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The Study of the Semiotics of Law: An International and Interdisciplinary Research Group

By Anne Wagner

The International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law held its first annual meeting in 2002 after the merger of two pre-existing organisations, both driven by remarkable people, both interested in law and semiotics, but with different emphases in their theoretical approaches. Bernard Jackson was the key figure in the Greimasian oriented International Association for the Semiotics of Law (IASL), which convened most of its meetings in Europe.

The late Roberta Kevelson was the driving force behind the Round Table for Law and Semiotics , which, from 1997, held an annual conference in Reading, Pennsylvania. Roberta was a student of Charles Sanders Peirce, and in addition to publishing several highly regarded monographs on his work, edited an annual collection of papers from the Round Table (available here). In Europe, Bernard Jackson established the International Journal for the Semiotics of Law in 1987 with the publishing house Deborah Charles Publication. Eric Landowski, the first Editor-in-Chief, undertook the role for eight years, followed by Maarten Henket, Dragan Milovanovic and now Anne Wagner. Bernard continued to play a central role in the production, dissemination and direction of the journal, working closely with editors. The publication continues today with a greater international scope but with a clear, firm, yet interdisciplinary commitment to ‘semiotics’ (http://www.springer.com/law/journal/11196). Papers submitted to the International Journal for the Semiotics of Law critique, apply or otherwise engage with semiotics or related theory and models (e.g. Greimas, Peirce, or Lacan), or with rhetoric, history of political and legal discourses (the Cambridge School), philosophy of language, pragmatics, sociolinguistics, deconstruction and visual semiotics and persuasion.

The annual meetings for both former organisations were occasions for insightful discussions, fuelled by the exceptional energy of both Bernard Jackson and Roberta Kevelson. Both were innovators, ‘pathfinders’ in mapping the contours of a new discipline, the ‘semiotics of law’, providing an occasion for many, now established, scholars in the field to start their careers in this field of research. Kevelson’s vision was a ‘round table’ of no more than 35 scholars who would meet in plenary sessions beginning on a Friday night and continuing into Sunday evening. This intimacy and intensity today continues in the International Roundtables for the Semiotics of Law.

In 1998 Roberta passed away, and in the same year, Bernard Jackson transferred the publishing responsibility for the journal to Kluwer Academic Publishing Co. After some hesitation, a collective decision was made to merge the organisations to take advantage of obvious opportunities and synergy. The new name -- the International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law -- the decision to alternate meetings between Europe, the Americas and Australasia and to keep the Journal as well as the annual publication of an edited volume dedicated to the semiotics of law, the commitment to ensuring the group had a truly international make-up, all speak to the intention of the merger to respectfully integrate the two organisations, to preserve, protect and extend their spirit, reach and vigour.

Today as then, our objectives remain the same: developing international multi-disciplinary networks, contributing to the teaching and research of the semiotics of law and promoting the standing and the recognition of our discipline. Anne Wagner with the assistance of colleagues in Semiotics of Law are in the process of launching a website dedicated to the study of Law and Semiotics. This website remains an independent entity, but will still promote all the activities from our members (http://www.semioticsoflaw.com/). More recently, a number of our members have established The Roberta Kevelson Seminar on Law and Semiotics (The Dickinson School of Law, the Pennsylvania State University in Carlisle and State College, PA. USA). This seminar is established and directed by Professor Jan M. Broekman. The Seminar provides a study of Legal Semiotics in Legal Education with an introduction to the main theories of legal semiotics, analyses of jurisprudence and legal cases, and a discussion of the major philosophical components of law. Its goal is a heightened awareness of the semiotic components in the professional behavior of lawyers. The Seminar, which is open to students and Faculty, is offered over a semester every academic year and concludes with a one-day Round Table presentation. Final Seminar papers of students are presented during that Round Table.

Our former “International Roundtables for the Semiotics of Law”

  • 1st International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law, Oñati (Spain), 2002

  • 2nd International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law, Amherst (USA), 2003

  • 3rd International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law, Lyon (France), 2004 - “Legal Signs: Interculturality and Globalisation”

  • 4th International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law, Montréal (Canada), 2005 - “Legal Spaces”

  • 5th International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law, Boulogne/Mer (France), 2006 – “Law – Tolerance and Diversity”

  • 6th International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law, Wollongong (Australia), 2007 – “Signs of the Time”

  • 7th International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law, Boulogne/Mer (France), 2008 – “The Promise of Legal Semiotics”

Our next “International Roundtables for the Semiotics of Law”

  • 8th International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law, Hong Kong (China), 2009 – “Transparency, Control and Power: Issues in Legal Semiotics”

  • 9th International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law, Poland, 2010

  • 10th International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law, Brazil, 2011

Publications arising from the Roundtables and Associated Conferences

Special issues of the International Journal for the Semiotics of Law

  • John Brigham, Ahmad Pakatchi and Maya Steinitz (Editors: 2007) The International Roundtables for the Semiotics of Law – Boulogne/Mer, vol. 20/3.

  • Robert A. Yelle (Editor: 2006) The Spaces and Places of Law, vol. 19/3.

  • Wagner Anne, Cacciaguidi-Fahy Sophie (Guest Editors: 2005) Law as Signs of Cultural Diversity, vol.18/2.

  • Brigham John and Schreiner Agnes (Guest Editors: 2004) The Semiotics of Digital Law, vol. 17/3.

  • Cao Deborah and Duncanson Ian (Guest Editors: 2003) 2002 International Roundtable for the Semiotics of Law, vol.16/2.

  • Wagner Anne (Editor: 2002) The (Ab)Use of Language in Legal Discourse, vol.15/4.

Edited volumes arising from the Round Table meetings

  • Wagner A., Bhatia Vijay K. (Eds) (2009) Diversity and Tolerance in Socio-Legal Contexts: Explorations in the Semiotics of Law. Aldershot: Ashgate.

  • Wagner A., Wouter W. and Cao, D. (Eds) (2007) Semiotic Interpretation of Law in Legal Theory, Judicial Reasoning and Political Practice, The Netherlands: Springer.

  • Wagner A. and Pencak, W. (Eds.) (2006) Images in Law. Aldershot: Ashgate.

  • Wagner A. Summerfield T. and Benavides Vanegas, F. S. (Eds.) (2005) Contemporary issues in the semiotics of law: Cultural and symbolic analyses of law in a global context. London: Hart.

  • Kevelson Roberta (Ed.) (1996) Spaces and Significations, vol.10, New-York: Peter Lang.

  • Kevelson Roberta (Ed.) (1994) The Eyes of Justice. Vol.7. New-York Peter Lang.

  • Kevelson Roberta (Ed.) (1993) Flux, Complexity and Illusion. Vol. 6. New-York Peter Lang.

  • Kevelson Roberta (Ed.) (1988) Law and Semiotics volume 2. New-York: Plenum Press.

  • Kevelson Roberta (Ed.) (1987) Law and Semiotics volume 1. New-York Plenum Press.

Edited volumes arising from associated conferences

  • Wagner A. and Cacciaguidi-Fahy S. (Eds) (2008) Obscurity and Clarity in the Law: Challenges and Prospects. Aldershot: Ashgate.

  • Wagner A. and Cacciaguidi-Fahy S. (Eds) (2006) Legal Language and the Search for Clarity: Practice and Tools. Bern: Peter Lang.

  • Hanneke van Schooten (Ed.) (1999). Semiotics and Legislation. Jurisprudential, Institutional and Sociological Perspectives. Legal Semiotics Monographs, Vol. X, London: Deborah Charles Publications.

  • Pintore Anna and Jori Mario (Eds) (1998) Law and Language: The Italian Analytical School. Legal Semiotics Monographs, Vol.VII, London: Deborah Charles Publications.

  • Kaarlo Tuori, Zenon Bankowski and Jyrki Uusitalo (Eds) (1997) Law and Power: Critical and Socio-Legal Essays. Legal Semiotics Monographs, Vol.VI, London: Deborah Charles Publications.