39th Annual Meeting Program

Semiotic Society of America 39th Annual Meeting
Program Overview

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Keynote and Plenary Speakers

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Mark HowerPre-Conference Marketplace of Semiotics: Workshops/Seminars
Mark Hower, Ph.D. is a faculty member at Antioch University Seattle, and served as chair of Graduate Management and Leadership and the interim President for the Seattle campus. Dr. Hower was a founding member of the Graduate Programs in Leadership and Change, and developed its integrated curriculum and cohort learning model. He directed several U.N. programs, held several Peace Corps leadership positions in Ukraine, Baltic States, Russia, West Africa, and the Kingdom of Tonga in the Pacific. Mark has integrated these international experiences with his passion for collaborative learning, facilitation skills in organizations dynamics, and open space technology.

Shana HormannWelcome Address
Shana Hormann, Ph.D., MSW, has led and consulted with nonprofit, business, tribal, and government organizations and taught in higher education for over 30 years. Dr. Shana currently serves as Vice President for Student Affairs and Associate Academic Dean at Antioch University Seattle. She has been exploring, consulting, and writing about ways an organization’s work influences its culture, especially in highly mission-driven nonprofits, and specifically about organizational trauma and healing. Her co-authored book, Organizational Trauma and Healing, was published in 2013.

Michael Shapiro“Paradox: Word, Symbol, Concept”
Michael Shapiro, Ph.D., was born in Yokohama, spent World War II in Japan, and grew up speaking Russian, Japanese, and English. In addition to Brown and Columbia, Professor Shapiro has taught at UCLA, Princeton, UC Berkeley, and Green Mountain College, in a career that now spans half a century. He is the co-author, with his late wife the medievalist and Renaissance scholar Marianne Shapiro, of Figuration in Verbal Art (1988) and The Sense of Form in Literature and Language (2nd ed., 2009). His most recent book, The Speaking Self: Language Lore and English Usage, was published in 2012.

Susan Petrilli“The Paradox of Misunderstanding as the Condition of Understanding”
Susan Petrilli, Ph.D., is Professor of Philosophy and Theory of Languages and Director of the Ph.D. program in Theory of Language and Sign Sciences at the University of Bari, Italy. She has authored numerous books and articles in international reviews and miscellanies and, as part of her commitment to international and transdisciplinary scholarship, she has translated numerous texts by key thinkers in semiotics to/from English and Italian. Additionally, she is an advisory editorial board member for multiple international journals. In 2008, she was honored as 7th Thomas A. Sebeok Fellow of the Semiotic Society of America. Her books Sign Studies and Semioethics: Communication, Translation, and Values and Victoria Welby and the Sign Sciences are forthcoming.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Marcel Danesi“The Paradox of Leadership”
Marcel Danesi, Ph.D., is Full Professor of linguistic anthropology and Director of the Program in Semiotics and Communication Theory at the University of Toronto. He has published extensively in the fields of linguistics and semiotics. Among his most recent publications are: Signs of Crime: Introducing Forensic Semiotics (2013), The History of the Kiss: The Birth of Popular Culture (2013), and Encyclopedia of Media and Communications (2012). He is currently Editor-in-Chief of Semiotica and the book series “Semiotics and Popular Culture,” published by Palgrave Macmillan. For his work in semiotics he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1998.

Alexander Laszlo“The Paradox of Systems Being: Four Levels of Self Identity in One”
Alexander Laszlo, Ph.D., is co-founder and President of Syntony Quest and former Director of the Doctoral Program in Management at the Graduate School of Business Administration & Leadership (EGADE-ITESM) in Mexico. He is professor of Systems Science and Evolutionary Development at a variety of graduate schools internationally, and is the 57th President of the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS). He serves on the Editorial Boards of four internationally arbitered research journals; is an active member of several systems science societies; has authored over sixty journal, book, and encyclopedia publications; and is a 5th Degree Black Belt of traditional Korean Karate.

Paul CobleySebeok Fellow Address
“Enhancing survival by not enhancing survival: Sebeok’s semiotics and the ultimate paradox of modeling”

Paul Cobley, Ph.D., is Professor of Language and Media at Middlesex University and the author of a number of books, including The American Thriller and Narrative. He is the editor of The Communication Theory Reader, Communication Theories, The Routledge Companion to Semiotics, Realism for the 21st Century: A John Deely Reader, and “Semiotics Continues to Astonish”: Thomas A. Sebeok and the Doctrine of Signs; co-editor of Social Semiotics and Handbooks of Communication Sciences; co-series editor of Semiotics, Communication and Cognition; and associate editor of Cybernetics and Human Knowing. He was Vice President of the International Association for Semiotic Studies in 2009 and is secretary of the International Society for Biosemiotic Studies.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Søren Brier“Can Cybersemiotics Solve the Paradox of Transdisciplinary Knowing?”
Søren Brier, Ph.D., is a professor in Semiotics of Information, Cognition and Communication Sciences at the Centre for International Business Communication Studies at Copenhagen Business School. He is the founder and editor of the interdisciplinary quar­terly jour­nal Cy­ber­ne­tics & Hu­man Kn­o­win­g and a fellow of the American Society for Cybernetics. He is a member of the board of the International Society for Biosemiotic Studies, as well as the scientific board of The Science of Information Institute and Foundation of Information Science. His research interests focus on the transdisciplinary foundation for the interplay between cybernetics, systemic information science, and Peircean semiotics.

Elliott GainesPresidential Address
“Everyday Semiotics: The Paradox of a Universal Discipline”
Elliot Gaines, Ph.D., is Professor of Communication at Wright State University, the current President of the Semiotic Society of America, and a Fellow of the International Communicology Institute. His research is focused on media, culture, communication, and semiotics, and appears in a variety of scholarly publications. Gaines’ book, Media Literacy and Semiotics (Palgrave Macmillan 2010) provides an application of semiotics to media entertainment, news, and advertising, offering insight into audiences, identity, time, space, myth, and ideology. Before entering academic life, Gaines had more than 20 years in performance, media production, advertising, public relations, and work as a music therapist.

Plenary Roundtable: Unfolding Paradoxes of Life

Dario Martinelli“The Paradox of Humanities and Technology: Building a Paradigm for Numanities”
Dario Martinelli, Ph.D., is Director of the International Semiotics Institute, Professor at Kaunas University of Technology, and Adjunct Professor at the Universities of Helsinki and Lapland. He has published 7 monographs and more than a hundred among edited collections, studies, and scientific articles. His most recent monographs include Lights, Camera, Bark! Representation, Semiotics and Ideology of Nonhuman Animals in Cinema; Authenticity, Performance and Other Double-Edged Words: Essays on Popular Music; and A Critical Companion to Zoosemiotics. In 2006, Dr. Martinelli was knighted by the Italian Republic for his contribution to the promotion of Italian culture.

Farouk Seif“Paradoxes and Perseverance”
Farouk Y. Seif, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Leadership and Change at Antioch University Seattle where he teaches design for initiating and leading social/cultural change. He is a registered architect, a Fellow of the International Communicology Institute, and the Executive Director of the Semiotic Society of America. He is the founder and director of Isis Institute, where he leads the intercultural program in Egypt: Journey into the Dawn of Time. He has taught and published his work internationally and has contributed to semiotic congresses since 1999. Prior to becoming an American citizen, Seif was born and raised in Egypt with a Coptic background. He lives with his wife and their four-legged daughter on Orcas Island, Washington.

Brooke Deely“Paradox of Human Perfection Across the Centuries: Life of Teresa of Avila”
Brooke Williams Deely, Ph.D., taught semiotics courses in the 1983 ISISSS at Indiana University, and in 1989 at Universidade de Minas Gerais in Brazil. Her monograph History and Semiotic is a Toronto Semiotic Circle Publication (1986). Her 1991 article, “History and Semiotics in the 1990s”, appeared in Semiotica 83 (3/4). For Thomas A. Sebeok she wrote the prefatory essay, “Challenging Signs at the Crossroads”, for the 1985 reprinting of his seminal book, Contributions to the Doctrine of Signs, and co-edited the anthology Frontiers in Semiotics (Indiana 1986). She is editor of the forthcoming volume Pope John Paul II Speaks on Women (CUA Press, Fall 2014).

Sunday, October 5, 2014
Closing Ceremony (Speakers to be announced)

Please stay tuned for additional program details!

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Conversation with Deborah Eicher-Catt


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!

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