Signs, Symbols, and Processes
From Saussure to Bourdieu
When looking at human beings from the point of view of what they
do together in the midst of their history, that is, from the point of view
of their transformation of the ecological resources at their disposal, one
will have to confront what is often referred to as the "arbitrariness" of the
observable forms. Over the past century, those who have been concerned with
culture have explored sense of arbitrariness
in various contexts. In the process they
have specified in greater detail some of the properties of what human beings
do to themselves and to each other even as they make their world.
This presentation proceeds in three parts:
- Saussure's discussion of the "arbitrariness of signs" (with an
emphasis on the discontinuity between perception and labelling)
- Lévi-Strauss on symbolic associations across sensory domains,
totems and castes (with an emphasis on the classification of human
beings and what they may do to each other after they have been differentiated
into a new world of kinds of human beings).
- Foucault on the discursive elaboration of classifications; Bourdieu
on the cultural arbitrary in social processes (starting with education
transformed into bureaucratized schooling); Varenne and McDermott on
"culture as disability."
April 5, 2002