The study of semiotics can help to challenge certain assumptions in academia (Douglas, 1982). For Douglas, cultural and religious sign systems help to naturalize and reinforce specific framings of ‘the way things are’, however, the operation of ideology in signifying practices is often concealed. In semiotics it is important to understand the relationship between the signifier and the signified. The signifier is what form the sign takes and the signified is the concept it represents. According to Chandler (1994) semiotics can help to denaturalise words, codes and meanings in everyday life. Accepted or ‘common sense’ notions, ideas and beliefs that have been shaped and sustained through engagement with signs and carried through myths can be uncovered using the semiotic method.
Schroeder (1998, p.196) comments that semiotics prompts a level of understanding that the cultural values we use to make sense of world are handed down to us by ‘the members of the culture which we belong to’. Semiotics can also help us to realize that whatever assertions seem to us to be ‘givens’ (obvious, natural, universal, permanent and incontrovertible) are generated by the ways in which sign systems operate in a discourse community.If signs do not merely reflect reality but are involved in its construction, then those who control the sign systems control the construction of reality (Douglas, 1982; Schroeder, 1998). In this construction of reality there lies the potential for contradictions, inconsistencies and gaps. These gaps may present themselves as opportunities for social change. Schroeder (1998, p. 225) observes that the role of ideology is to suppress such opportunity in favour of dominant groups in society. Subsequently, reality construction occurs on ‘sites of struggle’ such as within spaces of witchcraft communities.
Traditionally, semiotics is associated with textual analysis and the role of signs in the construction of reality. Farnell’s (2012) conceptualisation of semiotics illuminates concurrences between Foucauldian (1980) discourse and Csordas’ (1999) theory of embodiment, and subsequently integrates them. Based on the current research available on witches, the embodied rituals of counterculture conducted by witches imply a process of semiotic improvisation. The process of embodying the witch involves participants performatively grounding and ascribing their interpretation of the witch within the mindful body.
Chandler, D. 1994, Semiotics for Beginners, Routledge, London.
Csordas, T. 1999 ‘Embodiment and Cultural Phenomenology.’ In Perspectives on Embodiment: the Intersections of Nature and Culture, ed. Weiss, G and Haber, H. Routledge: New York.
Douglas, M. 1982 ‘The Future of Semiotics’, Semiotica, vol, 38, no. 3-4, pp. 197–204.
Farnell, B. 2012 Dynamic Embodiment for Social Theory: “I move therefore I am”. Routledge: London and New York.
Foucault, M. 1980 Power/knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977. Pantheon Books: New York.
Schroeder, J. E. 1998 ‘Consuming Representation: A Visual Approach to Consumer Research’, Stern op. cit., pp. 193-230, viewed 16 August, 2013 <http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1349954>