SSA Constitution

Semiotic Society of America Constitution

Adopted at the SSA First Annual Meeting.

This Society shall be known as the Semiotic Society of America.

The object of the Society shall be the advancement of the study of signs.

The Semiotic Society of America takes a positive view to affiliating with appropriate international and other national organizations.


There shall be four classes of membership in the Society:

(a) Individual: Any person may become a member of the Society by paying the designated annual dues. Any member who has paid dues for twenty years and who has retired from the regular exercise of his/her profession may, by vote of the Executive Board, be relieved from the further payment of dues, without losing any of the rights of membership.

(b) Student: Any student enrolled in the regular academic year as a candidate for a degree in a recognized college or university may become a Student member by paying the designated annual dues. This status may be held for no longer than seven continuous years, and may be applied for only once.

(c) Institutional: An institution (e.g., a library) may become an institutional member by paying the designated annual dues.

(d) Honorary: Foreign scholars who have made significant contributions to the advancement of the Society’s aims, and who are not residents of North America, may be elected to Honorary membership by vote of the Society on recommendations of the Executive Board. Honorary members shall have no financial obligations to the Society. The total number of honorary members shall not exceed fifteen, and not more than four may be elected in any one year.

The dues for the classes of membership shall be fixed by vote of the Society on recommendation of the Executive Board. The payment of dues on or before October 1 of each year shall constitute membership in good standing in the Society.

The Executive Board is empowered to establish a fund, to be administered by the Executive Board, from which dues may be paid for worthy foreign scholars who are not in the position to pay their own dues.

Only Individual and Student members in good standing shall be eligible to vote and hold office in the Society.

Only Individual, Student, and Honorary members in good standing may offer papers to the Program Committee for oral presentation at meetings of the Society. Anybody may submit manuscripts to be considered as possible contributions to the publications of the Society.

All members shall receive the regular periodical publications of the Society.


The individual officers shall consist of:

(a) a President, who shall serve for one term only and who shall take office at the conclusion of the annual meeting. The President shall preside at all business meetings of the Society and all meetings of the Executive Board and shall present an annual address to the Society.

(b) a Vice-President, who shall have the additional title of President-Elect. The Vice President shall serve for one term only, succeeding to the presidency in the following term.

(c) an Executive Director appointed by the Executive Board for one term and eligible for immediate re-appointment. The Executive Director is directly responsible to the Executive Board. The Executive Director shall administer the affairs of the Society, with the following specific responsibilities:
to be in charge of all publications issued by the Society, delegating any editing deemed advisable;
to keep records of the transactions of the Society;
to oversee the elections and referenda conducted by mail ballot;
to conduct financial operations of the Society.
The Executive Director may be provided with administrative, editorial, and clerical assistance, as approved by the Executive Board.

(a) There shall be an Executive Board, composed of the above individual officers, together with the immediate past president and six other members of the Society. Two of the six shall be elected each year to serve for a period of three years, and are to be ineligible for immediate re-election. [In contrast to the President, who assumes office at the end of the Annual Meeting, the two newly elected members of the Executive Board take office with the beginning of the Annual Meeting.] At the meeting of the Board, no proxies are to be allowed.

(b) The Executive Board is charged with setting the policies of the Society, overseeing the office of the Executive Director, and carrying out such other functions as may seem advisable.

(c) The Executive Board shall meet at the time of the annual meeting of the society, and all actions must be reported to the Society at the next annual meeting. The meetings of the Executive Board shall be open for observation to any member of the Society.

(d) The Executive Director may, and shall at the request of any other member of the Board, ask the Executive Board to vote upon specific questions by mail, and if a majority of the Board shall vote by mail for or against any measure thus submitted, that vote shall be decisive.


There shall be a Nominating Committee, consisting of three members appointed by the Executive Board, for a three-year term, one to be replaced each year. The member whose term is about to expire shall chair the Committee.

The Nominating Committee shall nominate one person for the position of Vice-President and one person for each vacant position on the Executive Board. The names of the nominees will be circulated by mail to all voting members in good standing not less than four months in advance of the annual meeting.

Any member of the society may initiate a petition proposing an additional candidate for any vacancy. The petitions, including the consent of the candidate and supported by letters from at least ten members in good standing of the Society, must be received by the Executive Director within one month of the mailing of the initial Nominating Committee report.

A mail ballot shall be submitted to the members not less than two months before the annual meeting. It shall contain the names of the candidates proposed by the Nominating Committee together with names proposed by members of the Society. Election shall be a plurality of votes cast for each office and received by the Executive Director at least one week prior to the annual meeting.

There shall be a Program Committee, consisting of the Vice-President as chairman, together with six members appointed by the Executive Board. Two persons shall be appointed each year to serve for a period of three years. The Program Committee shall have complete responsibility for the scholarly aspects of the Society’s meetings.

There shall be a Thomas A. Sebeok Fellow Committee, consisting of three members. Two of these shall themselves be Sebeok Fellows, while the third shall be a senior SSA member in good standing of scholarly repute (including ex-Presidents). The full term of Sebeok Fellow Committee members shall be nine years, one to be replaced every three years.

The senior Sebeok Fellow on the committee shall serve as committee chair. Upon a vacancy on the committee, the newest Sebeok Fellow shall replace any Sebeok Fellow rotating off the committee; the senior SSA scholar shall be replaced by nomination of the Executive Director confirmed by the Executive Board. (In case of death or the occurrence of any other abnormal vacancy in the Committee membership, appointment shall revert to the Executive Director in consultation with the Executive Board, which shall have also the confirming power.)

A new Sebeok Fellow shall be appointed at intervals of no less than two and no more than four years, with three years being the recommended interval. (This formula was arrived at by taking the already established pattern of previous Sebeok Fellow awards as a signum ex consuetudine or ‘sign established by custom’ as the basis for the convention of a signum ad placitum or ‘sign formally established.’) Announcement of the committee’s decision as to the person and year of the next award shall be made by the chair (in person or in writing) at the Business Meeting session of an Annual Meeting.

Besides the scholarly honor of the award publicly recognizing outstanding contribution to the development of the doctrine of signs, the title of Sebeok Fellow shall also carry a life membership in the Semiotic Society of America in accordance with the SSA Constitution, as follows. Scholars who are not residents of North America automatically receive as Sebeok Fellows honorary membership in the Society under Article 1, Section 1.d. of the constitution. Sebeok Fellows resident in North America who have been dues-paying members of the Society for at least twenty years are relieved of further dues, in accord with Article 1, Section 1.a. of the constitution.

The Executive Board may create ad hoc committees to deal with particular problems.


There shall be an Annual Meeting of the Society at each time and place as shall be determined by the Executive Director. This meeting shall have the dual function of: a scholarly forum devoted to the presentation of papers and to other scholarly discussion as arranged by the Program Committee; a general business meeting, at which any member in good standing shall have the right to raise and discuss any issue pertaining to the conduct of the Society, and at which a quorum shall consist of the members actually present.

The Executive Board may call special meetings of the Society and shall have the power, in an emergency, to cancel any meeting.

Any member of the Society may initiate a petition proposing an amendment to this Constitution. The petition, submitted to the Executive Director, must be supported by letters from at least ten voting members in good standing. Within one year of the receipt of a valid petition, and after open discussion at the next business meeting, the Executive Director shall submit the proposed amendment to the Society in a special mail ballot. An amendment must have the approval of two thirds of the members voting.

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Recent Posts

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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