A Society of Signs? by David Harris

By David Harris

An advent to present debates round the topics of tradition, identification and way of life. Such debates frequently start with the statement that we are living in a "society of signs". good points contain: precis and important dialogue of a few simple techniques in social idea and cultural research; key readings of a few of the paintings of writers together with Barthes and Giddens; stories of labor in additional conventional components, for instance, the sociology of identification and the embedding procedure present in social lifestyles; and suggestion on extra studying.

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It was thought possible to further extend Marxist analysis into a wide range of familiar modern cultural practices, granting a certain amount of autonomy to them, but preserving a link to overall systems of domination (as Thompson 1984 puts it). We shall consider a number of alternative positions in Marxist linguistics and in ‘postMarxism’ in what follows, but in general the problem is obvious: how much can continue to be added to Marxism while insisting that it is still Marxism? From a different tradition within Marxism, accounts which borrow from the works of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci have been very influential in analysing some aspects of popular culture in Britain, for example.

The rest of the chapter pursues this debate: how important is it still to know something of the social context or origins of a film or novel, for example, or to try and trace some coded political interests in the ways in which characters are depicted or narratives developed? Can the social origins of an idea or practice still be traced through processes like inversion or parody or inter-textual reference that we have mentioned, and, even if so, are those origins still active, so to speak, in the determination of meaning?

As usual, we shall find time for only a rather quick and basic summary, starting with a quick overall sketch. The enabling myth here is that social life grows out of interaction between individuals, in dyads or in larger but still primary groups. A process of mutual orientation takes place as individuals strive to interpret the meanings of the other’s actions or utterances. The process is facilitated by the immediate face-to-face context in the enabling myth—utterances and actions become symbols in a fairly direct sense of referencing some common experience.

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