World report: Lithuania

The new International Semiotics Institute

After 25 years of activity in Imatra, Finland, from January 2014 the International Semiotics Institute will move to Kaunas, Lithuania, in the premises of the Faculty of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities of the Kaunas University of Technology (KTU).
The new director, after the long Finnish experience under Prof. Eero Tarasti’s guide, will be Dario Martinelli, and his closest collaborators, in this initial state of things, Audronė Daubarienė, vice-dean of the faculty, who will act as Head of Administration, Saulė Petronienė, head of the Foreign Language Center in the same faculty, who will act as Head of International Relations, and Majid Behboudi (from University of Toronto, Canada), as Design and Innovation Strategist. Prof. Tarasti, now Honorary Director of the institute, will also lead a partner office in Helsinki, where some of ISI’s activities will still continue (above all, the book series Acta Semiotica Fennica, which – by its very nature (and name) – is mostly meant as a publication outlet for semiotic research in Finland).
The new premises will be located in one of the historical buildings of KTU, in Mickevičius street, Kaunas (see Fig. 1). The new homepage is www.isisemiotics.eu

Fig1
Figure 1: The new premises of ISI, in Mickevičius street, Kaunas.

One of the major novelties of this new phase of ISI’s history is the change of institutional status. Always a no-profit association, the institute will now become a full branch of KTU, operating at faculty level (which makes it the equivalent of a department). Needless to say, this will be one of the main challenges for ISI, and – to some extent – for the whole semiotic community, at least in Europe, where specifically-semiotic academic bodies are still very few.

BETWEEN TRADITION AND INNOVATION

The new ISI intends to perform a smooth transition from Finland to Lithuania, trying to retain some of the most important features of the institute’s history. The connections with Finland will remain strong, through its key figures, of course, but hopefully also through most of the many Finnish scholars who have been participating to the various events. Kaunas will also import the ISI “brand” (starting from the logo), its library and its most important events, including of course the Summer School of Semiotics, which traditionally has been taking place every June in Imatra.
At the same time, there are several innovations planned in the process, and these originate both from the change of personnel, whom of course will bring their own research inclinations (The full list of the organizational team can be found here ) and from the institutional status: ISI is now part of a humanistic faculty within a technological university, which sounds (and is) already like an interdisciplinary statement (More information (in Lithuanian) on KTU can be found at ktu.lt). In addition to this, a certain crisis of appeal of semiotics (and humanities in general), and the increasing difficulty among young researchers to find appropriate outlets for their skills and talents, cannot be ignored.

For all these reasons, the new ISI would like to take a clear, ethical and scientific, stand within the academic community, as an institute that will:

1) Be in and about the society. Priority shall be put to those research activities that discuss problems of current concern, that have an impact on society and that are ultimately not detached by social, political and cultural issues. Not by coincidence, the first (kind of warm-up) event, in anticipation for the official start of ISI activities, has been a public lecture on the political significance and media representation of Nelson Mandela.

2) Take particular care in understanding progress and technology, with the purpose of assessing them in their ability to provide quality and dignity of life (including scientific research as such). The area of “Digital Humanities”, to mention one, will be one of the new scopes.

3) Adopt a new approach that is closer to the younger generations, not only in terms of contents and opportunities, but also in terms of image and communication (for example, ISI has now a Twitter and a Facebook page).

4) Carry out research in a truly interdisciplinary sense. If there is one strength that semiotics has displayed in its history, that is certainly its inherent nature as “methodology” (rather than “theory”) applicable to the most diverse fields.

The scientific and ethical mission of the new ISI has been encapsulated in two acronyms: CATS (which stands for Communications, Arts, Technologies and Societies), and PEACOCKS (which stands for Passion, Ethics, Application, Creativity, Openness, Curiosity, Knowledge, Sustainability). The full manifesto can be read here.

THE ICoN EVENT

Dario Martinelli, during a recent ISI event in memory of Nelson Mandela
Dario Martinelli, during a recent ISI event in memory of Nelson Mandela

With this kind of spirit, the new editions of the Summer School will be called “International Congress on Numanities” (ICoN), where Numanities stands of course for New Humanities.
The 1st ICoN will be organized in Kaunas from Monday 2 June to Saturday 7 June, 2014. This year congress theme will be “The role of humanities in contemporary society: semiotics, culture, technologies”. Updating technologies and methodologies, rethinking their role in the academic context, recovering interest and scholarly excellence, adapting (or reacting) to the numerous social changes, are all questions that humanities and semiotics alike need to address in order to reinforce their identity and explore new potentials.

The call for papers, already launched, can be found in the congress website.

“Numanities” is also meant as a leading research concept of the new ISI. Its outlets will include the yearly Congress (ICoN, indeed), a specific book series (to be launched in 2014) and various individual publications and projects. The goal is to make the label “Numanities” a kind of umbrella-term to unify the various fields, approaches and also potentials of the humanities in the context of current societies, animating a concerted, critical and self-critical, discussion that range from scientific and theoretical questions to social, cultural and political ones. A preliminary document for the Numanities Project can be found at isisemiotics website.

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