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Semiotics Education Experience

reviewed by Marta Pires - August 15, 2011

coverTitle: Semiotics Education Experience
Author(s): Inna Semetsky
Publisher: Sense Publishers, Rotterdam
ISBN: 9460912230, Pages: 302, Year: 2010
Search for book at Amazon.com

Semiotics Education Experience gathers fifteen essays on the relationship/application of semiotics to education, or what has recently been called edusemiotics. Although a rather new concept, the link between signs and human development had long been identified by famed Russian psychologist Lev Vygostsky, and is now gaining new meaning as philosophers and educators begin to appreciate the value of signs in light of its common current use in the evaluation of areas as diverse as visual communication, body language, media, advertising or material culture (p.vii). According to the authors in the book, a further development of the connection between education and semiotics appears thus necessary, not only given the diversity of its current use overall, but also due to a gap in the literature, identified by Marcel Danesi in the foreword regarding “a practical framework for synthesizing the many, yet still scattered, insights into how human representational systems are learned and how these can be used to construct appropriate pedagogical curricula and methods” (p. vii).

Chapter One acts as a review of the literature on the role of semiotics in the field of education, as well as the relationship between semiotics and education. The author begins by providing the reader with reasons why there is, or there should be a connection between semiotics and education; Noth explains that both teaching and learning are “processes of semiosis” (p. 1) and that it was Charles S. Peirce’s belief that true understanding of something can only be achieved when there is an experiential component in learning – learning from books isn’t enough. Other authors elaborate their argument for a semiotics of education based on Peirce’s call for experience, as well as his concepts of Firstness, and Abduction as fundamental in human experience and learning. Semiotics is also seen by the author as the fundamental approach that has the potential to cut across the divide between the sciences and the humanities as well as to make us think about different subjects in a transdisciplinary and integrative manner. This would reflect also a necessary transdisciplinary approach to curriculum. The chapter sets the tone for the rest of the book in which the authors share of this urgency to communicate the link between Semiotics (the discipline of semiosis as formulated by Peirce), Education (both formal and informal), and Experience (as both a fundamental element of learning as well as a fundamentally semiotic endeavor).

The chapters in the first half of the book have three main functions: 1) to define semiotics and semiosis as formulated by Peirce, distinguishing his definition of sign from the one put forth by Ferdinand De Saussure, and establishing, as one of the main differences, the triadic character of the Peircean sign versus the dualistic character of Saussure’s; 2) to establish and justify an immanent relationship between semiosis and learning, and thus between semiotics and education; and 3) to formulate a framework for the increasing application of semiotics to different aspects of education (curriculum, teaching and learning, teacher education, etc.), in what Stables would call a “fully semiotic approach” to education. The second half of the book presents us with a transdisciplinary set of specific examples of codes, and symbol systems of different origins which have shown to have an instrumental role in communication, social interaction, research, knowledge of self and others, and transdisciplinarity itself. In fact, in addition to the argument for transdisciplinarity, the book demonstrates well the transdisciplinary quality of semiotics itself, especially given the multitude of backgrounds of the authors in the book, which range from mathematics to philosophy, art education, cognitive science, linguistics, and comparative literature. The different discourses and approaches make this a valuable book to philosophers and educators from all branches of knowledge.

Besides being a valuable addition to the literature on education and semiotics, and a clear move forward in the affirmation of edusemiotics as a solid educational direction for the future, the book also appears as part of a recent trend in the social sciences towards “affect,” and an increased interest on the part of philosophers and social studies researchers in the role of the un/sub-conscious in humans’ everyday experiences. In education, this trend has only been briefly pursued, namely by Inna Semetsky (2006, 2008). Her own chapters in the book reflect this trend; in Chapter Four, “Moral Stumbling” the author recalls John Dewey’s own concept of experience, and reminds us that, “For Dewey, human experience is always marked by its affective dimension that precedes a purely cognitive recognition of what it is about” (p. 53). Peirce’s abduction also reflects a quasi-intuitive dimension of human experience and reasoning: “in the manner of Dewey’s affective thought, every abductive inference is colored by a feeling-tone and involves a particular emotion” (p. 59). A focus in other chapters on the Peircean aforementioned concept of “abduction,” the concept of “surprise,” or the idea of learning as “embodied,” can also be seen as reflecting the increasing importance of un-conscious, pre-subjective, pre-individual occurrences towards a renewed understanding of learning and epistemology. The meaning of what we may not be able to make sense of consciously and the role of signs in this process are what an investment in semiotics may bring to educators. Moreover, a semiotic approach to education as theorized by a number of authors in the book (e.g., Semetsky, Smith, Stables) would not only challenge some of the dualisms of education and educational discourse (e.g., mind-knowledge), but would also directly eliminate the primary body-mind dualism dominant in “classical learning theory” (p. 26) and construe learning as an embodied experiential venture occurring at all times of one’s life. This idea is reinforced in the chapter co-authored by Ronald Bogue and Semetsky, “Reading Signs/Learning from Experience,” where the authors draw from Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy, particularly his analysis of Marcel Proust’s A la Recherche du Temps Perdu as an apprenticeship in signs, to define learning as an embodied, affective, informal, and contextual praxis in which signs are the indicators of problems and knowledge in need of being “unfolded.” Genuine learning occurs within the “unfolding” of signs that “point” towards a problem, and happens within “a larger milieu of informal education in terms of learning from experience” (p. 115).  

Inna Semetsky has been one of the most influential authors in generating a philosophy of education stemming from philosopher Gilles Deleuze, and psychoanalyst Felix Guattari’s ideas. Not only has she been able to see the possibilities in the encounter between their philosophy and educational theory and practice, she has also been instrumental in divulging the multiple encounters that continue to arise as a growing number of educational theorists begin to appreciate the multitude of connections possible between Deleuze’s thought and educational theory and practice. She has edited special journal issues on Deleuze and Education, as well as books (Semetsky, 2008) - among her publications her own Deleuze, Education and Becoming (2006). She is also on the editorial boards of academic journals such as Educational Philosophy and Theory, and The Semiotic Review of Books.  


Semetsky, I. (2006). Deleuze, education and becoming. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Semetsky, I. (2008). Nomadic education: Variations on a theme by Deleuze and Guattari. Rotterdam: Sense publishers.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 15, 2011
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16508, Date Accessed: 1/28/2022 4:29:03 AM

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About the Author
  • Marta Pires
    Montclair State University
    E-mail Author
    MARTA PIRES is a doctoral candidate in the Pedagogy and Philosophy program at Montclair State University currently working towards her dissertation. As an undergraduate, she studied Continental Philosophy for fours years at the University of Evora, in Portugal. She was a certified High School Philosophy teacher in Portugal, until she came to the U.S. to study Philosophy and Education. She has a Masters in Education and Philosophy for Children from Montclair State University and has taught undergraduate Philosophy of Education, Psychology of Education, and Social and Political Philosophy. She has presented at the AERA conference, as well as at local Philosophy of Education conferences. Her current interests include the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, politics, subjectivity, and affect.
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