Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. Juni 2004

1.2. Signs, Texts, Cultures. Conviviality from a Semiotic Point of View /
Zeichen, Texte, Kulturen. Konvivialität aus semiotischer Perspektive"

HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Jeff Bernard (Wien)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

Grundlagen/Fundamentals Teil 1/Part 1:
Moderation / Chair: Jeff Bernard
Teil 2/Part 2:
Teil 3/Part 3:
Teil 4/Part 4:
Nonverbale Zeichen/Non-verbal Signs

Conviviality Problems in the Structure of Semiotic Objects

Georgij Yu. Somov (Moscow)


Summary: Signs and sign systems constitute a component of regulation and become transformed into system formations organized by the levels of elementary regulation, behavior, and activity; by the aspects of pragmatics, semantics, and syntactics; by the types of information-managing systems; and by the types of external and reflexive regulation. Conviviality problems are regarded as the regulation of human interrelations forming a central domain of regulation in a society.


Conviviality is refracted in human semiotic systems in different dimensions. The problem formulation given by chairman Jeff Bernard envisages that the study of conviviality should simultaneously specify the interactions of semiotic objects, sections, and codes predominating in these sections. Semiotic studies of anthroposemiotic objects in architecture (Somov 1990, 2001, 2002, 2004) allowed me to advance a scheme complementing the interrelation "sign/text/culture", which became basic in the discussion of conviviality in the workshop. The necessity for delimitation and analysis of regulating function of signs in various divisions of semiotics demonstrates that the signs in general must be regarded within regulation models. These models reflect different vital processes: biological, psychological, and social ones, examined as management of changes, from behavior response to simple situations to making decisions changing very complicated situations and involving the activity of many persons. The regulation of human interrelations by means of signs is the central domain of everyday life. Money, laws, norms and rules of behavior, orders, handshakes, smiles, and art works - all these regulate human interrelations. Signs are involved in this regulation due to the capacity of denotates to become representaments of new signs, the capacity of the plane of content to become a plane of expression for other planes (according to Hjelmslev).

Cybernetic models clarify what the regulation and its structure is. Regulation models distinguish the components "organism - environment" (cf. Ashby 1960: 70-71). An organism tends to provide a steady state (homeostasis) of environment, and has to change its parameters. These models are compatible to those distinguishing external processes and processes of a reflexive kind (cf. Steinbuch 1965: 316-317), and other different models dealing with managing and managed systems, information and feedback (cf. Ukraintsev 1972). In general, the following integral relations and mechanisms of regulations are distinguished: 1) directed relations "organism - environment", definite requests to the environment, and homeostasis regulators, (2) information about the parameters of the environment, and (3) feedback (reactions and actions). This corresponds to terms within semiotics and psychology. Directed relations (1) are fixed in "fundamental meanings" (cf. von Uexküll 1982) and human intentions, which are regarded as the basis of personal development (cf. Allport 1968). Information (2) is produced with the development of denotative-cognitive processes (cf. Morris 1946) and the formation of perception mechanisms, in particular those of identification and processing of sensor information, based on the integration of different features. Feedback and different reactions (3) are implemented in the action-managing systems, including various emotional reactions, materialized in effectors, which turn into tools and artificial management systems in human activity. In short, this means that the first group of relations corresponds to intentions, the second to analysis, and the third to decisions.

Regulation is based exclusively on signs, corresponding to a naturalistic interpretation of the fundamental character of signs for the description and explanation of all vital processes (cf. Sebeok 1999). The fundamental character of signs is related to a multiplicity of their real incarnations (as relations among processes and integrities). The multiplicity of real incarnations of signs makes it possible to regard them as microprocessors of regulation. From this point of view, the sign model by Ch.S. Peirce with its three apices is very important: "interpretant - object - representamen". Angular points of this triangle (propagated by several semiotic scientists as a basic element; cf. Sebeok 1999; Sharov 1999) form regulation sides. Interpretants correspond to regulating intentions (cf. Morris 1971: 28-29); objects to characteristics of altered environment (Ashby's parameters); and representamens to system-structural formations reflecting the changes in situations involved in the management of situation-changing actions.

The triadic structure of regulation is manifested in communication. In human communication, formed types of communicative sign structures depend on their position in the interrelations of regulation described. This position was reflected in the system by R. Ackoff, who suggested to distinguish motivation, information, and instruction (cf. Ackoff 1958). This triad appears in a discourse in different sign manifestations; in general processes (narrative, in the broadest sense), it functions as three types of stable systems: (1) managing (motivational) systems proper, (2) informational, and (3) informational-managing.

As the regulation is based on a triadic structure of signs, it obtains three semiotic aspects. These aspects embrace different regulation-forming relations and process types. The domain of information (2) is the most studied area of the three semiotic aspects. The investigators of this domain (a) discussed in detail the interrelations between these three objects and their manifestation in human life; (b) suggested the methods of determination of information amounts in semantics, pragmatics, and syntactics of different groups of elements and relations, using the methods based on Shannon's theory; (c) examined the interrelations of these aspects as applied to humanitarian sciences (cf. Birukov/Geller 1973). Based on these concepts, it is logical to distinguish the pragmatics, semantics, and syntactics of regulation as a whole, which are manifested in the vital components of life of an organism, person, and society.

The pragmatics of regulation is implemented, first of all, in various intentions. In a general biological sense, this corresponds to von Uexküll's term "fundamental meanings". In human life, the intentions appear as needs, motives, and goal orientations. Some psychologists tend to demonstrate that fundamental needs are at the center of different human intentions (cf. Obukhovskii 1972). They form stable regulators of organism-environment interactions, they are built as mechanisms of regulation of environment parameters, and determine the selection and production of certain information and response to this information. The latter affects the actions directed towards situation changes. This idea is reflected in different psychological theories linking motives and behavior, in particular, in "informational theory of emotions."

The semantics of regulation is ambiguous, as it is related to environment specificity. The interpretation of environment pictures (cf. Smith 2001) reveals the environment of a material type (cf. Gibson 1982) and that of "fundamental meanings" called "Umwelt" (cf. von Uexküll 1982). These different types of environment and situations delimit two different domains of semantics: that of material objects and that of the environment of meanings, where the central position belongs to the environment of self-like creatures (human beings). As I tried to demonstrate, the differences in semantics caused by the regulation of the environment of material type and the environment of self-like objects (humans), and the interrelations of these semantic domains, form vitally significant interrelations of the rational-practical and irrational sides of human life. This is widely effected by the differences in signs and sign models of the regulation of these types of environment (cf. Somov 2004).

The syntactics of regulation is formed by the relations among representamens, which reflect the characteristics of different types of environment interrelated with other semiotic systems providing efficient situational changes. The way of representation of varying environmental characteristic by means of signs determines the vitality of organisms. This is why syntactics, including its systems and structures, is so important for the interpretation of regulation.

The regulation levels, which are observed in human life, vary markedly (simple reactions and activities, organized behavior, and activities in the intellectual sphere changing complicated situations). It is reasonable to distinguish three regulation levels: (1) elementary regulation, (2) behavior, and (3) activity.

Elementary regulation appears in the stimulus-response cycles, in particular, in the processes "need-information-emotion-action". Elementary regulation is conducted by all organisms. Even at the level of high-molecule compounds, researchers registered stable signatures providing the recognition of molecules (cf. Quastler 1964: 45-47). At different levels of life, common structural mechanisms are found. According to and in these mechanisms, the recognition of the situation and situation-changing activity of an organism occurs, and the structural nature of syntactics is revealed. The recognition of molecules is implemented via the interaction of their structures. However, at a higher level of recognition and response, the central role is also played by certain structural features, forming codes and signs. A simple reaction of fear as a response to a movement of an external object is based on the fact that quick movements, their directions, and features of moving objects indicate danger. This can be visualized in artificial spatial constructions in the environment. Features of abrupt movements (nodded spatial constructions, sharp corners, and active biases, overhanging and deviating from vertical and horizontal lines) are typical anxiety-causing structural features. This is why they are used as fine instruments for the sharpening of emotional reactions to the perception of the environment in architectural composition (cf. Somov 1985). By its structural features (vertical and horizontal lines, orthogons and biases, statics and dynamics, heavy and light, angular and smooth), the situation is referred to as this or that class of danger, and the emotional reaction, determining human actions, is formed. Already common biological structural mechanisms of recognition and activity contain a structural basis of higher manifestations of this level of regulation. This corresponds to a methodological understanding of the general fundamental role of structures and structure formations in universal ontology.

Behavior unites the processes of accommodation to situations (via changing them), which involve and organize elementary regulations. Signs and sign formations are singled out in behavior, being included in behavior-forming processes (cf. Morris 1946). Distinguished mainly in animal life and, especially, in the life of mammals, sign systems of behavior continue to exist in human behavior, in multiple system-structural formations, helping to alter the relations between organism and the environment in accordance with situations, intentions, and the consumption of organism resources. Hence, the behavior forms a more complicated level of regulation and a more developed system of regulators, information, and feedback, which includes elementary regulations. In human life, this system appears via different rules of sign functioning and formation of units of communicative situations, informational mechanisms, chains of information selection, reactions, and activities. In animal behavior, these formations are either strictly connected with situations and fixed (e.g., the hunting instinct of a wasp, as described by J.H. Fabre) or perfectly adjusted to a situation and have the character of a name (a fox or cat hunting mice). In human behavior, system-structural formations are much less stereotypic, as the recognition of situations (and changes of activity in these situations) includes the elements of thinking. The adherents of the cognitive approach insist that human decisions are conditioned rather by a cognitive sphere than by situations. Hence, they are based on the functioning of texts, different cognitive models of typical situations (cf. van Dijk 1987), connotative codes, and languages. Due to sign models and systems of a language type, stable semiotic constructions are formed, together with the whole cognitive environment of a human being, his/her recepts, and images. In animal communication, the motives predominate and appear by themselves, while the information and instruction are not or are just slightly distinguishable. The bee dance resembles an instruction; a monkey using a sign to indicate a snake resembles human information. But it is only in human communication where all the parts of the triad "motivation-information-instruction" are clearly distinguishable. As a rule, motivations turn into implicit goals of information and become indirect. In other words, human information is included in motivation and instructions, and forms their core. This is possible only because human information is based on sign models forming the human cognitive sphere. In connection with this, we should address the third level of regulation - activity.

Activity is a specific type of environment regulation, which involves artificial effectors of environment changes (tools) and mental modelling of these changes in sign models. Some methodologists have proven that, since Kant, European philosophy has developed the concept of a leading role of activity in the formation of systemicity (cf. Yudin 1973). The idea of the inseparability of activity and systemicity was further developed in the methodology of the examination of sign systems, in psychological studies of mental structures and their relations with signs (cf. Piaget 1979), and in the logical analysis of thinking systemicity and its specific semiotic systemicity (cf. Shchedrovitskii 1995: 467, 543, 570). The systemicity of activity followed by thinking appears in the formation of sign models of situations and their changes (goals, plans, programs, and projects) and specific semiotic system of human communications, first of all, in conditional signs of language and articulate speech, and thus, in the formation and development of semiotic modelling tools. These processes, as I tried to demonstrate, are related, first of all, to the emergence of a situation modelling type, which is described by the term "form". It promotes the development of different mechanisms of structure formation, regulated by human thinking (cf. Somov 2004). Although the mechanisms and systems of thinking differ qualitatively from regulation as a whole, they have common features. Human activity and thinking continue the regulation processes based on the triadic structure of signs. This is why different decisions made in the processes of thinking are "built" as sign triads. This corresponds to the logical constructions of the founder of the triadic sign model, Ch.S. Peirce, and is supported by models of system formations in the studies of design and constructing (cf. Dietrych 1978: 72-73) and of architectural forms (cf. Somov 1990: 184-185). The development of activity systems organizes behavior and its processes (recognition, expression, motivation, denotation-cognition, orientation-evaluation, effect, etc.). In general, it is difficult to refer to many vital processes with intrinsic semiotic systems exclusively as behavior or activity. In the process of the implementation of a complex plan with a remote goal, one has to deviate from the main line under the influence of unexpected reactions of persons. In this case, activity is dissolved in behavior and includes its processes as elements. And vice versa, adaptive behavior following the instincts of safety often demands well-considered plans, active search of definite information, desinformation of opponents, and other processes of directed activity. In this case, the adaptive behavior includes activity processes as its own elements. We have just discussed the external regulation in the system "organism-environment." However, we should also examine internal regulation processes of reflexive type (cf. Steinbuch 1965), and thus, their specific semiotic systems and specific effect on external processes, as well as an inverse effect-interiorization.

Interrelations between the levels of regulation and signs can be represented as semiotic objects. In discourse, these objects form different situational systems, including texts; in narration, they form stable systems associated with the term "culture", if we follow the differentiation between discourse and narrative, text and culture, as indicated by Jeff Bernard (cf. his intoductory contribution). Then the difference between semiotic systems of regulation in general and text systems, forming a specific domain of culture, becomes apparent.

Semiotic systems of activity and behavior form culture in the broad sense, which involves a range of well-known phenomena: industrial culture, physical culture, legislative culture, etc. Among these diverse systems, the culture of communication and cognition are formed; in particular, the rules of human communication and cultures of processing, representation, and sharing knowledge are developed. The development of specific systems of different activity types and the regulation of various situations leads to a larger diversity of culture-constituting system-structural formations, in particular, to a substantial difference in skills, habits, traditions, norms, rules, patterns of changing material characteristics of objects (ways of hunting, treatment of materials and making tools, physical exercises, and competitions), human environment (sign systems of compassion, attention, care, etc.), and communicative and sign characteristics of the environment (cooking or interior and dress design). Among these diverse cultures, the culture as "totality of texts" (according to Jurij M. Lotman) forms a specific domain. Due to interrelations and mutual effects of different levels and mechanisms of regulation, all these levels and mechanisms are embraced by system-structural formations, which are usually called "culture". If systemicity is formed at all levels, it is formed in the mechanisms of information production as well. This corresponds to a semiotic concept of cultural codes, which are built over perception codes. Together with the studies of connotative codes, this made it possible to interpret culture as a system of codes. Hence, I suppose that different areas of culture, their interrelations, formation, and way of functioning are described and explained with the help of the model suggested. Within this model, the problems of conviviality can be specified.

It has already been mentioned that the regulation of human interrelations forms the central area of regulations. It is this area which is reflected by the term conviviality.

Conviviality (just like conflicts) is based on agreements or contradictions in various spheres (agreements on estate partition, unity of goals in collective activity and measures of their achievement, obtaining of a unified information, exchange of information corresponding to similar intentions, and similarity of intentions and their objects). Respectively, typical manifestations of conviviality and conflicts can be represented using the model of objects.

The pragmatics of conviviality is implemented, first of all, in the commonalities, differences, and confrontations of intentions. The manifestation of amiability and compassion in human society is based on a fundamental human need for emotional compassion (cf. Obukhovskii 1972). However, in the development of human activity and relations among social, ethnic, and national groups, not the fundamental needs, but need-generated goals are implemented. The pragmatics of common and different goals, determining conviviality and conflicts, develops, first of all, in the domain of interests of social groups, and appears as political discourse. It is evident that this significant domain of semiotic systems became the subject of philosophical and semiotic analysis.

The semantics of conviviality is based, first of all, on the regulation of different types of environments and situations, which can be divided into the environment of material characteristics (1) and the environment of humans (2). The author tried to reveal the difference in sign systems of the modelling of these environment types (cf. Somov 2004). The phenomena which are taken for the conflicts of type 1 usually refer to the contradictions 2 (personal security in sign models of foreigners; cf. van Dijk 1984). The phenomena, which are taken for the conflicts of type 2 usually also refer to the contradictions 1. Many human conflicts which appear to have complicated ethnocultural or mental origins, are often a banal struggle for land and other resources.

The syntactics of conviviality is formed as a structuration of different types of semiotic systems involved in regulation processes, and determines their efficiency. This efficiency is determined by both the integrity and the organization of relations of a given semiotic system (languages, norms of behavior, systems of art culture, etc.), and their bindings with the relations of other semiotic systems functioning in a socium.

The mutual effects and relations of the three semiotic aspects form systems and mechanisms regulating human interrelations - informational-managing systems. These systems are built into a socium, from state legislation and policy of a governing party to conventional etiquette, and equally involve law, morale, culture of behavior, and other human interrelations.

© Georgij Yu. Somov (Moscow)


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Grundlagen/Fundamentals Teil 1/Part 1:
Moderation / Chair: Jeff Bernard
Teil 2/Part 2:
Teil 3/Part 3:
Teil 4/Part 4:
Nonverbale Zeichen/Non-verbal Signs

1.2. Signs, Texts, Cultures. Conviviality from a Semiotic Point of View /
Zeichen, Texte, Kulturen. Konvivialität aus semiotischer Perspektive"

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

TRANS       Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  15 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
Georgij Yu. Somov (Moscow): Conviviality Problems in the Structure of Semiotic Objects. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW:

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