Social Semiotics: The Journal

Social Semiotics, published by Taylor & Francis, is a journal that has been returning to its roots over the past seven years.   The journal was first established in the early 1980s by a group of scholars in Australia, including Gunter Kress, Theo Van Leeuwen, Anne Cranny Francis and Terry Threadgold.    It was seen then as a radical space for the publication of work concerned with theorising text-context relations in ways that did not always fit the constraints of then current linguistic paradigms.  Papers were concerned with the way that communication was not simply to be described, as had been the tendency particularly in linguistics, but was to be understood as strategic, motivated and ideological.  The aim was to assess the way that semiotic resources were used in order to do things, to foster, maintain and legitimate ideas and kinds of social practice.  The aim was to connect semiotic modes to specific contexts to reveal power relations in other words to log their social uses and the way they transmit cultural values and meanings.  The journal was dedicated to discussion in which the use of semiotic resources was understood as tied to ‘culture’ and ‘society’.

During the 1990s with a change of editorship the journal became more closely associated with excellent work in Australian Cultural Studies and Critical Theory, shifting away from its earlier emphasis on the social functions of semiotic systems and embracing a wide range of theoretical perspectives bounded, generally, by poststructuralism.  But the new editorial team from 2004 began the shift back to the earlier mission.

The industrial production of semiotic resources in Soviet Latvia Sergei Kruk 20/3

What is Social Semiotics?

Social semiotics, in the view of the current editors, is neither a field nor a particular theory, but is a form of enquiry applied to specific instances and problems. It asks things like ‘‘what kinds of communicative resource are used in a specific institutional or social context?’’ It can ask how these resources are taught, legitimised and received by people. It can ask ‘‘what are the consequences of these choices?’’ It can ask how these semiotic resources are regulated since individuals, social groups and institutions always try to control those resources we use. Everything that humans do in some way articulates semiotic meanings, where there is always regulation, political and ideological interest.  Social Semiotics is the study of words, images, behaviours, settings, sounds, design, etc, and the way these are connected to the way we organize our societies and every day lives.  This can be done using linguistic analysis, visual analysis, content analysis, ethnography, interviews, production studies and can be tied in to political economic analysis.

How can we theorise the relationship between the text an image in this drawing of an advert?  What Liu and O’Halloran would call a case of ‘Intersemiotic Consequence’. 19/4

The journal contents

Over the past few years we have been extremely pleased with the increasing very high quality if submissions in what we consider our target area of Social Semiotics. This has lead to us to shift from four to five editions in 2010.  And the new trend to online searching for journal papers has seen Social Semiotics as one of the leading journals for Taylor & Francis.   A number of recent highlights are papers such as ‘Interpreting the signs of the times: beyond Jung’ by Inna Semetsky which offers a semiotic analysis of Tarot cards in edition 20/2.  In the same edition we have Sharon Lockyer’s paper on ‘Dynamics of social class contempt in British Television Comedy, which looked at the way that television light entertainments representations quietly serve to marginalise certain poorer sections of British society.   In edition 19/4  Kay O’Halloran and Yu Liu produced an innovative paper on how we can theorise image-text relations in ‘Intersemiotic Texture: analyzing cohesive devices between language and images’.  A notable special in 20/1 ‘Internet Enhanced Health Communciation’ looked at the kinds of health worlds offered to customers and patients through the semiotic analysis of a range of Web-based health sites and services.

Tarot pictures as symbolic representations of the archetypal images embedded in the collective psyche Inna Semetsky 20/2

Future papers of note include Sergei Kruk’s work on the industrial production of the semiotic resources of propaganda in Soviet Latvia.  Forthcoming special editions include a collection of papers on Social Semiotics and the work of Ray Chow by Paul Bowman and ‘Interdisciplinary Approaches to Spaces of Multimodal Discourse’, which looks a the semiotics and politics of everyday spaces, by Paul Mcilvenny and Chaim Noy.

These papers and collections all differ in their theories and methods but have at their heart a concern with Social Semiotics, in other words to assess the way that semiotic resources have been used in order to do things, to foster, maintain and legitimate particular ideas, values, identities and kinds of social practice.

Guidelines for authors can be found on the journal website here.

Electronic submissions should be sent to:

The Editors

David Machin works in the School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies at Cardiff University. He has published in a range of social semiotic areas, often combining textual analysis with details of production. Books include Analysing Popular Music: image, sound, text (2010) Sage, Global Media Discourse (2007) Routledge (with Theo Van Leeuwen) and  Introduction to Multimodal Analysis (2007) Arnold. Recent journal articles include ‘Analysing the Language of War Monuments’ (2010) Visual Communication 9/2.  ‘Branding Newspapers’ (2008)  Journalism Studies 9/2 and ‘Visual Branding the Environment: Climate change as a marketing opportunity’ (2008), Discourse Studies 10/6.

Paul Cobley is Reader in Communications at London Metropolitan University. His publications include works on general semiotics, applications of semiotics and sociosemiotics: Introducing Semiotics (1997, Icon, illus. by Litza Jansz), The Routledge Companion to Semiotics (ed. 2009), Narrative (2001, Routledge), Sociosemiotica special double issue of Semiotica 173 (1-2) (2009, with Anti Randviir) and Semiotics and Popular Culture special issue of International Journal of Applied Semiotics 6 (1) (2008).

Terry Threadgold is Pro Vice Chancellor at Cardiff University.  Terry was one of the founders of the journal and has recently handed over the lead to David Machin.  Terry has published widely in the areas of postructuralist feminist discourse analysis, performance studies, feminist legal studies and on race, identity and nation in contexts of globalisation. Her most recent book, with Justin Lewis, Nick Mosdell and Rod Brookes is Shoot First and Ask Questions Later: Media Coverage of the 2003 Iraq War. Her Joseph Rowntree Report “Immigration and Inclusion in South Wales” was published in 2008

1 Comment

  1. May I post your journal as a link on my web page?

    I am intrigued by the shifts in editorial policy.

    I am currently working on a special issue of The American Sociologist that will hopefully deal with the relevance of C. S. Peirce’s semiotics for sociological theory and methodology.

    I myself tend to differentiate French diadic semiologie from Peirce’s triadic semiotics. But of course there are valuable insights to be gained from both.

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