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Peirce’s semeiotics: a methodology for bridging the material–ideational divide in IR scholarship

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 January 2017

Alena Drieschova*
Cardiff University, Department of Politics and International Relations, Cardiff, United Kingdom


The New Materialisms in IR scholarship seek to transcend the divide between matter and ideas, with among others such concepts as practices, or artifacts. This paper makes a start in developing a systematic methodology for the New Materialisms. It proposes Peirce’s semeiotics as one way to unpack how practices and artifacts are ideational and simultaneously material. Peircean semeiotics is a semeiotics of materialism, which creates room for material constitution and analyses practices and artifacts as signs. Peircean semeiotics acknowledges that many signs are objects and practices in the material world, and therefore underlie material constraints, while they also limit and enable the possibilities for action upon the world. Simultaneously though, as signs they convey a particular meaning to the people who surround them, not always by intent. Just as language, material things can signify by arbitrary social convention, but they can also signify by resembling the object they represent, or by being causally related to it. The linguistic model is thus incomplete to study the significative role of material reality. I will illustrate the use of Peircean semeiotics on an analysis of GDP as an inscription device and a complex sign.

Original Papers
© Cambridge University Press 2017 

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