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Unformatted text preview: vant to the discussion at hand, and which, as we shall see, have profound implications for our understanding of the world and our work as social scientists. 10 I believer that much of the resistance to poststructuralism and semiotics has arisen from their somewhat confusing terminology. Different thinkers have used different terminology as the ideas have developed. In general, regardless of the terminology we use, signs involve three elements: (1) a word or sound, (2) a concept, and (3) the material object that the word and concept refer to. For example, there is the word “dog;” there is the idea of “a dog;” and there is the material dog in the world. It is the confluence of these three that creates what we understand as a dog. The intersection of the word, the concept, and the object is what we call a discursive‐material formation. At first this may seem a bit convoluted, but as we shall see, everything in the known Universe is in fact a discursive‐material formation—an intersection of word, concept, and object. All signs are arbitrary The first important attribute, recognized by the French linguist Saussure (1996) is that all signs are arbitrary. Saussure’s model of the sign included only two of the elements we mentioned: the word, which he called the “signifier,” and the concept, which he called the “signified” (Figure 6). Figure 6. Saussure’s two‐part model of the sign Saussure realized that across all languages the link between the word and the concept was totally arbitrary. For example, the sound “dog” has no link to any perceivable dog‐like quality of the animal that we call a dog; every language has a different word or sound for the same concept. Whether we call it “dog” in English, “perro” in Spanish, “sobaka” in Russian, or “balla” in Sinhalese, the idea is exactly the same. Dogs exist in the world—the word/sound we use to represent them is arbitrary.4 The meaning of a sign occurs in a space of ‘difference’ 4 Of course, once the wo...
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