)