Starting a Dialogue between Social Semiotics and Complexity Theory

We recently published Making Signs, Translanguaging Ethnographies edited by Ari Sherris and Elisabetta Adami. In this post the editors introduce us to the book and its unique Bricolage and Talmudic sections.

Preparing this volume has been a work of encounters which gave way to layers of experiences and we hope is just one possible opening to a new way of thinking about how we make and interpret meaning. It started as a serendipitous encounter between the two of us, when we met once at a symposium on translanguaging and ethnography and later began conversations on the possibilities of crossing perspectives, in an attempt at starting a dialogue between social semiotics and complexity theory. The experiences of the volume’s contributors form additional layers at the core of this volume from ethnographic/documentary linguistics, sociolinguistics, linguistic landscape, and multimodality (broadly conceived). The volume is also a site of encounters among four theorists of what we envisage as among the most innovative and promising perspectives on research and activism across inclusive approaches to communication, language and education with a Bricolage piece asking Jan Blommaert, Ofelia García, Gunther Kress and Diane Larsen-Freeman to answer ten key questions and trace interrelations with each other’s viewpoints.

Besides the eye-opening preface by Jeff Bezemer and Gunther Kress, and the introduction written by us, the volume hosts seven chapters presenting empirical studies that relocate margins at the centre, through investigations of phenomena and settings that have been little explored so far, and by attempting various entanglements between approaches that have rarely been combined. Research of and through these uncharted entanglements allows the authors (and hopefully the readers) to show how observing and documenting domains of communication that are often neglected can not only problematize traditional ways of knowing, but also shed new light onto social interaction, meaning-making and human communication as a whole.

Finally, the volume attempts at stretching the boundaries of (the often too limiting) academic genres. It does so first and foremost in the Bricolage; the process of its making has been a wonderfully enriching enterprise, for us, the editors, and (we like to believe) for the four theorists too, who had never met on (screen and) paper before. Working with them at the Bricolage, we have not only had further proof of the immense intellectual value of Diane, Gunther, Jan and Ofelia, but also experienced the immensely humane, thoughtful and caring characters of the four. We hope that the Bricolage may be the first of a series opening a new genre enabling academic dialogue through joint forms of writing. A second genre innovation is in the final chapter of the book, in which we draw from the Talmudic tradition to construct commentaries to each of the empirical chapters that add additional layers, imagined next steps in meaning-making and interpretation. The commentaries ask themselves how these studies would be reframed and (re)investigated further by adopting a social semiotic and a complexity theory perspective. This, too, is an attempt to start a dialogue between two approaches that have good grounds for potential mutual integration and yet had not met until now. We hope this dialogue will continue further with those who read the book. We look forward to hearing from you!

Elisabetta Adami e.adami@leeds.ac.uk

Ari Sherris arieh.sherris@gmail.com

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Engaging Superdiversity edited by Karel Arnaut, Martha Sif Karrebæk, Massimiliano Spotti and Jan Blommaert.

Communication, Culture and Discourse: A Road Map for Cultural Discourse Studies

This autumn, the 6th International Conference on Multicultural Discourses is due to take place. Multilingual Matters is sponsoring the conference, specifically in order to enable two early career researchers from developing countries to attend it. This post is written by one of the organisers, Shi-xu of Hangzhou Normal University, China.

With the rapid advancement in communication, commerce and travel, our world has become smaller and people more interconnected. However, this has not meant that the global village is safer, more stable, or more harmonious, but more alienated, more volatile and more unpredictable. Even after three West-East wars of the past century, hot and cold, the old wisdom of dividing up mankind into good and evil and then retaining absolute hegemony remains as alive as ever and coercion continues to hold the day. At the same time, however, that familiar, traditional order is being tipped as non-Western powers and alliances emerge and spread. In the new century we find ourselves yet again at the crossroads of war and peace, repression and development, or more.

For scholars and students of Cultural Discourse Studies (CDS), to which this conference and the affiliated journal are devoted, the current human-cultural predicament is a big challenge, but it is also an opportunity. It is a big challenge because mainstream Communication Studies (CS, including studies of language, literature, rhetoric, media and discourse) insists on a Westcentric stance and ignores cultural diversity and obscure cultural division. It is also an opportunity because CDS is equipped with not only the determination but also the tools to help change the changing world.

The chosen and enduring objectives of CDS are: (1) to undermine and subvert ethnocentrism in CS, (2) to construct culturally conscious, critical and creative paradigms of human communication that are capable of facilitating the advancement of relevant cultural discourses, and (3) to firm up a truly culturally inclusive CS scholarship that is conducive to building a harmonious, pluralist and free world.

CDS’ strategic goals, under the turbulent circumstances just alluded to, call for urgent and specific tasks to be taken up. One is to expand and consolidate the existing international community of scholars and students of diverse disciplinary and cultural backgrounds who are culturally conscious, critical and creative and committed to helping reform CS towards a more diversified and egalitarian scholarship. Another is for this breed of researchers to utilize effective platforms and channels to discuss, formulate and promulgate a common vision for human communication and to invent practical ways to reach that consensus. Still another is to continue efforts to establish and improve relevant frameworks of cultural discourses in order to critically study and to guide particular practices. Yet another is to expose and subvert culturally divisive, discriminatory and domineering discourses on the one hand and to discover and promote culturally inclusive, dialogical and harmonious ones on the other hand.

For more information about the 6th International Conference on Multicultural Discourses, just click the link.

Jan Blommaert Reflects on his Reading of Classic Works about Ethnography

This month we published Dialogues with Ethnography: Notes on Classics, and How I Read Them by Jan Blommaert. Jan has made a short video introducing the book and its argument that ethnography must be viewed as a full theoretical system, and not just as a research method.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Jan’s 2013 book Ethnography, Superdiversity and Linguistic Landscapes.