Tuesday, April 19, 2016

micro-primer on entrainment

I just wanted to emphasize that the basic idea here is a quite simple one:  Two loosely-coupled systems tend to get in sync, or otherwise into a steady state of interaction.  Historically the phenomenon was discovered when two grandfather clocks next to each other started beating in time.

Personally I learned about the concept in this article:

Iverson, J. M. & Thelen, E. (1999). Hand, mouth and brain. The dynamic emergence of speech and gesture. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6(11-12), pp. 19–40. (http://cspeech.ucd.ie/Fred/docs/IversonThelen.pdf)

This article seems quite apropos for the study of non-verbal communication -- indeed, it illustrates an originary link between non-verbal and verbal communication.

I'm finding the ideas from that article useful (at least at a metaphorical level) thinking about how to build AI systems that use language.  I'd assert that this will really take off when we see that it's not just about text mining -- which would correspond to our verbal communication -- but also about automatic generation of code that uses the text (corresponding to non-verbal communication).

In the world of standard human communication, I noted an interesting partial correlate:
Emoji assist in a peculiarly modern task: conveying emotional nuance in short, online utterances. - http://www.wired.com/2016/04/the-science-of-emoji/

A short video of the classic case is below; I'd also note this wiki page, which describes another case of coupling between biological systems and their environment.  Maybe this one helps explain why my sleep schedule is so weird!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Response to Phatica3


So, when I received Phatica3 I began writing my response right away, essentially "writing out" ("ex-pressing") the points you had gathered under those sections, but I ran into difficulties and postponed finishing it. Well, first I renamed your sections to reflect my preliminary ideas of what I have to contribute to the discussion:
  1. Textual foundations of phatic studies
  2. Possible research questions or directions gathered from surveying available studies
  3. Complementarity between primary lines of phatic studies
  4. Phaticity as a constituent phenomenon in across various domains
  5. Phaticity in social networks, relations, and relationships
  6. Phatic techniques in light of the general notion of phaticity
  7. Linguistic code selection between the individual and the situation
  8. Phatic studies and context, the difference between explication and metamorphosis/catalysis
  9. Togetherness in positive and negative phatics
  10. Multi-media
  11. Conclusion
And so goes my attempt to elaborate the first section:
1. Textual foundations of phatic studies

The background information necessary for any approach to phatic phenomena must include Malinowski and Jakobson, and can include La Barre. The works of these three authors give rise to three distinct varieties of phatic studies with their own central notions of phaticity. While Malinowski and Jakobson are widely recognized figures, and their ideas are frequently mixed and bounced off of each other, La Barre is almost a forgotten figure. This is paradoxical, since La Barre's treatment of phatic communication has a clearer sight and broader reach than the other two. For that reason, it can be surmised, La Barre's contributions should be treated with special care.

In broad strokes, Malinowski reacted to Ogden and Richards, and elucidated a new speech function, "the function of speech in mere sociabilities" which he considers to be "one of the bedrock aspects of man's nature in society" (Malinowski 1946[1923]: 314). The primary characteristics of phatic communion are its independence from anything happening at the moment (i.e. practical action), its aimlessness, obviousness, or meaninglessness (i.e. the topic spoken about does not matter much), and its enabling for people to congregate, be together, and enjoy each others company.

Malinowski thus outlined a type of speech that negates the three well-known functions of speech, formulated in various nomenclatures as expression, representation, and appeal (Bühler 2011[1934]), the emotive, referential, and conative functions (Ogden & Richards 1946[1923]; Jakobson 1981[1960d]), bost most likely adduced from the peripatetic triad of Feeling (emotion, passion, affection, sentiment), Volition (will), and Thought (cognition) (cf. Bain in Clay 1882: 15-16). Phatic communion, Malinowski says, does not serve the purpose of establishing a common sentiment, does not connect people in action, nor does it inform or express any thought.

It is easy enough to see that common greetings (Hi! How are you?), small talk (inquires about health, comments on weather, affirmations of some supremely obvious state of things), and gossip do not serve the classical speech functions but instead "serves to establish bonds of personal union between people brought together by the mere need of companionship" (Malinowski 1946[1923]: 315). This is the sense in which Roman Jakobson interpreted Malinowski's "phatic" when he introduced it into his own scheme of linguistic functions. Although Jakobson's phatic function is the most influential among the three, it is also the poorest.

In effect, Jakobson understands the phatic function of speech as a use of language focused on establishing, maintaining, or terminating contact. This concept is thoroughly pragmatic and technical, and unsurprisingly gave way to numerous hasty applications in conversation analysis and general linguistics (not to mention communication theory and semiotics). Nevertheless, from a historical perspective Jakobson misses the point of phatic communion almost completely, reducing it to greetings and formalities. Unsurprisingly, he himself does not elaborate the concept further and his whole corpus of writings contains just one (highly influential) paragraph on the matter.

Weston La Barre, on the other hand, does something completely different with the concept of phatic communion. Writing a few years before Jakobson, and with an anthropological focus rather than a linguistic (or semiotic), La Barre effectively "borrows" the term from Malinowski and completely reformulates it while still remaining more true to original intention than Jakobson. He regarded Malinowski's essay as evolutionally naïve, and derived his understanding of the matter from "putting the primatological facts adduced by Boutan and others side-by-side with the linguistic insights of Edward Sapir" (La Barre 1954: 349).

La Barre revives the ancient idea (from Democritus) that human speech arose from animal sounds of a merely emotional character, and does indeed supplement this insight with anthropological data, reformulating phatic communication as a type of emotional or nonverbal communication occurring through vocalization. This is much clearer than both Malinowski and Jakobson who interpellate the function but do not manage to confine it to a specific speech genre (greetings, small talk, and gossip may have phaticity in common, but surely do not exhaust the field). Instead of confining to a type of speech, La Barre attributes phaticity to vocalizations in general and holds that vocalizations communicates a generalized emotional tone throughout the group.
This is where I realize that I don't know nearly enough about specific aspects of La Barre's treatment of phatic communication as I think I do, and decided to read up on the relevant quotes I had gathered from The Human Animal back in autumn, writing the following section:
Weston La Barre does something completely different with the concept of phatic communion. Writing a few years before Jakobson, and with an anthropological focus rather than a linguistic (or semiotic) one, La Barre effectively "borrows" the term phatic from Malinowski and completely reformulates it while still remaining more true to original intention than Jakobson. He regarded Malinowski's essay as evolutionally naïve, and derived his understanding of the matter from "putting the primatological facts adduced by Boutan and others side-by-side with the linguistic insights of Edward Sapir" (La Barre 1954: 349).

In general, La Barre revives the ancient idea (which he traces to Democritus) that human speech arose from animal sounds of a merely emotional character, and does indeed supplement this insight with anthropological data, reformulating phatic communication as a type of emotional or nonverbal communication occurring through vocalization (note that the concept of nonverbal communication was a few years away from popular inception). As mentioned above, La Barre's treatment of phatic communication has a clearer sight and a broader reach, meaning that his formulation is paradoxically at once more specific and general.

While both Malinowski and Jakobson who interpellate the phatic function, they do not manage to confine it to a specific speech genre. Greetings, small talk, and gossip may have phaticity as a characteristic in common, but surely do not exhaust the field the term applies to. This issue is readily apparent in recent linguistic studies that variously interpret "phatic" constituents of language as pertaining to linguistic formalities, pragmatic markers, or even speech pauses. There are even those like Katharina Reiss (1981) who find no phatic linguistic particulars.

Instead of confining phatic communication to a type of speech, La Barre attributes phaticity to vocalizations in general and holds that vocalizations communicates a generalized emotional tone throughout the group. Thus, while Malinowski holds that words uttered in phatic communion do not "serve the purpose of establishing a common sentiment, for this is usually absent from such current phrases of intercourse" (Malinowski 1946[1923]: 313), La Barre holds that some mild form of common sentiment, such as "the same attitude toward a situation" (La Barre 1954: 57), is exactly what phatic communication is about.

The distinction originates from differing objects of study. Malinowski intended to outline a form of speech he discovered in the "primitive" use of language but which he saw as equally present in Western societ. La Barre on the other hand went from "primitive" to "primatological", and elucidated the place of phatic communication in the evolution of the human species, finding phatic communication (in the sense of nonverbal vocalizations) in a long list of human social situations as well as in the vocalizations that serve social purposes among other anthropoid animals.

In an attempt to combat Malinowski's linguistic, psychological, psychiatric, and anthropological "nonsense", as La Barre saw it, he takes the matter far beyond human history, and relates it to the facts of physical anthropology. In doing so, he recounts the evolution of our species, at least according to the level of knowledge available in contemporary literature, and instead of "one of the bedrock aspects of man's nature in society" as Malinowski would put it, he finds that "man is libidinally a very mouthy mammal" (La Barre 1954: 163).

How human animal's mouthiness was already known by then via neurology: "the representation of lips in the cerebral cortex is quite enormous in comparison with other parts of the body" (La Barre 1954: 88), despite the fact that the newborn human baby is generally very undeveloped neurologically, and many of its nerves do not grow to make final connections with muscles until a couple of years after birth. With this fact in mind, he starts the chapter about talking with the admonition that "the human mouth is not only the means of eating it is in other animals; it is also, in the beginning, the organ of human inter-individuality" (La Barre 1954: 163).

Likewise, Malinowski treats the aspect of pleasure in phatic communion, but does so in a social dimension, noting that the bonds created in such communion are asymmetrical because the speaker gains more social pleasure and self-enhancement than the listener. While this is certainly true, there is a more primitive sense of pleasure involved in speaking. La Barre writes that "the endless echolalia of the somewhat older babbler - who has discovered some of the moist and noisy tricks which the mouth and tongue, lips, larynx, and lungs can do - is obviously playing with pleasure" (La Barre 1954: 164). Before pleasure of speaking with another person there is pleasure in speaking, period.
And that's when I moved on to synthesize the textual foundations in a presentation form, with Inkscape (so that I could draw/illustrate it and make it more fun for myself. Here's the presentation, which I hope to some day finish.

After that I started re-organizing my bibliography of papers published in 2016 that say something about phaticity or can be written about in relation with phaticity. I also wrote two blog-posts, which I did not completely finish but which may contain ideas and passages publishable in a later paper. I also wrote a few letters to some researchers to ask their opinion about Austin's phatic act and Halliday's interactional (phatic) function.

And so I return to Phatica3 for a more free-form discussion, having now a more extensive bibliography and some new stuff to write about.


"Phaticity" is easy. I'm on board with calling the primary texts about phaticity by Malinowski, La Barre, and Jakobson foundational. That, I think, they certainly are. But instead of page-long quotations I could synthesize (already hav, I think) telescoped them into short, readable form. For example,
  • By phatic communion Bronislaw Malinowski (1946[1923]) means speech and verbal exchange like greetings and chit-chat at a time of leisure in a social setting (such as campfire, living-room, cocktail party, etc. conversation) whereby people do not (a) transmit thoughts and ideas (b) nor emotions and sentiments and (c) definitely not for the aim of unified social action but only to reduce the tension of silence and establish bonds of fellowship through talking.
  • By phatic communication Weston La Barre (1954) means nonverbal vocalizations and facial expressions between mother and child, lovers, college room-mates and other ingroups, which do not (a) make semantic statements about the world but does (b) communicate feeling or a generalized emotional tone througout the group, so that all members come to have the same attitude towards the situation and can (c) foresee the actions of its fellows by interpreting their attitudes.
  • By phatic function Roman Jakobson (1981[1960d]) means the function of messages that establish, prolong or discontinue communication, perform metacommunicative operations such as checking the channel, attracting and confirming continued attention, etc. displayed by a profuse exchange of ritualized formulas or entire dialogues meant to prolong or delay parting or termination of contact by sustaining the physical channel and the psychological connection between addresser and addressee.
I could go on with their similarities, differences, immediate influences, etc.

Including the quotes would make our paper something of a one-stop-shop, perhaps the last one for hundreds of miles; that is, it would be self-contained and thereby more citeable.
I've recently become more hopeful in this regard. While organizing my corpus of papers about phaticity in recent years I've taken note of how many tokens of the word "phatic" a given paper contains. It's a pretty arbitrary metric, but it is somewhat useful. For example, Phatica3 contains 150 tokens (excluding page headers). The only other resource that contains as many tokens is Patricia Prieto Blanco's doctoral thesis. Next is Maciej Witek's (2015) paper about Austin's phatic act with 110 tokens, and Richard Davies' (2016) paper about technobiophilia with 50 tokens. What this means to me is that there's hope for some sort of a tipping point in the near future.

Indeed, a literal timeline graphic might be useful, to show how the people we cite fit together.
I've started building something like that but it's somewhat difficult to keep it all together without getting too expansive. Ideally it could look like the schemes of Danish library/terminology researchers, Thellefsen and Jantzen (2003):
But I'm not sure yet how to make it happen so that it would at least include the textual foundations and immediate influences (e.g. Firth, Laver, Austin, Coupland, etc.).

Among the preliminary Minor usages and Related concepts, I'm on already board with these:
  • Robertson & Horace - phatic fountain; very minute and irrelevant, but neat illustration of the absurdity of the phatic function in other systems of signs.
  • Virilio - phatic image; this I think needs to be included anyway because Virilio, de Certeau, Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, and possibly many other French thinkers have at some point or another made some use of Jakobson's scheme of language functions but to my knowledge no-one has yet taken it upon themselves to bring these interesting interpretatinos together in any way.
  • Wang et al. - phatic technology; definite must-have because this topic has blown up this year; same with Miller's phatic media culture, which has really caught on.
  • Bateson - μ-function; also a must-have, at least among the influences for the textual foundations; I'm still sticking to my guns that Jakobson was inspired by Ruesch & Bateson's concept of metacommunication.
  • Jakobson - metalingual function; Jakobson is among the textual foundations already, but the relation between metalingual and phatic function could be elaborated in light on Ruesch & Bateson, not to mention some of his own writings (especially parts that involve code-switching, reflexivity, duplex structures, and the radius of communication).
These are unproblematic. There's enough to say about them with sufficient clarity. They tie in with other areas nicely, and the list could grow significantly if we include phatic infrastructure and labor, Austin's phatic act, not to mention all the related concepts like communization, sociability, conviviality, gregariousness, politeness, etc. But with the following ones I would need to do more research and deep thinking about how they would fit in smoothly.
  • Peirce - thirdness, phaneron; I still hold that phaneron and phatics are false friends, and an etymological story would require much more investigation into "phenomenon" and phenomenology; Thirdnes on the other hand is interesting. Right now, having just become a bit more acquainted with Austin's phatic act, I think Austin essentially interpreted Peirce when constructing the typology of locutionary acts (phonetic, phatic, and rhetic). Sadly their frames are pretty different, and even the distinction between Austin's rhetic and Peirce's rhematic is not very clear. I'm working on this line a bit.
  • Simondon - concretisation; as easy as this looks, it currently only hooks up with the topic of phatic technology (and phatic technological habituation). I'd like to take more ideas from Simondon. Your contribution in this regard would be very welcome. Let's elaborate this one soon.
  • Burke - identification; very complicated. I've tried to clarify the Mead-Morris-Burke line (Richard Fiordo was enlightening about Morris and Burke) but their jargon is complex and would require consulting Burke's books, which I haven't done yet.
  • Nisbett - sociocultural context; I'm not even familiar with this one but the concept itself is frequent enough in relevant literature. Drazdauskienė, for example, proposes a pretty neat functional approach to levels of contexts.
I've tried organizing my own Minor usages and Related concepts data but the work is currently still ongoing. There are just so many usages and concepts. For example, some of the newest "minor" uses include: phatic object (Fisher 2014), phatic value (Gorlée 2008), phatic activity (Jørgensen 2016), phatic one-liners (Rains, Brunner & Oman 2016), phatic language teaching (Helm 2016), phatic familiarity (Wilkinson 2016), phatic space (Yaqub 2016), etc. Some Related concepts, or even Related themes are: "People as Infrastructure" (Simone 2004) important for Elyachar (2010; 2012), Xiang & Lindquist (2014), and Seale (2016); and "Objects of Affect" (Edwards 2012) important for Blanco (2010; 2016).

I imagine a sort of "Cambrian explosion" of "phatic _______" terms and usages over the 1990s-2010s as people attempt to theorize the internet.
Well worded. I imagine that to be the case since there are more sources each year, and there's a definite growing trend from decade to decade, but I'm not sure when the explosion exactly occurs or how to represent data (even what qualifies as data is malleable). Some sort of graph could probably be composed based on compound variations (i.e. phatic speech, phatic talk, phatic conversation, phatic exchange, phatic communication, etc.) and when they chronologically appear, so that the graph actually compares the rate of terminological invention and variation, possibly from decade to decade from 1920-1970, by half-decades from 1970-1995, and finally by year up to the current one.

Now that I think about it these could be three different small graphs next to each other illustrating the trend, followed by a large table with terminological variations (with references) are distributed according to decades, half-decades, and then years. The problem here is that even if we amass this data it would blow up our bibliography unneedlessly. The good way to go about this would be not only to present these references as anonymous data-points but to say something about their use, what research domain they belong to, etc. This brings me to networks.

Back in December when I picked up the SIGCOM 2015 Proceedings I've thought about taking a network approach to phatic studies, i.e. to represent and explore the connections between dominant types and emergent trends of phatic thinking in terms of scientific communication networks, i.e. mutual awareness and influence between researchers, research groups, and research trends. Thus far I've managed to find two emulable examples of this kind of (meta-systemic) thinking (aside from, you know, Jurgen Ruesch who did this as well in the 1950s).

The first is "Social Network Approaches to Leadership: An Integrative Conceptual Review" by Carter, DeChurch, Braun & Contractor (2015), which attempts an integrative conceptual review of "the wide variety of relational perspectives implied by contemporary leadership theories". Notice the hedge: instead of contemporary leadership theories themselves they are reviewing the relational perspectives implied by such theories. This way, they have something of their own to set up as a standard for comparison. In our meta-analysis the textual foundations could serve as such a standard, at least up to a certain point.

Likewise, they say that they "We organize this prior research to facilitate understanding and integration across subdomains of this work, opening up fruitful new avenues for leadership inquiry" (ibid, 598). My argument is that integration across subdomains is an especially prevalent issue for phatic studies because phaticity is approached very differently in various disciplines. Not only is it necessary to consider the idiosyncracies of each individual approach but we must also find the significant points of conduct that would enable us to open up new and fruitful avenues of inquiry by pointing to researsch and conceptual work already conducted elsewhere, perhaps even in superficially unrelated areas of academic thought.

The second emulable example is "The extraction of community structures from publication networks to support ethnographic observations of field differences in scientific communication" by Velden & Lagoze (2013), which is a mouthful but puts forward a network approach to scientific communication and the scientific community of researchers in a research specialty. Ours is pretty specific, but would benefit from some "concretization". These authors point out the challenges involved in attempting to capture, compare, and analyse such communities because "they overlap, have fuzzy boundaries, and evolve over time". Now isn't that a truism manifest in phatic studies!

Some of the related concepts are probably cognates, some correlates. The lists above don’t get into all of the keywords (like attention, contact) which probably need at least paragraph-length explanations. Perhaps we should put these in a table too, though, partly just so that we can keep track of them.
I've tried to elucidate the keywords in the textual foundations, which go as follows:
  • Malinowski focuses on the ties of the moment or communion. It's role is to facilitate pure social interaction. It emphasizes propitiation which reduces tensions and elicits consent. It involves affirmation or casual agreement.
  • La Barre focuses on attitude or emotion. It's role is to reify intense emotional ties in relationships in order to accept interpersonal agreements about experiences. It emphasizes idiosyncracies of expression anh close emotional concern in repeated interpersonal contexts. It involves social organization and human sociability.
  • Jakobson fosuses on the means of communication or channel. It's role is to prolong communication and manage its course. It emphasizes the subcodes or speech patterns referring to and operating on communicative contact. It involves attention and mutual awareness.
Or, in telescoped phraseology:
  • Malinowski's phatic communion raises the question: Are we talking to each other? because if we are then we establish a linguistic bond, a verbal togetherness in social interaction which reduces attention by affirming that the Other is not dangerous.
  • La Barre's phatic communication raises the question: Do we understand each other? because understanding is deeper than mutual intelligibilty, it involves tuning in to the generalized emotional tone of the relationship, with consideration of its history and integration into the larger social order.
  • Jakobson's phatic function raises the question: Are we listening to each other? because his approach is quite more technical and focuses on the physical-mechanical operation of the communication channel, if psychological contact is continuing and facilitating mutual awareness and influence, i.e. feedback.
From here I would even go further and argue that these three can form a complete sentence:
  • It's not about meaning, because according to Malinowski the meaning of words in phatic communion cannot be connected with ongoing action, in fact words in phatic commuino do not convey meaning, the meaning of word in phatic communion are almost completely irrelevant;
  • it's about understanding because according to La Barre phatic communication does not have the semantic status of true words or statements but can nevertheless convey incredible amounts of meaning and evoke large constellations of understanding merely through communicative body noise and nonproductive, nonlinguistic vocal communication;
  • and attraction. - Which is my own conjecture because according to Jakobson the phatic function of communication serves to start and sustain communication before and during, above and beyond informative communication. I think that catching and holding people's attention is related to attraction, and can be related to both intimacy/affect as well as power/leadership with and within relationships and communities.
There are numerous noteworthy attempts to synthesize Malinowski and Jakobson, but something like this would probably the first to synthesize all three textual foundations. And it's just one way to go about it, there are quite a few alternative ways to do it even in relevant literature.

We might also want a table of Distant cousins, analogues, and possible parallels, which would be more speculative and tenuous, full of “What if...?” scenarios that probably shouldn’t be taken too seriously, but which are still evocative, and so should not be entirely ignored either:
This is a good idea, but again the list could become endless, and span several papers worth of discussion of why and how each cousin, analogue, and possible parallel is important or promising. I'll try to go over the ones in Phatica3:
  • economics - arbitrage; I have no idea what this means.
  • anthropology - reciprocity; Yes! Hymes' reciprocal expressive function; Mauss's study of economic reciprocity and its relation to phatic communion in "From Homo Economicus to Homo dialogicus" (Kent & Taylor 2016); phatic infrastructure, "a condition of connectivity, through which economies of care eventuate" (Nozawa 2016: 320); phatic qualia (Lemon 2013); etc. Since phatic communion is an anthropological concept the possibilities are virtually endless here.
  • media studies - mediation; Yes! Miller's (2008) phatic media culture and social media studies inspired by it (Romele & Severo 2016; Yunya, Dai & Wang 2016); co-presence through polymedia (Baldassar 2016) and Ambient co‐presence (Madianou 2016); the social sharing of location information in mobile social media (Bertel 2016); the incorporating mediated music into the relationship’s meaning system (Drew 2016); the assessments of affective valence of social media content (Gaspar et al. 2016); common affordances of social media (Hayes, Carr & Wohn 2016); etc.
  • modern geometry - optimal transport; No idea.
  • microbiology - quorum sensing; Possible lead to phaticity in biosemiotics, which the biosemioticians themselves have probable already conceptualized in some form or another. Should look into it. For example, Katya Mandoki (2014: 68) writes about the phatic function of fitness signals, cues or indicators that establish contact with another specimen by their salience, such as colour or brightness; Ponzio (2004: 42) writes about how many nonfunctional, dysfunctional, and ambivalent vital signs of the body or seemingly futile signs of phatic communication are insensible to humanity in today's world where the logic of production and the rules that govern the market allows everything to be exchanged and commodified; Cowley (2012: 285) writes about how some cultural groups favour phatic communion over direct experience; Lestel (2002: 41) says that animal metacommunications are not necessarily phatic, and outlines some animal vocalizations that constitute comments on the social relations they are engaged in; and Haładewicz-Grzelak (2014: 306-307) investigates phatic communion and exhortation in a semiotic ethnography of the Licheń pilgrimage center, and how future-tense imperative texts contain irrealized, non-factive (or non-certive) propositions. It looks like the phatic function is pretty popular in biosemiotic literature, but it might take some digging to reach some actual microbiological examples. Maybe consulting some actual biosemioticians would come in handy.
  • chemistry - morphodynamics; Something about ergodic processes, way beyond my comprehension.
  • effector systems - entrainment; Also beyond me, probably.
  • psychoanalysis - transitional objects; I don't know about transitional objects, but Glassgold (2011: 785) writes about positioning the subject within a symbolic order of brother and father, which is the phatic effect Jacques André aimed for to find a playful relation to his work; Hook (2013: 44-45) finds analogies between Lacan and Austin, and says that empty speech purified of imaginary trapping resonates with Jakobson's phatic function; Ferro & Foresti (2008: 75-76) underline the theoretical novelty implicit in the psychological conception of the object with the admonishion that the other functions subordinated to the referential function (including phatic) should be viewed as dependent on them since, for example, even the contact is referential and a structural component essential to decoding reference; Dow & Wright (2010: 313) review how Scott Krzych addresses the claim that new technologies mark a decisive break with "human" ways of knowing and elaborates Virilio's phatic image by arguing that such technologically-generated images - with their own agency and command over the viewer's attention dissolves all notion of context and the historical contingency of its own production - give consistency to the subject's dependency upon the signifier and the singularity of subjective desire; Arbiser (2014: 731) discusses David Liberman's Dramatic style that "searches for the unknown and creates suspense", and how the phatic function "alludes to the capacity of the ego to obtain contact with the object with a minimum of information transmission and maximum security in the connection".
  • urban planning - third spaces; de Certeau is attributed with drawing a correlation between the phatic function and territoriality, but this identification can be found in numerous theoretical pieces about urban planning and research.
  • immunology - boundaries; Out of my reach.
  • macrobiology - envorganism; Same.
  • game theory - cooperation; Cooperation figures in to Ruesch's social techniques, but other than that I don't know what to do with it.
After searching EBSCO for biosemiotics or psychoanalysis + phatic and finding numerous publications, I'm pretty sure that both could hold more such interesting instances. The problem here is that they're very specific ideas expressed in quite illustrious language. It feels like there are ideas there that need some rumination and rephrasing but could lead to completely new avenues.

The crux of the issue here is that many of these single-token sources contain a golden nugget of an idea about phaticity, but it requires some further interpretive chains to translate the idea into more classically phatic terminology and see if and how it fits into the overall groundwork we're constructing. I imagine this could be achieved by taking up the single-token source quotes I've gathered and mixing ideas and expressions creatively without a second thought about proper citations and jargon.

As to attested application domains, we could probably make the list pretty concrete by considering the domains with most papers and tokens. Back when I tried writing "Phatics, phaticity, and phatic studies", I also attempted an outline and systematization of relevant research domains by creating a tentative list of some of the more prevalent ones, categorized according to Ruesch's levels of abstraction:
1. Intrapersonal
  • Phatic literary studies that focus on the phatic function of language in literature or phatic communi(cati)on between characters in the literary world.
  • Phatic qualia studies that focus on the subjective first-hand experiential impressions of communicative contacts and interpersonal relationships.
  • Phatic philosophy studies that interpret or reframe phaticity according to some philosophical authority or system.
1-2.Integration between intrapersonal and interpersonal
  • Functionalist phatic studies that continue the Jakobsonian lineage most distinctly by focusing on linguistic analysis of speech phenomena that could be said to carry the role of the phatic function.
  • Phatic speech act studies that consider the role of phatic acts in Austinian speech act theory.
  • Cognitive phatic studies that apply the pragmatic Relevance Theory approach by suggesting a phatic interpretation of willingness, intention, and semantic effort in the sociocognitive environment of the individual.
2. Interpersonal
  • Phatic language studies are the most common type of phatic research, focusing on the social functioning of language or verbal communication.
  • Phatic gesture studies which elucidate the nonverbal, paralinguistic, and embodied aspects of digital media communication and conversational texts in social interaction.
  • Phatic politeness studies typically involve both linguistic and nonlinguistic phatic expressions and how they relate to culturally conditioned tacit knowledge of polite interaction.
  • Phatic healthcare studies take up language, gesture, and politeness in healthcare situations such as medical consultations and patient-nurse/doctor interactions.
2-3. Integration between interpersonal and group
  • Anthropological phatic studies that continue the Malinowskian lineage by investigating the communal role of speech and language in maintaining affinity, solidarity, and a sense of community.
  • Phatic labor studies view communication as effort aimed at achieving economic exchange through microlevel interactions.
  • Phatic visual media studies that investigate social upkeep of close interpersonal relations in terms of phatic or networked photography and phatic photo sharing in contemporary highly mediatized societies.
  • Phatic pedagogical studies mostly focus on second language acquisition and how verbal politeness figures in becoming a competent communicator.
3. Group
  • Phatic technology studies that investigate the role of phatic technologies, which are used to strengthen social bonds and to establish and maintain the possibility of communication with others via computer-mediated communication technologies.
3-4. Integration between group and society
  • Phatic polity studies which employ the concept of voice and how the voice of a specific group is represented in the broader communicative context of the polity.
4. Society
  • Phatic media culture studies that focus on the role of modern technological affordances by defining phaticity as a sociol-cultural trend in the contexts of network sociality and the rise of database culture.
  • Phatic social media studies are very similar to phatic media culture studies but focus instead on how technological affordances influence social relations instead of cultural norms.
  • Phatic translation studies are an offshoot of phatic language studies but imply a form of communication between linguistically distinct cultures.
But this is extremely arbitrary, especially because I haven't yet an idea how to justify each type of study belonging to a certain (inter-)level. If the grounds for this division be spelled out, it could undergo radical alterations. And at the end of the day this is a heuristic of doubtful value. At best it would enable us to divide a good portion of published studies into more-or-less coherent topical headings according to these quasi-domains.

This discussion pretty much exhausts the topic of "Textual foundations of phatic studies" for now. There is a lot left to be said, but for now it'll do. I'll try to respond to other sections in Phatica3 soon. Let me know if you have any ideas about any of this.


  • Arbiser, Samuel 2014. David Liberman's legacy. International Journal of Psychoanalysis 95(4): 719-738.
  • Baldassar, Loretta 2016. De-demonizing distance in mobile family lives: co-presence, care circulation and polymedia as vibrant matter. Global Networks 16(2): 145-163.
  • Bertel, Troels Fibæk 2016. 'Why would you want to know?': The Reluctant use of location sharing via check-ins on Facebook among Danish youth. Convergence: The Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 22(2): 162-176.
  • Blanco, Patricia Prieto 2010. Family Photography as a phatic construction. Networking Knowledge: Journal of the MeCCSA Postgraduate Network 3(2).
  • Blanco, Patricia Prieto 2016. Affect and Affordances: case studies of transnational digital family photography. Unpublished PhD thesis supervised by Tony Tracy and Anne Byrne. National University of Ireland, Galway.
  • Bühler, Karl 2011[1934]. Theory of Language: The representational function of language. Translated by Donald Fraser Goodwin in collaboration with Achim Eschbach. Amsterdam; Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
  • Carter, Dorothy R.; Leslie A. DeChurch, Michael T. Braun and Noshir S. Contractor 2015. Social Network Approaches to Leadership: An Integrative Conceptual Review. Journal of Applied Psychology 100(3): 597-622.
  • Clay, Edmund R. 1882. The Alternative: A Study in Psychology. London: MacMillan and Co.
  • Cowley, Stephen J. 2012. Linguistic fire and human cognitive powers. Pragmatics & Cognition 20(2): 275-294.
  • Davies, Richard 2016. Ceaselessly Exploring, Arriving Where We Started and Knowing It for the First Time. Studies in Philosophy and Education 35(3): 293-303.
  • Dow, Suzanne and Colin Wright 2010. Introduction: Towards a Psychoanalytic Reading of the Posthuman. Paragraph 33(3): 299-317.
  • Drew, Rob 2016. The space between: Mix taping as a ritual of distance. Popular Communication: The International Journal of Media and Culture, DOI: 10.1080/15405702.2015.1084627
  • Edwards, Elizabeth 2012. Objects of Affect: Photography Beyond the Image. Annual Review of Anthropology 41: 221-234.
  • Elyachar, Julia 2010. Phatic labor, infrastructure, and the question of empowerment in Cairo. American Ethnologist 37(3): 452-464.
  • Elyachar, Julia 2012. Next Practices: Knowledge, Infrastructure, and Public Goods at the Bottom of the Pyramid. Public Culture 24(1): 109-129.
  • Ferro, Antonino and Giovanni Foresti 2008. "Objects" and "characters" in psychoanalytical texts/dialogues. International Forum of Psychoanalysis 17(2): 71-81.
  • Fisher, Roger C. 2014. How Ancient Europeans Saw the World. Visual Anthropology 27(5): 465-467.
  • Gaspar, Rui; Cláudia Pedro, Panos Panagiotopoulos and Beate Seibt 2016. Beyond positive or negative: Qualitative sentiment analysis of social media reactions to unexpected stressful events. Computers in Human Behavior 56: 179-191.
  • Glassgold, Eric 2011. 'Laura' falling down: Comments and fantasies about Jacques André's essay. International Journal of Psychoanalysis 92(4): 783-789.
  • Gorlée, Dinda L. 2008. Jakobson and Peirce: Translational intersemiosis and symbiosis in opera. Sign Systems Studies 36(2): 342-374.
  • Haładewicz-Grzelak, Małgorzata 2014. The segmentation of phenomenological space in Licheń as an example of double binds. Semiotica 200(2): 275-312.
  • Hayes, Rebecca A.; Caleb T. Carr and Donghee Yvette Wohn 2016. One Click, Many Meanings: Interpreting Paralinguistic Digital Affordances in Social Media. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 60(1): 171-187.
  • Helm, Francesa 2016. Facilitated Dialogue in Online Intercultural Exchange. In: O'Dowd, Robert and Tim Lewis (eds.), Online Intercultural Exchange: Policy, Pedagogy, Practice. Clevedon; Buffalo; Toronto: Multilingual Matters LTD., Ch. 8.
  • Hook, Derek 2013. Nixon's 'full-speech': Imaginary and symbolic registers of communication. Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology 33(1): 32-50.
  • Jakobson, Roman 1981[1960d]. Linguistics and poetics. In: Rudy, Stephen (ed.), Selected Writings III: Poetry of Grammar and Grammar of Poetry. The Hague (etc.): Mouton de Gruyter, 18-51.
  • Jørgensen, Annette Myre 2016. Emotions and Vocatives in Spanish Teenage Talk: Emotions Expressed through the Vocative Discourse Marker tio/a in Madrid Teenage Talk. In: González, Ana Marta (ed.), The Emotions and Cultural Analysis. New York: Routledge, 145-162.
  • Kent, Michael L. and Maureen Taylor 2016. From Homo Economicus to Homo dialogicus: Rethinking social media use in CSR communication. Public Relations Review 42(1): 60-67.
  • La Barre, Weston 1954. The Human Animal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Lemon, Alaina 2013. Touching the gap: Social qualia and Cold War contact. Anthropological Theory 13(1-2): 67-88.
  • Lestel, Dominique 2002. The biosemiotics and phylogenesis of culture. Social Science Information 41(1): 35-68.
  • Madianou, Mirca 2016. Ambient co‐presence: transnational family practices in polymedia environments. Global Networks, glob.12105.
  • Malinowski, Bronislaw 1946[1923]. The Problem of Meaning in Primitive Languages. In: Ogden, C. K. & I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism. Eighth edition. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 296-336.
  • Mandoki, Katya 2014. Zoo-aesthetics: A natural step after Darwin. Semiotica 198(1): 61-91.
  • Miller, Vincent 2008. New Media, Networking and Phatic Culture. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 14(4): 387-400.
  • Nozawa, Shunsuke 2016. Aging and Loss: Mourning and Maturity in Contemporary Japan by Jason Danely (review). Anthropological Quarterly 89(1): 319-324.
  • Ogden, C. Kay and Ivor A. Richards 1946[1923]. The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism. Eighth edition. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.
  • Ponzio, Augusto 2004. Dialogism and biosemiotics. Semiotica 150(1): 39-60.
  • Rains, Stephen A.; Steven R. Brunner and Kyle Oman 2016. Self-disclosure and new communication technologies. Journal of Social & Personal Relationships 33(1): 42-61.
  • Reiss, Katharina 1981. Type, Kind and Individuality of Text: Decision Making in Translation. Poetics Today 2(4): 121-131.
  • Romele, Alberto and Marta Severo 2016. The Economy of the Digital Gift: From Socialism to Sociality Online. Theory, Culture & Society, DOI: 10.1177/0263276415619474
  • Seale, Kristen 2016. Markets, Places, Cities. New York: Routledge.
  • Simone, AbdouMaliq 2004. People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg. Public Culture 16(3): 407-429.
  • Thellefsen, Torkild and Christian Jantzen 2003. What relations are: A case study of conceptual relations, displacement of meaning and knowledge profiling. Sign Systems Studies 31(1): 109-132.
  • Velden, Theresa and Carl Lagoze 2013. The extraction of community structures from publication networks to support ethnographic observations of field differences in scientific communication. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 64(12): 2405-2427.
  • Wilkinson, Tom 2016. Art History on the Radio: Walter Benjamin and Wilhelm Pinder, 1930/1940. Oxford Art Journal 39(1): 49-66.
  • Witek, Maciej 2015. Linguistic underdeterminacy: A view from speech act theory. Journal of Pragmatics 76: 15-29.
  • Xiang, Biao and Johan Lindquist 2014. Migration Infrastructure. International Migration Review 48(1): 122-148.
  • Yaqub, Nadia 2016. Working with Grassroots Digital Humanities Projects: The Case of the Tall al-Za'tar Facebook Groups. In: Muhanna, Elias (ed.), The Digital Humanities and Islamic & Middle East Studies. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 103-116.
  • Yunya, Song; Xin-Yu Dai and Jia Wang 2016. Not All Emotions are Created Equal: Expressive Behavior of the Networked Public on China's Social Media Site. Computers in Human Behavior 60: 525-533.

Phatic Interference

Another idea I had while typing up Phatic Agency was the concept of phatic interference. I came to it while thinking about how in the autonomy of the artistic text the message function, which in Mukarovsky and Jakobson (as well as Lotman, who follows both) is the aesthetic or poetic (in Lotman, cultural) function, shifts from MESSAGE to CONTEXT. This makes total sense in terms of self-referentiality, i.e. autonomy or intraversive semiosis, so that in the aesthetic function the message is about the message. So, too, in the metalingual function, the message is about the code. In the end, when the channel becomes self-referential, i.e. when there are messages about contact, the channel becomes the CONTEXT (it shifts to it, just as code does in metalingual operations and message in artistic activity).

But now things get a bit more complex, because then I thought about the meta- and para-channel, i.e. receivers who are not part of the communication system in terms of mutual influence but are observing/listening/tapping-in, and senders who are not part of the communication system in terms of mutual awareness but are observed/talked-about/referenced. In the paradoxical para-channel the third person is referential, while in the meta-channel the third person is phatic. Weird, huh?

It gets even weirder, because the third and last idea in this series involves a turn-around of positions. Imagine that you are engaging in informative, practical, cognitive, ideational, referential communication and the meta-channel and para-channel overlap for you: You hear someone talking about you ("hear" could be replaced with "observe" or even "read"). In this odd "typomanic" situation you are simultaneously overhearing communication not meant for you as well as being part of the referential, contextual content of the communication.

Where things get interesting is when you understand this meta-para-channel overlap in terms of interference and mix it with John Austin's types of locutionary acts (phonetic, phatic, and rhetic). I've currently only read one paragraph of Austin's text (out of the 12 that centain the token "phatic"), but it's already enough to spark an interesting crossover. But first lets go over what these terms mean in the following excerpt:
[...] to say anything is
(A. a) always to perform the act of uttering certain noises (a 'phonetic' act), and the utterance is a phone;
(A. b) always to perform the act of uttering certain vocables or words, i.e. noises of certain types belonging to and as belonging to a certain vocabulary, in a certain construction, i.e. conforming to and as conforming to a certain grammar, with a certain intonation, &c. This act we may call a 'phatic' act, and the utterance which it is the act of uttering a 'pheme' (as distinct from the phoneme of linguistic theory); and
(A. c) generally to perform the act of using that pheme or its constituents with a certain more or less definite 'sense' and a more or less definite 'reference' (which together are equivalent to 'meaning'). This act we may call a 'rhetic' act, and the utterance which it is the act of uttering a 'rheme'. (Austin 1962[1955]: 92-93)
I'll rely on the understanding that "The locutionary act is the sum of the phonetic, the phatic and the rhetic acts" (Grünberg 2014: 175) to interpret Austin (1962[1955]: 92-93) saying that "to say anything" is to proceed through these incrementally (or hierarchically) ascending acts from
  1. meaningless noises, i.e. certain utterances that are mere phones, i.e. sounds
  2. to vocalizations (vocables or words) or noises that belong to a vocabulary, in a sentence with a grammar, and has an intonation, and
  3. finally to actually saying something that makes sense of, refers to, and means something.
What I would do is make a leap of jump that when Austin delivered his William James lectures in 1955 he might have relied on Weston La Barre's The Human Animal (1954) published the previous year. If this hypothesis holds then what Austin actually means by a 'phatic' act is nonlinguistic vocalization. It might have been that "nonlinguistic" was too broad and ambiguous for Austin, since his locutionary acts are linguistic, after all. By the same logic I would protest against the phatic act, at least in this instance, because I'd like to view these acts as subtypes of phatic interference. For this reason I would rename the phatic act as the vocalic act.

By interference I mean the phenomenon studied by John Schopler and Janet E. Stockdale in "An interference analysis of crowding" (1977). At the outset I'd like to mention that crowding is inherent to the phatic communion discourse but almost completely neglected. Malinowski has a footnote to phatic communion about the herd instinct, and Jurgen Ruesch - when treating sociability, a synonym of phatic communion - uses the term herd instinct freely. And recently I saw (on reddit probably) an unrelated paper in social psychology about the herd instinct (or herd mentality) actually being a real thing.

These authors find various definitions for crowding (i.e. perceived inadequacy of space, restrictions in behavioral choices, excessive stimulation from social sources, especially from familiar or inappropriate contacts, unwanted social interactions, interference and blocking, or inability to attain desired levels of privacy (Schopler & Stockdale 1977: 82). They have a whole theory about how crowding interferes with goal attainment because it raises the costs of enacting behaviors (ibid, 82), and increases scarcity of fixed resources like space and time, and unfixed resources like the soundscape (bio- and antropohony), especially strepital (nonvocal sounds) and phatic (nonlinguistic vocal).

In fact, at this point I'd make another terminological correction. Instead of phonetic interference I would go by Roger Wescott's types of biosocial communication (1966: 350), so that the first type of distal auditory interference is strepital, strepitus meaning "communicative body noise" like hand-clapping, foot-stamping, face-slapping, tooth-gnashing, whistling, spitting, coughing, and snoring (ibid, 351). The second type of distar auditory unterference is phatic, which is (semantically) nonproductive, nonlinguistic vocal communication (after La Barre).

Such terminological equivalences are confirmed by tertiary sources. Grünberg (2014: 192) references Alexander Bird (2002) treating "groans" as a speech act, and adds that "Arguably such cases do not even cross the phatic act treshold." In effect, groans are communicative body noise or strepitus, meaning that they are certain noises coming out of the body, in this case a deep inarticulate sound in response to pain or despair. This is why I think "strepital" is a good replacement for "phonetic". It emphasizes inarticulate sounds. When the inarticulate sounds become more articulate and begins to sound like language, with all its unique qualities, it becomes phatic.

And lastly, when the quasi-linguistic vocalizations become more articulate due to their sense and reference coming together to form meaning, it becomes rhetic. The last type is linguistic according to Wescott, and could succumb to further terminological replacement if something more suitable appears. All-in-all, what we end up with is something like this:
Table 1: A terminological comparison between constituents of a locutionary act (Austin 1962) and types of distal auditory biosocial communication (Wescott 1966).
Austin Wescott
a phonetic act / verbal strepital / communicative body noise
a phatic act / syntactic phatic / nonlinguistic vocalization
a rhetic act / semantic linguistic
A more suitable replacement for rhetic could possibly derived from the works of William James (e.g. 1904) or Charles Peirce. The latter was the first to my knowledge to use the term rhematic, which may or may not be related to rhetic. Ahti-Veikko Pietarinen (2004) writes about "Austin's dichotomy" and how he was a proponent of ordinary language philosophy. Pietarinen (2004: 297) quotes Austin saying that he does not believe Peirce distinguishes between a sentence and a statement, and that Austin means utterance as a sentence and assertion as a statement. So at least so much is clear that Austin did indeed read and revise Peirce.

It may very well be that Peirce has better terminology for a lot of half-baked conceptions in phatic studies. There are some studies in that approach phaticity via some Peircean conception or model or other, but no straightforward examination. Come to think of it, it's funny how Austin's philosophy leads him to construct such a complicated system of linguistics, just like E. R. Clay's (1882) common sense realism led him to a work of definition so productive that it still hasn't been cracked. He, too, prefigured other semioticians with an intricate and consistent theory of signs and communication.). A significant phatic reading of Peirce and Clay are yet to be seen, but hopefull my current efforts will lead to a neophatic interpretation of Austin's speech act theory.


  • Austin, John L. 1962[1955]. How to do things with Words: The William James Lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1955. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Bird, Alexander 2002. Illocutionary Silencing. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 83(1): 1-15.
  • Clay, Edmund R. 1882. The Alternative: A Study in Psychology. London: MacMillan and Co.
  • Grünberg, Angela 2014. Saying and Doing: Speech Actions, Speech Acts and Related Events. European Journal of Philosophy 22(2): 173-199.
  • James, William 1904. The Pragmatic Method. The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 1(25): 673-687.
  • La Barre, Weston 1954. The Human Animal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Pietarinen, Ahti-Veikko 2004. Grice in the wake of Peirce. Pragmatics & Cognition 12(2): 295-315.
  • Schopler, John and Janet E. Stockdale 1977. An interference analysis of crowding. Journal of Environmental Psychology and Nonverbal Behavior 1(2): 81-88.
  • Wescott, Roger W. 1966. Introducing Coenetics: A Biosocial Analysis of Communication. The American Scholar 35(2): 342-354.

Phatic Agency

I've been organizing all the sources that Google Alert has sent my way, i.e. resources published in 2016 that say something citeable about phaticity, and I've almost reached 100 references. The idea is to organizing their content in terms of the topics already outlined in "metaphatics metaeverything" and start writing about them. This one came in just a few hours ago, and it's good enough to post here for further discussion.
Yet if objects and images can work in this way, not simply as vessels but as agents, so too, as Mitchell implied, can language. 'Communications about communication' is how Gregory Bateson explained his coinage metacommunication, those formalized, ritualized exchanges that are nevertheless highly meaningful. In Roman Jakobson's famous model of the six factors and functions of language, this phatic function of language is fulfilled by the contact factor, 'a physical channel and psychological connection between the addresser and the addressee, enabling both of them to enter and stay in communication'. It is the contact that bears the message that refers to a given context in a mutually intelligible code from the addresser to the addressee. Although Jakobson acknowledged that the predominant factor in many messages was the context, and the predominant function referential, he left significant space for messages that emphasized the phatic function of language. These messages are ones intended primarily 'to establish, to prolong, or to discontinue communication, to check whether the channel works', indeed 'to attract the attention of the interlocutor or to confirm his continued attention'. Furthermore, like objects, including diplomatic gifts, those communications in which the phatic function is especially prominent may be characterized by 'a profuse exchange of ritualized formulas' or by 'entire dialogues with the mere purport of prolonging communication'. This phatic function, therefore, is communication-as-agency, or, to put it in Gellian terms, message/contact-as-index. As we shall soon see, this function of communication was a significant factor in Kind René's cultural politics. (Margolis 2016: 12)
  • The non-human semiotic agency of objects and images is an increasingly popular topic revolving around phatics. For example,
    • Benjamin Smith "develops an approach to semiotically mediated processes of socialization that can make sense of the agency that non-humans - especially material things - wield in socialization" and how "the agency of non-humans more generally - opens onto a new line of inquiry for scholars of language socialization (Smith 2016: 42-43).
    My argument here would be that non-human semiotic agents (i.e. artificial intelligence) could act in a way comparable to parents, peers, and siblings in the future, just as computer mediated communication acts more and more so today. Patricia Prieto Blanco's doctoral dissertation (Affect and Affordances, 2016) brings phaticity together with the concept of affordances, which could be read as a first approximation of the question of how human and non-human semiotic agencies themselves are established. On this note I'd rely on the ideas of Juri Lotman and by proxy the Russian Formalist ideas about the autonomy of literary works. Namely,
    • Lotman's (1988[1981]) cultural semiotic concept of text says that an artistic text, a work of art, "marks a qualitatively new stage in the growing complexity of the structure of a text" (Lotman 1988[1981]: 55). By complexity he means multilayeredness and semiotic heterogeneity, so that it can "entering into complex relations both with the surrounding cultural context and with its readers" (ibid, 55). Multilayeredness manifests itself in the text acquiring memory, and heterogeneity in its capacity to condense information. In other words, a complex semiotic system can function as an intellectual device or an artificial intelligence or a non-human agency because it transforms reality according to its own complex rules of organization, rather than reflecting reality mechanically. It can not only transmit information but transform it and develop new information.
    • In the same article, Lotman outlines his famous five-fold model of cultural interactions involved in communication via text. I'll illustrate these with our inter-cultural case, because it elucidates some interesting facets:
      1. Communication between addressant and addressee. A text carries information. I communicate with you. Simplex.
      2. Communication between the audience and the cultural tradition. Since a text can function as a carrier of collective cultural memory, it is capable of replenishing itself for you, meaning that you can retrieve some aspect of it at a later date that you didn't notice or understand earlier. Since a text has so much cultural memory condensed inside it, it is possible to read it repeatedly and arrive at novel interpretations. In this way You communicate with the memory of the Text. The text has become a transcommunicative partner (has as-if "shifted into" that position, meaning that code may be able to do the same - which it actually does, metalinguistically). This is so because text is fixed and can outlast uttered words. The same goes for all recorded and stored media.
      3. Communication of the reader with himself. This is just autocommunication or intrapersonal communication, i.e. You communicate with yourself while reading the text. Peirce describes this as giving signs to yourself, or that future self just coming into being in the flow of time. This topic can be very complex. I'm wondering why Lotman doesn't include the sender's autocommunication, i.e. the communicative processes going on while writing, composing, or constructing a text.
      4. Communication of the reader with the text. Lotman's theory here is that a highly organized text that manifests intellectual properties ceases to be a mere mediator in the act of communication and becomes a fully equal communication partner with a high degree of autonomy. This is how artwork takes on a life of its own. He invokes the profoundly meaningful ancient metaphor of conversing with a book. In other words, You communicate with the text.
      5. Communication between a text and the cultural context. This is where the text becomes a fully fledged artificial intelligence capable of communicating with and having a special effect on the reader apart from the intentions of the author. It becomes an autonomous source or receiver of information (ibid, 56). When such highly complex cultural texts enter different cultural chronotopes it can self-recode itself in accordance with the context of the situation, transforming itself in light of new codes. In this case, The text communicates with your culture.
      In this model, Lotman takes a sytemic viewpoint in which signs, codes, texts, and cultures are systems and metasystems. It is also one occasion where Lotman and Bakhtin (or at least Medvedev) disagree. William Marling says that "both men were in revolt against the autonomy that Russian Formalism granted texts" (1994: 278). Nevertheless, the concept of ideologeme, according to the logic Marling outlines, points to the way the social context is refracted in a text. It is possible that there is no actual disagreement, at least not with Lotman, if his later systemic thinking is taken into consideration. Texts are not indeed safe from ideologemes, since these are presumable a natural part of the sociocultural context.
    • Blanco's (2016) thesis advocates a view of photography that emphasizes the phatic dimension of communication. Her critical reading of phatic communication as an emotion-based process and it's significance in modern digital image sharing practices leads her to question the affordances for connection between human users and non-human agencies (online services, platforms, and spaces). Keep in mind that online polymedia environments are some of the most massive and complex cultural sign systems currently in existence. Not only are they multilayered and heterogeneous, they are increasingly veering towards artificial intelligence (Google's DeepMind, Facebook's A.I., Omegle, Twitterbots, etc.).
  • What really caught my attention in this quote from Oren Margolis is his invocation of Gregory Bateson's metacommunication, or communication about communication. It is kinda odd to see him describe metacommunicative messages as "'Communications about communication' is how Gregory Bateson explained his coinage metacommunication, those formalized, ritualized exchanges that are nevertheless highly meaningful" (Margolis 2016: 12). It is most definitely an apt description, but it is also a common phaticism, e.g. Jakobson's "profuse exchange of ritualized formulas" (1981[1960d]: 24) and further down the line Malinowski's "formulae of greeting or approach" (1946[1923]: 314).
    • In Blanco's thesis (2016) she writes that the intermittent but ongoing digital encounters generate ontological security for transnational families. This, she says, challenges the notion of digital ephemerality. It is certainly somewhat difficult to penetrate this nomenclature, but the relevant concepts mirror more common terms like ambient copresence, and illustrations to this effect are abound in relevant research. For example, when you enable geolocation on your smartdevice and attach your location to every status update, you're providing further information or cues through which the update can be interpreted (e.g. Madianou 2016: 11). In other words, locative media or geolocation messages act as metacommunication.
    • The first known explicit appearance of metacommunication is fact political: the leader of an American party has to maintain integration in a group with diverse opinions about matters about which he must make decisions. Metacommunication is here framed in terms of nonverbal feedback to a verbal utterance: "Whenever he speaks, each utterance is a trial balloon, and he continually watches those behind him to see how far he can go". They affirm that in conventional (psychiatric) terms this is called "reality testing" but propound a viewpoint that this is more like "asking an implicit question about his own statements" or asking "What effect will my utterance have upon relations between my supporters and myself?" (Ruesch & Bateson 1951a: 152).
This list could be fruitfully continued to connect a series of otherwise disparate ideas, but not right now.


  • Blanco, Patricia Prieto 2016. Affect and Affordances: case studies of transnational digital family photography. Unpublished PhD thesis supervised by Tony Tracy and Anne Byrne. National University of Ireland, Galway.
  • Jakobson, Roman 1981[1960d]. Linguistics and poetics. In: Rudy, Stephen (ed.), Selected Writings III: Poetry of Grammar and Grammar of Poetry. The Hague (etc.): Mouton de Gruyter, 18-51.
  • Lotman, Juri M. 1988[1981]. The Semiotics of Culture and the Concept of a Text. Soviet Psychology 26: 52-58.
  • Malinowski, Bronislaw 1946[1923]. The Problem of Meaning in Primitive Languages. In: Ogden, C. K. & I. A. Richards, The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism. Eighth edition. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 296-336.
  • Margolis, Oren 2016. The Politics of Culture in Quattrocento Europe: René of Anjou in Italy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Marling, William 1994. The formal ideologeme. Semiotica 98(3/4): 277-299.
  • Ruesch, Jurgen and Gregory Bateson 1951a. Communication and The System of Checks and Balances: An Anthropological Approach. In: Ruesch, Jurgen and Gregory Bateson, Communication: The Social Matrix of Psychiatry. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 150-167.
  • Smith, Benjamin 2016. Turning language socialization ontological: Material things and the semiotics of scaling time in Peruvian Aymara boyhood. Language and Communication 46: 42-50.

Thursday, April 14, 2016


This animation reminded me of the earlier ones by Kurzgesagt. Since I just saw the video, I certainly haven't had a chance to look at the book, Capture: Unraveling the Mystery of Mental Suffering, which in any case was just released two days ago.  But I did have a curiously-related conversation w/ a friend at the local beer garden about the difference between "optimism" and "pessimism".  And the images in the video remind me of the Whiteheadean idea of "feeling".  Noting this here in case it comes in handy later.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

two kinds of community

I'm looking at David Foster Wallace and "The Long Thing": New Essays on the Novels (ed. by Marshall Boswell).  After reading Infinite Jest, I find myself pulled in by the world of Wallace studies.  The idea of community and communication (and the breakdown and enablers of the same) in Wallace seem to relate to phatic studies.  Here are a couple of quotes from Boswell's book that convey ideas of two different kinds of community:

In the first conceptualization of community... individuals are: pre-existing subjectivities.  These subjectivities have bound themselves together with other subjectivities for the common good.  Their mode of communication with one another can be called "intersubjectivity".   Literature within such a community is the imitation, or reflection, or representation of community.
and (2):

[In] the second conceptualization of community... [i]n place of individuals with self-enclosed subjectivities, Nancy puts singularities that are aboriginally partagés, shared, sheared, open to an abyssal outside.  Singularities are extroverted, exposed to other singularities at the limit point where everything vanishes.  Language in such a community becomes literature, writing, not sacred myth.  Literature is the expression of the unworking of community.

The citations are to Hillis Miller's On Literature and Jean-Luc Nancy's La communauté désoeuvrée.  The question of writing vs myth reminds me of the discussion (a couple blog posts ago) of Eliade, and inventors vs hunters.

Just one concrete example from Wallace's text (as read by Boswell) may do to illustrate the way these ideas are being used:
Ugly as it is, The Storrow 500 [pictured above -JC] has become available to the novel's lyric register, which so often acts as a transition between scenes.
With the thought that people are not directly able to communicate with each other by default, introducing and developing specific symbols along the boundary (between and across characters, scenes, reader, writer, registers of constative, performative, descriptive, or literary).  If people are by default stuck in something like a "private language" (but see earlier post on distributed cognition for some doubts about that), introducing these kinds of cross-over terms, images, and reference points becomes necessary for communication to take place.

Quotes above are from the chapter: Modelling Community and Narrative in Infinite Jest and The Pale King by Andrew Warren, which looks like a slight reworking of: Warren, Andrew. 2012. Narrative Modeling and Community Organizing in The Pale King and Infinite Jest. Studies in the Novel 44, no. 4: 389–408.

another quick thought here, about phatic communication in literature.  Inner quote is from Conversations with David Foster Wallace.