Introducing semiotic economy
Abstract submitted for the special theme session Consumption as Signification (chaired by Kristian Bankov), part of The 31st Annual Meeting of the Semiotic Society of Finland, June 9–10
Associate professor at Department of Health Studies, University of Stavanger
Researcher in the grant Dynamical Zoosemiotics and Animal Representations (Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu)
The ten steps to a semiotics of being detailed in Tønnessen 2010 (and said to be “pertinent to various sub-fields at the conjunction of semiotics of nature […] and semiotics of culture […]”) conclude with the following four points:
7) An imperative task in our contemporary world of faltering biological diversity is that of Umwelt mapping, i.e. a mapping of ontological niches.
8) The ecological crisis is an ontological crisis with historical roots in humankind’s domestication of animals and plants, which can be taken as archetypical for our attempted planet-scale taming of the wild.
9) The process of globalization is expressed by correlated trends ofdepletion of semiotic diversity and semiotic diversification.
10) Semiotic economy is a field which task it is to map the human ontological niche insofar as its semiotic relations are of an economic nature.
The ontological niche of point 7 was first introduced in Tønnessen 2003: 288 as “the set of contrapuntal relations that [a being] takes part in at a given point of natural history”. The notion is one of several profitable specifications of Uexküll’s Umwelt concept. In plain language, the ontological niche represents what a being does in fact do (relate to), rather than the interpretative challenges it encounters in its semiotic niche (Hoffmeyer). Semiotic economy, then, traces the actual behavior of the human species in Umwelt (i.e., ecological) terms, via a mapping of the impact that human behavior has directly and indirectly as manifested in the Umwelten of humans and notably of other living beings. This prospective field of study – involving a more qualitative approach to economics (and a more phenomenological approach, in a wide, Uexküllian sense) – is thus fitted for empirical studies. From this theoretical vantage point, (human) consumption can be conceived of in terms of signification not only from a human point of view but also from an animal point of view.
Tønnessen, Morten 2003. Umwelt ethics. Sign Systems Studies, 31.1: 281-299.
— 2010. Steps to a semiotics of being. Biosemiotics 3.3: 375-392.