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This chapter lays the foundations for a metaparadigmatic approach, a potential “big tent” for sociology. Peirce’s semiotic “triadic” model is central. Five theoretical arguments at the metatheoretical level are put forward, with each key argument building on the others in a kind of grand synthesis or overarching framework. Currently, all the social sciences are fragmented, with neoclassical economics the least fragmented but now challenged by a new political economics. Parsons attempted to develop “social relations” at Harvard, but that view only lasted for a while. The interpretive approach to the social sciences advocated by Geertz and Bellah is now mostly applied only to some aspects of symbolic interaction, with symbolic interactionism quite separate as an interpretive network. The proposed synthesis is not a final version but it does involve a “broader horizon” (a “sublation” or Aufhebung). The goal is an overarching sociological framework that can be called “semiotic sociology.”
Quite a few influential accounts of group agency (Searle, 1992; List and Pettit, 2011; Tuomela, 2013; Bratman, 2014; Gilbert, 2014) share the view that agency can only be attributed to real individual subjects, while groups can only metaphorically be considered as agents, because only individuals have the capability to really act. This view relies on an unproblematizing conception of the individual subject as a singular, self-identical, and continuous entity among other such entities of various kinds. On the other hand, it is customary to think of meanings as shared, supraindividual items that do not paradigmatically exist solely in the consciousness of one individual, but appear in their interaction. This leaves the semiotic aspect of any kind of action with a curious structural hiatus; on the one hand, the action belongs to the individual, on the other, however, any meaning that is involved in it does not. The goal of the present chapter is to have a closer look at this conceptual knot. Let me state at the outset that I do not believe the problem can be efficiently solved in the framework of the received view of what agency is, nor in the terms of the object-centered ontology on which this view relies. The standard account of agency could be summarized as something like this: an individual mind regularly entertains a variety of identifiable mental states, such as beliefs, thoughts, ideas, and intents. In interaction with its environment, it is capable of forming particular intents to carry out particular actions.
While the interpretive social sciences have been focused almost entirely on the analysis of meaning and structure, my claim is that a third level of analysis is warranted. Just as Saussure argues that a sign’s signifier and signified are joined arbitrarily, so too do syntactic rules arbitrarily dictate the ways in which meaningful phenomena may or may not be conjoined. The rules of cultural syntax thereby enable and constrain the cultural structures we experience every day throughout the social world. That is, these rules determine the limits of how we are able to combine signs and symbols within those cultural structures. For this reason, having a theoretical model with the vision to identify these rules enriches the descriptive and explanatory powers of any semiotic approach to culture.
This chapter explores how digital technologies, processes and practices are constituting new ways of knowing urban natures and novel subjective engagements with the constant infrastructural remaking of cities. We analyse recent interventions in energy infrastructures in Bristol, a UK city where a variety of stakeholders have sought to advance greater sustainability by both increasing the city’s capacity for renewable electricity generation and improving the energy efficiency of the city’s housing stock. They have done so notably by mobilizing and managing digital and ecological flows and processes in tandem. We draw attention therefore to digital-physical material processes through which actors’ capacity to intervene in, and understanding of, the techno-ecological flows of energy systems appear to be shifting. The digital intervention enables non-human entities to be crucially entangled in these processes, forging infrastructural futures that emerge across an evolving plane of intelligibility between ecological and digital flows and human activities.
From the ordinary to the extraordinary, all of us experience infrastructure in its various forms over the course of the day, from when we wake to when we go to sleep - and much in between. In some cases, this is the presence of infrastructure. In others, it is the absence of infrastructure that shapes and structures the lives of some who live in cities, for example, blue infrastructure to ensure drinkable water, or libraries as social infrastructure to support the education and learning among a population. Infrastructure shapes lives, and in turn, these lives are shaped by it. This edited collection argues that an attention to the pasts, presents and futures of infrastructure allows for an understanding of the current relationally constituted and experienced urban condition in and across cities of the Global North and South. It asks the reader to think through the different ways in which infrastructure comes to be present in cities and the making of urban worlds.
This afterword begins from a fairly modest premise that asks, how does incompleteness reframe the way we think about and theorize urban infrastructural futures? In addressing this question, I examine urban infrastructure through its incomplete futures. Accordingly, I offer a conception that highlights partial, provisional and contingent processes and practices that go into making and shifting infrastructures, and one that foregrounds situated and temporal engagements, negotiations and relations. I demonstrate that rather than reproaching unfamiliar and strange infrastructural progressions or development processes, it is important to disentangle them and better understand them as reflective of infrastructure’s incomplete futures. In so doing, I call for the need to open up space for alternative theories that illuminate how cities produce novel forms of urbanism and infrastructure futures that exceed what might tend to be – at any given time – the most dominant and hegemonic forms and articulations.
For some groups the promise of infrastructural citizenship as an everyday claim upon the state is far more precarious than others: not only is access to infrastructure uncertain, but also the underlying promise of a functioning state and access to citizenship remains in question. The study of infrastructural citizenship remains incomplete if it does not grapple with the coloniality of citizenship, and the racialized populations relegated to second-class citizenship or non-citizenship. Those with no claims upon the state to provide the basics of life must go beyond repair or maintenance, to seek instead infrastructural reparations and reparative justice as material conditions for living in the wake of the racialized infrastructural colour line built upon histories of slavery, colonialism and climate disaster. This chapter reflects on some of the tactics of flexible, provisional, infrastructural reparations that have emerged in Haiti and Puerto Rico, where public infrastructure systems have drastically failed. In Haiti tactics of appropriation involved communities (and gangs) patching into fractured systems where there is little state provision. In Puerto Rico, disaster led to grassroots organizations calling for just recovery, but also blockchain entrepreneurs taking advantage of offshore opportunities to escape the state. Both cases demonstrate the precarity, power, opportunities and dangers hidden within decentralized systems in the face of splintered infrastructural systems.
This chapter explores the relationship between infrastructure and what the philosopher and social critic Marshall Berman once described as the ‘tragedy of development’. The chapter begins with the story of John Lindmark, a bookseller in the city of Poughkeepsie, NY whose store was razed in 1963 to make way for the city’s first arterial highway. The chapter places this tragedy in the context of Poughkeepsie’s broader post-war transformation as well as the noble ambitions of urban planners and city officials that supported the highway’s construction. Where the first half of the chapter discusses the history of the highway and the arguments mobilized behind it, the second half of the chapter jumps forward in time to discuss the legacy of the city’s post-war highway boom. As city planners confront that legacy and seek to overcome it, the ‘tragedy of development’ has taken on a set of new meanings.
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Focusing on material and social forms of infrastructure, this edited collection draws on rich empirical details from cities across the global North and South. The book asks the reader to think through the different ways in which infrastructure comes to be present in cities and its co-constitutive relationships with urban inhabitants and wider processes of urbanization.
Considering the climate emergency, economic transformation, public health crises and racialized inequality, the book argues that paying attention to infrastructures’ past, present and future allows us to understand and respond to the current urban condition.
Semiotics provides key analytical tools to understand the creation and reproduction of meaning in social life. Although some fields have productively incorporated semiotic models, sociology still needs to engage with semiosis mediation.
Written by a diverse group of authors in interpretive sociology, this ambitious volume asks what the relationship between meaning systems and action is, how we can describe culture and which roles we assign to language, social processes and cognition in a sociological context. Contributors offer empirical research that not only outlines the conceptual issues at stake, but also demonstrates ‘how to do things’ with semiotics through case studies.
Synthesizing a diverse and fragmented landscape, this is a key reference work for scholars interested in the connection between semiotics and sociology.