SH1613

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Semiotics
Name:
Gordon Slethaug
Nationality:
Canada
Academic Title:Professor
Home University
University of Waterloo
(From):
Email Address: [email protected]
Undergraduate
English
N/A
Semiotics is the discipline that studies the capacity of humans (and, in some
respects, non-humans) to make, disseminate, and comprehend signs. What is a sign?
Basically, a sign is anything that can stand for something else. Obviously, then,
the range of semiotic inquiry is very broad—from the language you use, the way you
sit, the clothes you put on, the way you wear your hair, the car you drive or the
bus you take, etc. Semiotics is the discipline that studies the capacity of humans
(and, in some respects, non-humans) to make, disseminate, and comprehend signs. What
is a sign? Basically, a sign is anything that can stand for something else. Obviously,
then, the range of semiotic inquiry is very broad—from the language you use, the
way you sit, the clothes you put on, the way you wear your hair, the car you drive
or the bus you take, etc.
In this course we'll have three main tasks: to study the history and theory of
semiotics; to learn the vocabulary and methodology of semiotics; and to practice
this vocabulary and methodology on all kinds of everyday things. The first half of
the course will concentrate strongly on theory, and the second half will focus on
both theory and application in various semiotic sectors.
ASSIGNMENTS AND EVALUATIONS: Students are expected to complete all course readings
before class and come prepared to discuss them. Assessment will be based on the
following:
PowerPoint Presentation
Students should work in a group for a PowerPoint Presentation to make a 30-minute
presentation, taking up, clarifying, and applying the material assigned for the day
of their presentation. The emphasis here is on showing new kinds of
application. The question-and-answer period may extend only slightly beyond the
30 minutes, and each group must adhere strictly to the presentation timeline.
Tests: Tests will cover the major concepts, and the format of these tests will
be short answer and a longer answer/essay. Questions will be based on the readings,
lectures, and presentations.
Essay For this essay, students will choose some aspect of semiotics to apply to
their culture and discuss at length. The essay should be clear about the problem
you wish to explore, the governing theory, and your analysis of the cultural signs.
Please use the MLA method of in-text citation and a list of “Works Cited” at the
end.
Participation
While I do plan to lecture, I want this to be a student-centered course, so your
careful preparation and active oral and written participation are critical to
successful discussions, an engaged classroom, and a good participation score.
2 credits
Professor Slethaug has taught at universities in Canada, China, Denmark, Hong Kong,
and the United States, and draws from these experiences in his teaching and
writing. Previously at the University of Waterloo (head of the English Department
and Associate Dean of Graduate Programs in Arts) until 1995, he then taught at the
University of Hong Kong (Director of American Studies and Lingnan Professor of
American Studies) from 1995 to 2008. From 2004 to 2008, he was awarded a four-year
grant from the Lingnan Foundation (Yale and New York City) to bring team teaching,
interdisciplinary methodology, American studies, and English-language instruction
to the classroom at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou and to bridge American
Studies activities between the University of Hong Kong and Sun Yat-sen
University. He has written widely on the faculty and student learning
transformation that occurred as a result of this project. He remains an Honorary
Professor at the University of Hong Kong.From 2008 until 2012, Dr. Slethaug taught
American studies and communication subjects at the University of Southern Denmark,
where he had earlier been awarded a Senior Fulbright Professorship. He is
currently back at the University of Waterloo as Professor of English Language and
Literature.
Semiotics is the discipline that studies the capacity of humans (and, in some
respects, non-humans) to make, disseminate, and comprehend signs. What is a sign?
Basically, a sign is anything that can stand for something else. Obviously, then,
the range of semiotic inquiry is very broad—from the language you use, the way you
sit, the clothes you put on, the way you wear your hair, the car you drive or the
bus you take, etc.Semiotics is the discipline that studies the capacity of humans
(and, in some respects, non-humans) to make, disseminate, and comprehend signs. What
is a sign? Basically, a sign is anything that can stand for something else. Obviously,
then, the range of semiotic inquiry is very broad—from the language you use, the
way you sit, the clothes you put on, the way you wear your hair, the car you drive
or the bus you take, etc.
In this course we'll have three main tasks: to study the history and theory of
semiotics; to learn the vocabulary and methodology of semiotics; and to practice
this vocabulary and methodology on all kinds of everyday things. The first half of
the course will concentrate strongly on theory, and the second half will focus on
both theory and application in various semiotic sectors.
Date
Topics
Readings and Films
July 13
Course overview
Saussure and Peirce: the dyadic and triadic tradition
Chandler (13-57)
Roland Barthes
“Myth Today” section in Mythologies (PDF)
Barthes (cont.)
“Mythologies”
July 15
Derrida
“Structure, Sign, and Play” (PDF)
Analyzing Structures: Jakobson’s axis, Marking, and Greimas’s semiotic square
Chandler (83-110)
Modalities; Textual and Film Codes Van Leeuwen (PDF), Preziosi (PDF), Monaco (PDF)
Chandler (64-78, 157-173), The Great Gatsby (film)
July 17 Social coding: encoding and decoding
Thwaites et al. (PDF), Hall (PDF),
Chandler (147-157)
Proto-signs
Krampen (PDF), Deely (PDF),
Youtube: “What Plants Talk About”
July 20 Van Leeuwen
Social Semiotics: Rules and Functions PDF (47-89)
Postmodernism/postmodern architecture
Jencks (PDF)
Reading cities: New York and Washington DC (Slethaug)
Kostof (PDF)
Presentations
July 22 Reading nation/reading history Reading travel Eco (Travels in Hyper
Reality—PDF)
Midnight in Paris (film)
Fashion codes
Owyong (PDF), Harris (PDF)
Presentations
July 24 The meaning of food
Advertising and Identity
Presentations
Sahlins (PDF); (PBS video in class)
Vanderbilt (PDF), Chandler (110-113)
July 27 Construction of gender—feminine and masculine identities
Butler (PDF), Reeser (PDF), Berger (PDF)
Presentations
July 29 Proxemics & nonverbal codes
Semiotics of space
Canetti (PDF)
Presentations Gaines (PDF)
Essay Due
Daniel Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics
Short readings (PDF)
Films: The Great Gatsby (Luhrmann’s version); Midnight in Paris
N/A
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