Lecture 5: What is Discourse?

Discourse- Written or spoken communication or debate; a formal discussion of a topic in speech or writing; a connected series of utterances; a text or conversation

Language- exchange of signs, symbols & symbolic meanings

Sign- an object, quality or event whose presence or occurence indicates the probable presence or occurance of something else

Symbol- a thing that represents or stands for something else, especially a meterial object representing something abstract

Semiotics/Semiology- the study of signs and symbols & their use or interpretation (founded by C. Peirce & F. Saussure)

  • Signified- object or concept
  • Signifier- sign or symbol created to represent that object
  • Connections are arbitraty & contextually dependent

Arbitrary- based on random choice rather than any reason or system

De Saussure: signs only make sense as part of a generalized & abstract system (only have meaning in relation to other signs)

  • meaning dependent on social, historical & cultural contexts
  • Meaning derived from the larger sign-system itself

Implication 1: We can only think w/i terms of the sign system  (b/c we create meaning through representation)

  • Visual Culture- meanins are “manufactured” to represent abstract
  • Meaning never stable nor universal

Implication 2: There is no “transcendental signifier”

  • Transcendental signifier: A singular, quintessential (representing the most perfect or typical of a class) signifier that gives meaning to all signs
  • Meaning dependent on understanding one sign in relation to all the other signs w/i the relevant system
  • Breaks off into: Like & Kind; Presence & Absence
  • Meaning through Ansence: Sign-sets- signifiers of related, but not identical signified objects

Implication #3: All sign systems are imbued w/ ideologies & therefore carry issues of power & representation

  • Meaning through exclusion reinforces binary organizations of people/ ideas (e.g. women & men bathroom)

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