Living and Learning as Semiotic Engagement

Author: Stables, Andrew
Semiotics – the study of signs – is not an entirely new discipline. However, in this study, the author breaks new ground by exploring the possibilities of adopting a view of ‘living and learning as semiotic engagement’ as foundational to our understandings of education, management and other aspects of social and cultural life. The approach has the potential to transcend sterile debates based on sets of dualisms that can be traced back to Descartes’ distinction between body and mind: in particular, cognitivism vs. behaviorism, public vs. private, and ‘the individual’ vs. society. It also has the potential to forge stronger connections between hitherto very different disciplines, such as economics and educational studies. The semiotic approach to these issues is explored with respect to ‘living’, ‘learning’, ‘managing’ and ‘understanding,’ while the final section offers an overview, summarizing the arguments and their implications for research, policy, professional practice and individual life-planning. The argument draws on a range of theoretical resources, most notably philosophical pragmatism, process metaphysics, political liberalism and poststructuralism. Overall, there is a strong emphasis on practical application of these ideas. All in all, the book offers a fundamental rethinking of education and social policy based on a carefully justified, but hitherto little explored, set of premises.


“ ... Our most basic ideas about education are at stake here. We may think of it as a business by which the learner acquires techniques to manipulate brute matter and bend it to his (or her) will, accruing in the process the human capital that brings measurable rewards in what we are told to think of as the knowledge economy. No doubt this perspective is to a greater or lesser extent unavoidable. But we can also think of it as a kind of conversation. Here we learn, in dialogue with others, to read the world – the phrase is significant – and each other more or less generously, charitably, honestly ... This text constitutes an important and detailed working out of these themes.” – (from the Preface) Professor Richard Smith, University of Durham

“This book is a rich and lucid reading experience. Having explained and argued for the fundamental claim that ‘living can validly be understood as semiotic engagement,’ the author goes on to illustrate the many ways in which this perspective can help to illuminate important issues and debates both within in the field of education and beyond ... By reconceptualizing what has sometimes become intransigent problems in ways that invite the reader to dissolve or circumvent old but continuing dogmas, the author offers a well-thought through and promising way forward on a range of pressing issues.” – Professor Michael Bonnett, University of Cambridge

“This book raises all the fundamental questions we need to ask about learning in the complex, open-ended conditions of contemporary life. If human living is a continuous process of renewing the sense we make of ourselves and our environment, what are the conditions of doing this well? How can we best grasp our experience on the way to fuller experience? What political and cultural institutions does this process need, and how useful are the present systems of education that we have? The radical perspective from semiotics challenges preconceptions and provokes thought in all these crucial areas.” – Professor John Foster, Lancaster University

Table of Contents

Preface by Richard Smith
Part 1: Living as Semiotic Engagement
1. Sign(al)s
2. Humans, Animals and Other Life Forms
3. The Individual and Society
4. Living Well and Being Good
5. Religion, Philosophy and the Paranormal
6. Language and Reason
Part 2: Learning as Semiotic Engagement
7. What is Learning?
8. Consciousness
9. Becoming Human? Infancy as Semiotic Engagement
10. Teaching for Having Learnt: The Importance of Successful Action
11. The Dynamics and Constraints of the Classroom
12. Learning and Time
Part 3: Managing as Semiotic Engagement
13. Public / Private
14. Institutions as Inscriptions
15. Responsible People
16. Responsive Systems
17. Meanings and Markets
Part 4: Understanding as Semiotic Engagement
18. Ways of Knowing Ways of Knowing
19. Education and Related Disciplines as Physical, Social and Cultural Practice
20. Classrooms as Texts
21. Researching Lived Experience: Some Theoretical Frameworks
22. Researching ‘Effective Schools’
Part 5: In Conclusion
23. The Science of Becoming
24. How to Make Your Education Work for You
25. Learning to Love with Paradox in Competitive Communities