Language and Social Construction

Signs and languages are very useful tools for social coordination and thus play a central role in most, if not all, social practices, but I doubt they are actually necessary to achieve meaningful social interaction or at least interactions that generate normative expectations, and not just patterns of actions and re-actions.

Consider the example of hostile architecture. You could again say that it signals homeless people that they are not welcome there (to say the least), but that would stretch the notion of linguistic ‘sign’ as to make it useless and trivial in this context. Or, to give another example, this one based on one given to me by Terry @Zebralicum in twitter: If regularly none wants to sit by your side at lunch, these actions are not linguistic yet deeply normative. You can say that their behavior conveys normative information and thus that it is, in a sense, linguistic; but I do not see what is gained in explanatory value for talking like that. Or I think the materialist social constructivist must instead say that language is a powerful and common tool for social coordination, but not that it is a necessary condition for it, much the less constitutive of our normative social practices.

Street spikes emerging from the floor on a building's external corner with the legend "6. Street spikes: A stark message to those sleeping rough

It is misleading to think of linguistic meaning as our paradigmatic example of meaning.

2 Responses

  1. shelleytremain

    I disagree with the claims made in this post. For example, I think that interactions need not generate “normative expectations” to be “meaningful”. Many forms of critique fit this description. Foucault’s genealogies are excellent examples of critique that does not produce normative conclusions or expectations, or at least not primarily (a point of much debate in the literature on Foucault). l also think that the claims according to which certain references to the operations of signs are “useless and trivial” seems dismissive, as does use of the term ‘fashionable’. I think that representations of hostile architecture have been edifying in a variety of ways.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.