Conversation with Deborah Eicher-Catt

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Deborah Eicher-Catt, Chair of the 2017 Program Committee

Farouk:  Hello Deborah. For the new members of SSA and those who have yet to meet you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?     

Deborah:  Absolutely! When I’m not currently doing SSA program committee work, I am busy serving as Coordinator for Penn State York’s Communication Arts & Sciences baccalaureate program. In this program, I teach courses in interpersonal relationships, communication research, speech and human behavior, and family and organizational communication. I developed a course in semiotics that I have taught to undergraduates several times. I also serve as the Coordinator for our new Women’s and Gender Studies minor on our campus. My teaching contributions to this program include: introduction to gender studies, feminist theory, and a course in gender, diversity, and the media. I am completing my twenty-sixth year of college teaching. Last year I was the recipient of Penn State University’s prestigious Teaching Fellow Award. The year before that I received my campus’ teaching award.

Farouk:  How long have you been active in SSA?

Deborah:  I have attended SSA meetings over the last fifteen years or so. I always look forward to the annual conferences. It is wonderful to meet so many interesting people from a host of academic disciplines and to make what I consider to be lasting relationships with many. I think the inter-disciplinary nature of our Society is one of its true strengths. As symbolic of my dedication to the field, I guest edited a special issue on anthropologist and communication theorist Gregory Bateson for the American Journal of Semiotics in 2003 (19:1-4), published under the accomplished editorship of our late colleague, John Deely. I also guest edited a special issue on semiotics and the sacred for Listening: Journal of Communication Ethics, Religion, and Culture in 2013. Most recently, I served on the Executive Board and Chaired the Roberta Kevelson Award Committee a couple of years ago.

Farouk:  I’m always fascinated by when and how others began their semiotics exploration. For me, I became interested in semiotics when I was writing my Ph.D. dissertation “Semiotics and Urban Morphogenesis” in mid 80’s. When and how did you become interested in semiotics?

Deborah:  I first became interested in semiotics when I was completing my M.A. thesis at California State University, Chico in 1991. I conducted a qualitative intercultural study using semiotic phenomenology. I focused on famous Japanese author and social critic, Yukio Mishima’s short-story, “Patriotism” for my thesis. It is a particularly uncanny story about ritual seppuku (death by honor), given that Mishima ultimately ended his life in the same way. I wanted to focus on the mythology of patriotism that fueled his life and death. In addition, I was intrigued by the idea that texts (such as a novel or short story) only “come alive” in our reading of them. So, I turned to Roland Barthes’ work to help me unpack my ideas. Later, in my Ph.D. coursework at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale from 1991-95 (under the tutelage of Richard L. Lanigan), I was exposed to Communicology which encompasses the semiotic and phenomenological insights from the likes of Roman Jakobson, Charles S. Peirce, Jurgen Ruesch and Gregory Bateson, Merleau-Ponty, and Michel Foucault, to name just a few. I used Jakobson extensively in my dissertation, given that I was interested in explicating the difficult communicative dynamics involved in “visiting” one’s children rather than having full custody of them every day. Bateson’s work on the “epistemology of the sacred” also figured prominently in my dissertation and I grew to appreciate more and more his ecological view of human relationships—which I now incorporate into my teaching of interpersonal communication. I began to interrogate the inter-relationships I saw specifically between Bateson’s work and the semiotics of C.S. Peirce and this interest still motivates much of my thinking today.  

Farouk:  Speaking of what motivates you, what was the trigger for the theme of the 2017 SSA Annual Meeting: “The Play of Signs and the Signs of Play”?

Deborah:  While the program committee considered many viable themes for our 2017 conference, this theme received the most votes and I must say I am happy with the choice. After all, play is a vital medium of creativity and learning throughout our lives. As we know, Peirce found the concept appealing and included it his notion of musement as “pure play.” He, of course, drew insights from Friedrich Schiller’s short treatise, “On the Aesthetic Education of Man,” (originally published in 1795) where Schiller talks about our “play impulse” as a much-needed balancing mechanism with the “formal impulse” or that of rational thinking. As our official Call for Papers recognizes, the concept of play thus occupies a key position in many semiotic theories. As I wrote in a recent piece for Semiotica, I think we should learn to take play more seriously, given its close relationship to personal and socio-cultural evolution and learning. So, I think semioticians have much to offer the many disciplines who traverse the ground of play and our conference gives us the opportunity to engage in some “serious play!” As social historian Johan Huizinga claims in his insightful text, Homo Ludens (1949), play establishes a pivotal point of interaction among us from which cultures and civilizations symbolically arise.

Farouk:  Your comment reminds me of how playfulness is significant in the design process where we creatively reframe socio-cultural challenges. There is hardly any playfulness without seriousness, or seriousness without playfulness. You know, it’s a paradoxical phenomenon. I’m sure you’re well aware of the current world situation that seems perplexing, yet, holds a keen opportunity for us as semioticians. How does this year’s theme respond to socio-cultural, economic, and political challenges that our global world encounters?

Deborah:  While at first glance it may appear that our theme is contradictory to our current world situation (especially if we think of play as mere “idle engagement”), I think the program committee got it right in wanting to highlight the nature and function of play as a vital human resource. There is a growing understanding among many disciplines (including the business world) that the concept of “serious play” is really what productive living is all about. With the idea of “play,” we are able to focus upon imaginative and creative thought—vital elements in all effective decision making and problem solving. Dewey understood this well so many years ago when he developed his reflective thinking method. Bring play together with the idea of “seriousness,” and we highlight the simultaneous fact that all actions have effects (whether well intended or otherwise)—which, of course, is an integral aspect of American Pragmatism. So, our theme this year allows us to insightfully respond to the socio-cultural, economic, and political challenges we face with hopefully a renewed awareness of the benefits of a pragmatic way of being in the world, understood within a frame of “serious play.”

Farouk:  Why did the SSA decide to have the 2017 annual meeting in Mexico? And what is the desired outcome of this annual meeting?

Deborah:  I was personally delighted when our SSA colleague, Dora Ivonne Alvarez Tamayo from Puebla University graciously offered to host this year’s event. I was equally excited that the SSA overwhelmingly approved the recommendation from the Executive Board. The program committee is thrilled to be expanding our borders of outreach and encourages our Latin American colleagues to actively participate in this year’s events. Especially given the current political stance of our new administration, I know the SSA wants to show a sign of solidarity (not division) with our fabulous host country, Mexico. The Society has always been committed to inclusion and expansion—not exclusion and insular thinking. While the official language of our conference remains English, we are arranging for translation services and hope to accommodate a variety of speakers. I know we will benefit greatly from the many efforts our host institution is making in creating a welcoming and inviting atmosphere for all. We extend our sincere gratitude to Dora and her fabulous local host committee for their dedication and commitment to SSA!

Farouk:  Yes, many thanks to Dora and her colleagues. I was impressed by their professionalism and gracious hospitality when I visited Puebla last September. Due to the thought-provoking theme and the exciting location, I anticipate this year’s SSA meeting will draw a large number of colleagues, particularly, from Latin America. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first SSA meeting to take place outside the USA and Canada. What are your expectations of and hope for the 2017 SSA meeting? How are members of the Program Committee preparing to handle and coordinate with local colleagues such a large number of participants?

Deborah:  So, I’d like to encourage everyone to participate in this year’s SSA conference. Yes, Farouk, my hope is that we have the largest ever number of participants. We hope to see our long-time, committed SSA members travel south to Puebla (perhaps signifying our dedication to embracing inclusion and cultural diversity). And we also welcome our Central and South American colleagues to come north to join us in solidarity. Puebla serves as an exciting nexus point and the program committee is committed to making the journeys of all extremely worthwhile. We are in the process of putting together a slate of interesting papers, panels, keynote and plenary speakers on our engaging theme. We are also hoping to arrange some cultural activities, events, and local tours. In addition, given our recent loss of our respected colleague, John Deely, plans are in the works to celebrate his life and scholarly legacy to the field of semiotics, an event not to be missed.

Farouk:  Thank you Deborah, for all that you do for the Semiotic Society of America. I’m really looking forward to the 42nd SSA meeting in Puebla.

Deborah:  Thanks, Farouk, for this opportunity to share my enthusiasm for SSA and the upcoming conference in beautiful Puebla!

John Deely: The Loss of a Dear Friend

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Dear friends and colleagues,

After a long struggle with cancer, our dear friend and colleague John Deely passed away today January 7 at about 10:00 AM EST in Latrobe, Pennsylvania with his beloved wife Brooke by his side.  It’s the saddest Orthodox Christmas I’ve ever had! For me, it’s a sorrowful time to contemplate the irony of observing the birth of Christ while mourning my dear friend passing.

Rest in peace, John!

Farouk Seif

Call for Papers: The SSA 42nd Annual Meeting

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THE PLAY OF SIGNS/THE SIGNS OF PLAY

THE SSA 42nd ANNUAL MEETING

The Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla (UPAEP) Puebla, Mexico

October 25 – October 29, 2017

This year’s conference theme intends to celebrate our vibrant host country, Mexico, and the long-standing importance of the concept of play to semiotics. From Charles Sanders Peirce’s “play of musement” to Jacques Derrida’s “play of signifiers” to Vygotsky’s foray into the semiotics of play in learning and development, the phenomenon of play proves to be an essential concept in theory and practice. Because of the interdisciplinary nature and scope of play (we find research on play in psychology, anthropology, philosophy, sociology, communication, music, theatre, visual design, game studies, literary studies, education, mass communication, advertising, and culture studies, for example), the play of signs and the signs of play seeks to stimulate a host of possible research questions for attendees to consider. How is play semiotically constituted in each of these areas of research? How is semiosis a function of play and imagination? What are the inter-relationships between play, ritual, festival, and the symbolic? In what ways do signs/play have a transgressive or subversive function? How do signs play, so to speak, with other signs? Our semiotic investigations into the significant interrelationships of play and signs should lend productive insights, meaningful discussions, and plenty of opportunity for serious play.

As always, we welcome abstracts on any subject with a connection to semiotics (both theoretical and applied), not solely those inspired by this year’s theme. We encourage you to reach out to your semiotically-inclined colleagues by organizing thematic sessions or panels, as well as submitting individual papers and posters. Our Society is interdisciplinary and international, and we welcome voices from all communities, especially this year from our Central and South American colleagues. We intend to reserve panel slots specifically for papers from non-English speakers, although the official language of the conference is English.

Please visit EasyChair at https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=2017ssa to submit your abstract or proposal for panels and poster sessions. If you have any problems accessing the website, please contact us. (Note to our non-English speakers: while papers may be submitted in your native language, all abstracts must be submitted in English.) Because of the anticipated larger than normal participation this year, we encourage early submissions. The deadline for submissions is May 31, 2017. Please include the following information in your submission:

  1. Author’s name
  2. Institutional affiliation and academic status
  3. Email address
  4. Title of abstract (in English)
  5. A maximum of 150 word abstract (in English)
  6. Keywords (maximum of six words in English)

Abstracts for individual papers or panels and organized sessions (3-4 papers) as well as poster presentations must include all of the above information. Papers are for a 20-minute presentation. An acknowledgment of receipt of your abstract will be sent to you within two weeks from the date of submission. Electronic letters of acceptance will be sent to the selected participants starting March 1, 2017, and will continue until June 30, 2017.

Papers presented at the meeting will also be considered for publication in Semiotics 2017, the Yearbook of the Semiotic Society of America. The SSA Yearbook is an annual peer-reviewed publication series sponsored by the Semiotic Society of America, providing both a timely overview of current developments in semiotic research and a regular outlet for members of the Society to publish papers on their current work. Further details and deadlines will be specified in the Annual Meeting Program.

Student submissions are eligible for the Roberta Kevelson Award which will honor the best student paper presented at the 2017 Annual Meeting. Students who wish to be considered for the Kevelson Award should indicate their interest on EasyChair at the time of abstract submission. Full paper submissions must be uploaded to EasyChair by September 25, 2017. Questions regarding the Roberta Kevelson Award should be directed to the review committee chair, Dr. Frank Macke at fmacke@bellsouth.net.

Special Events
In addition to scheduled paper sessions, there will be keynote and plenary speakers. The Presidential Address will be delivered by Deborah Smith-Shank, Professor of Arts Administration, Education & Policy, Ohio State University.

Poster Presentations (displayed during the entire conference)

Poster presentations of current research should highlight best practices and methodology. All posters will be peer reviewed. Submission of poster proposals on EasyChair should include a 1500-word brief description and a pdf of the poster design. Please plan for a 90×60 centimeter (35.43×2.62 inches) poster, designed in vertical format. Posters can be printed on location for a minimal cost (from 100 pesos=5USD to 180 pesos=9USD).

Venue
Puebla, Mexico is the host city for the 42nd SSA Annual Meeting. The meeting will take place at the conference center of The Universidad Popular Autónoma del Estado de Puebla (UPAEP). UPAEP is a private university, founded in 1973 and dedicated to serving the community by offering credited programs of excellence. Two airports serve the university area, one in Puebla (with direct connections from Houston, TX) and the other, Benito Juárez International Airport in Mexico City (about ninety minutes away). Bus transportation from the Mexico City airport has been arranged through AUTOBUSES ESTRELLA ROJA, inside the airport. The price for a single travel to Puebla is 14.22 USD=290 pesos. See: https://www.estrellaroja.com.mx/

Buses arrive in Puebla at “Terminal 4 Poniente,” which is close to the hotels and the university. Taxi service is available between the two.

Reasonable accommodations will be provided by several local hotels in the immediate vicinity of UPAEP. More details will be forthcoming. The average prices range from 43USD to 57USD.

Membership and Registration Fees
Please note that in accordance with Article 4, Section 4 of the SSA Constitution: “Only Individual, Student, and Honorary members in good standing may offer papers to the Program Committee for presentation at the meeting of the Society.” Membership must be in good standing at or before the time of abstract submission.

Membership Fees:
• SSA Membership Dues (Regular) – $50.00USD
• SSA Membership Dues (Student) – $30.00USD

Conference Registration Fees:
Conference Registration (Regular) – $170.00 (late registration of $200.00 after August 15, 2017)
Conference Registration (Student) – $75.00 (late registration of $90.00 after August 15, 2017)
Special day-passes for local faculty, staff, and students will be available in order to hear paper presentations ($15.00USD/day). Passes do not include any of the meals.

Meals Fee. There will be a separate fee (TBA) for the conference meals packet (which will include breakfasts, lunches, dinner banquet, and a welcome reception). More information is forthcoming.

To join the Society and register for the conference, please visit: http://www.pdcnet.org/wp/2017-ssa/ or call: +01-434-220-3300, Toll Free: 1-800-444-2419 (US & Canada). We encourage early registration.

We look forward to welcoming you in Puebla, Mexico!

2017 Program Committee

Deborah Eicher-Catt, Chair, The Pennsylvania State University-York

John Reid Perkins-Buzo, Southern Illinois University

Isaac E. Catt, Duquesne University

Javier Clavere, Berea College

Gilad Elbom, Oregon State University

Adam Ferguson, Binghamton University, SUNY

Frank Macke, Mercer University

Richard Currie Smith, Case Western University, Ohio

Dora Ivonne Alvarez Tamayo, UPAEP, Mexico

Vice-President and President Elect

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Executive Director Advsior

Dear Colleagues,

It is my pleasure to report that the Nominating Committee (Robert S. Hatten, Michael Raposa, and Stephanie Walsh Matthews) has selected the following nominees:

Vice-President and President-Elect:

Farouk Y. Seif

New members of the Executive Board:

Priscila Borges
Jamin Pelkey

According to the SSA Constitution, unless I receive a petition by January 30th, 2017, the above nominees shall be considered as installed. I am extremely grateful for their service and willingness to share their time with the society.

Thank you for your continuing support.

Javier Clavere
SSA Executive Director

Comments and questions please email at semioticsociety@gmail.com

Introducing Our New Executive Director: Javier Clavere

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Dear Friends and Colleagues,

It was great seeing many of you at the SSA Meeting in Florida. For those of you who were unable to attend the SSA General Business meeting on October 2, it is my pleasure to introduce our new Executive Director Javier Clavere.   From the bottom of my heart, I am thankful to Javier for his willingness to serve in this capacity. This volunteer position bears numerous tasks and administrative responsibilities. I am fully committed to working with Javier, in an advisory capacity, through a transition period ending January 15, 2017. I am confident Javier will do a wonderful job serving our Society.

My very best,

Farouk Y. Seif

SSA 41st Roommates

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

If have not made room reservations at the Marriott Hotel and have an interest in finding someone to room with please use this link.

https://padlet.com/augustyn/nnd0ohr61zgm

For more information about room sharing please contact our local host Prisca Augustyn at augustyn@fau.edu

See you in Delray Beach,

Farouk Seif

SSA Executive Director