A Vision for Semiotics: The SSA’s 39th Annual Meeting and Beyond

There is an equal mix of inspiration and enthusiasm in the air as the Semiotic Society of America prepares to celebrate its fortieth year in 2015 and gears up for its 39th Annual Meeting this fall. This year’s event, which will take place October 2-5 in the heart of downtown Seattle, promises to deliver a rich and rewarding experience.

Continuing the SSA tradition of featuring world-class scholars from across the disciplines, the 39th Annual Meeting’s ambitious program brings together distinguished speakers who have made significant contributions to the field of semiotics. “The annual meetings of the Semiotic Society of America have consistently been a great source of learning and inspiration,” says SSA President Elliot Gaines, “and with opportunities to meet many of the best in the field of semiotics from around the world, this year’s meeting promises to be a wonderful event.”

The SSA has received abstracts from over 20 countries on six continents, and expects to double attendance compared to recent years. “The 39th Annual Meeting is going to be an extraordinary event. Our 2014 Program Committee aspires to make this gathering a turning point in the history of the SSA community, ” says Farouk Seif, SSA executive director and program chair.

According to Seif, this year’s theme, Paradoxes of Life: Challenge – Determination – Resilience, “provides the appropriate context for exploring how to cultivate a transdisciplinary semiotic awareness within which the SSA can experience a process of rebirth and resurgence. With great anticipation, the Seattle meeting commences the journey to next year’s 40th SSA celebration.”

“Semiotics is paradoxical to non-semioticians; paradoxes are intrinsically semiotic. The Seattle meeting will intertwine these two facets of the human exploration of meaning,” says Marcel Danesi, SSA vice president. The theme opens up a broad space for reflection. As Seif articulates in the call for papers, “Contemporary societies seem to be especially challenged by paradoxes in all aspects of life. … When societies face crises, there is a tendency to confuse paradoxical situations with problems. … Rather than problems, however, paradoxes can be seen as unique opportunities to gain insight into complex semiotic processes and real-world challenges. Additionally, the manner in which we deal with the paradoxes of life is contingent upon our personal capacity for meeting challenges with determination and resilience.”

Indeed, as it prepares for its anniversary 40th Annual Meeting next year, the SSA seems poised to meet the challenges of semiotics in the 21st century head on, finding new opportunities to support, promote, and connect scholars of semiotics around the world. The organization began 2014 with a redesign of its brand and online presence, which included a new logo and content-rich website, a strong social media profile, and outreach to hundreds of scholars and associations worldwide. “We are holding a big vision for the SSA and semiotics in the years ahead,” said Seif, who adds, “Our ability to meet the world where it is, in the online space, is crucially important if we wish reach new generations of scholars and continue to demonstrate how semiotics offers real insights in our transmodern world.”

Within this broad, global vision, reflections on paradox will inform talks by an impressive international lineup of speakers. Integrating a range disciplines across the sciences and humanities, these sessions include a keynote address by Michael Shapiro; plenary talks by Søren Brier, Marcel Danesi, Elliot Gaines, Alexander Laszlo and Susan Petrilli; and a plenary roundtable featuring Dario Martinelli, Farouk Y. Seif, and Brooke Williams Deely.

The 39th Annual Meeting will also feature the Sebeok Fellow Award, introduced in 1991 in honor of SSA founding member Thomas Sebeok (1920-2001) to recognizes substantial lifetime contributions to semiotics and the semiotics community. This year’s Sebeok Fellow Award will be presented to Paul Cobley, professor of language and media at Middlesex University. Cobley is the author of The American Thriller and Narrative and editor of The Routledge Companion of Semiotics and “Semiotics Continues to Astonish”: Thomas A. Sebeok and the Doctrine of Signs, among numerous others.

According to SSA founding member and The American Journal of Semiotics Editor-in-Chief John Deely, “Professor Cobley has continued Professor Sebeok’s heritage of promoting the international publication of seminal works advancing the realization in intellectual culture of how and why ‘the doctrine of signs’ or semiotics alone provides the only inherently interdisciplinary perspective on human knowledge.” Cobley joins the ranks of other distinguished Sebeok Fellows David Savan, John Deely, Paul Bouissac, Jesper Hoffmeyer, Kalevi Kull, and Floyd Merrell, Susan Petrilli, and Irmengard Rauch.

John Deely shares his sense of the importance of Cobley’s contribution within a larger picture of a re-energized semiotics community: “As the SSA enters its 39th year since its founding by Thomas A. Sebeok and associates, the Seattle meeting promises to be a revitalizing ‘new beginning’ of the North American development of semiotics, under the guiding hand of Professor Seif and with the appointment of Professor Cobley.”

In keeping with the SSA’s tradition of supporting young scholars, the conference will also feature the annual Roberta Kevelson Award for the best student paper. This award, created in honor of SSA founding member Roberta Kevelson (1931-1998), offers its recipient the opportunity to publish his or her paper in the SSA Yearbook. In addition, a new initiative, the “Rising Stars” Mentorship Program, aims to support young scholars by pairing interested graduate students and junior faculty attendees with a volunteer expert semiotician for one year.

Among its innovative pre- and post-conference events, this year’s conference includes a special exhibit room and mealtime entertainment with musical and dance performances. A pre-conference Marketplace of Semiotics will make use of the self-organizing Open Space format to allow participants to collaboratively generate workshops or seminars on topics of their interest. The final highlight will be a conference-end tour, which will take participants on a cruise to Tillicum Village on Blake Island, the legendary birthplace of Chief Seattle. There, in addition to the stunning Pacific Northwest landscape, participants will enjoy a traditional baked salmon lunch and a Native American performance.

Finally, for those who wish to make the most out of their stay, the Westin Seattle Hotel venue offers plenty of opportunities for sightseeing, as it is just walking distance from the Seattle waterfront and well-known attractions such as the Space Needle, the Seattle Art Museum, the Seattle Symphony, the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, and Pike Place Market.

Certainly, semiotics continues to face many challenges as a discipline and will persist in the rising and falling tides of 21st century academia. Among all the possible venues for discussing those challenges and co-creating a vision for the future of semiotics …. well, we think this may be among the more pleasant.

To learn more about the SSA’s 39th Annual Meeting, visit http://semioticsocietyofamerica.org/2014-annual-meeting/.

Seattle Skyline
Seattle Skyline

About the Semiotic Society of America

Farouk Seif, SSA Executive Director and 2014 Program Chair
Farouk Seif, SSA Executive Director and 2014 Program Chair

Founded in 1975, the Semiotic Society of America (SSA) has been the leading semiotics organization in North America for the past four decades. As a non-profit transdisciplinary association, the SSA serves a diverse community of scholars with a common interest in the study of signs. In addition to hosting its annual meeting, the SSA is responsible for the publication of The American Journal of Semiotics and the SSA Yearbook series.

The 2014 SSA Executive Board is composed of members Elliot Gaines (president), Marcel Danesi (vice president), André De Tienne (immediate past president), Farouk Y. Seif (executive director), Ted Baenziger, Garnet Butchart, Barry Stampfl, Stéphanie Walsh Matthews, and Donna West. The Program Committee members responsible for the 39th Annual Meeting are Farouk Y. Seif (chair), Prisca Augustyn, Mariana Bockarova, Gilad Elbom, Robert S. Hatten, Karen Haworth, and Linda Nurra.

For more information about the Semiotic Society of America, visit:
www.semioticsocietyofamerica.org. You can also follow the SSA on Facebook and Twitter for ongoing updates about initiatives in the world of semiotics.

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