Semiotic Investigations: Towards an Effective Semiotics

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In Semiotic Investigations, Alec McHoul develops a theory of meaning that he calls "effective semiotics"-a theory that investigates "the ways in which signs have meaning by virtue of their actual uses." As McHoul notes, "these uses take place in a number of 'media,' the most important of which is the medium of history-so important, in fact, that it catches up all the other possible media of semiosis, including everyday life and language, fiction, film, talk, art, mathematics, [and] photography.

McHoul expounds his theory of effective semiotics-of "meaning-as-use"-in a series of provocative chapters on diverse topics. He begins by examining the relations between semiotics and history and between semiotics and specific communities. He elaborates on the nature of these relations by demonstrating the "effective semiotics" of a particular photograph from the 1880s, episodes from the film Singin' in the Rain and the Batman comics, literary works, children's primers, popular accounts of science, and many other objects, artifacts, and experiences.

Semiotic Investigations advances its own comprehensive theory of signs while ably examining works by such distinguished philosophers and theorists as Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Derrida, Foucault, Habermas, Lyotard, Kuhn, and others. Yet the book is also down-to-earth and clearly written, with an eye towards a startling range of "ordinary" and "uncommon" experiences. It will be required reading for linguists, philosophers, semioticians, anthropologists, literary theorists, and students of cultural studies.

Alec McHoul is an associate professor and chair of communication studies at Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia. He is the author of Telling How Texts Talk: Essays on Reading and Ethnomethodology and coauthor, with David Wills, of Writing Pynchon: Strategies in Fictional Analysis.

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Editorial Reviews

“A far-reaching book, well argued, persuasively and provocatively written. [McHoul’s] work fits into the discourse of poststructuralism and deconstruction. A real delight to read, McHoul’s book should find a place in graduate and research collections, beside the works of Roland Barthes, Foucault, and Derrida.”—Choice
British Journal of Aesthetics

“[McHoul’s] ‘big problem’ is: what is the relation between an expression and its effect. To answer this question fully means, of course, that McHoul has to tackle not just issues of semiotics, but also history, pedagogics, literary theory, science, and ethics. As a result, Semiotic Investigations has an enormous scope. The book is no less than an attempt to work in (at least) three fields at once, and McHoul seems at home dealing with analytic philosophy, continental philosophy, semiotics, and linguistics. Moreover, the book never shirks the difficult questions it raises. . . . The book is written in a very lucid style, combining his philosophical and theoretical ambition with analytic clarity, and his examples are both stimulating and helpful. . . . The intellectual sweep of Semiotic Investigations is impressive, as is the range of reference and discussion.”—Robert Eaglestone, British Journal of Aesthetics


“A far-reaching book, well argued, persuasively and provocatively written. [McHoul’s] work fits into the discourse of poststructuralism and deconstruction. A real delight to read, McHoul’s book should find a place in graduate and research collections, beside the works of Roland Barthes, Foucault, and Derrida.”—Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803231917
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/1996
  • Series: Stages
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 5.83 (w) x 9.33 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Table of Contents

1 Signifying History 3
2 Framing Photographs 19
3 Culture and Community 41
4 Signs and Not-signs 55
5 Reading Practices 65
6 Reflexivity, Problems, and Solutions 91
7 Ethnogenealogy: Public Methods for Private Practices 101
8 Intelligibility, Actionability, and Historicity 131
9 Indexicality's Horizon of Possibility 137
10 Signing in the Rain 147
11 Closing off Openings 153
12 Gatekeeping Logic 165
13 Converse Communities 173
14 Analytic Ethics 191
Notes 213
Works Cited 231
Index 243
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