transmuting ambivalences of meaning


At every level, PECE instantiates poststructuralist understandings of language. This may best be conveyed by a long quote by anthropologist Michael Fischer concerning shifts in how language, as a complex system of material signifiers, was understood over the course of the 20th century:

“Behaviorist models take words and symbols to be unproblematic tokens, combined and rearranged in meaningful chains of sentences or utterances, done in turn-taking, stimulus-response sequences. Analysts can thus build up models of culture based on sets of belief statements made by actors. Symbolist models recognize that symbols are not univocal simple tokens but have fans of meanings, and that more is exchanged in any speech act than either speaker or receiver comprehends. Nonetheless, in symbolist models, symbols are still but more complex sign tokens – like overly full bouquets or pockets of fertile sediment – richly polysemic yet discrete. Indeed, the richest symbols are black holes: the entire culture is said to be condensed there. Symbolist analysts organize their models of culture around key symbols, symbol clusters, and nodes of semantic networks, somewhat like a crystal structure. There is a reassuring sense of relative stasis or stability of the symbolic system. Structuralist, and particularly poststructuralist, models decompose symbols and metaphors into chains of metonyms or association that play out into disseminating, ramifying, transmuting dynamics, attempting to model, in the structuralist case, the semantic-symbolic parameters of variation and transformation, and, in the poststructuralist case, the transmuting ambivalences of meaning that keep texts and communication labile (unless forcibly controlled, in which case poststructuralist deconstructive sensibilities highlight the tensions and processes of alternative meanings subversive to those intended and authorized by the controls).” -- Michael M.J. Fischer


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Contributed date

July 8, 2024 - 1:42pm

Critical Commentary


Cite as

Anonymous, "transmuting ambivalences of meaning", contributed by Mike Fortun, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 8 July 2024, accessed 20 July 2024.