The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 19, Issue 1/4, 2003

Special Issue on Gregory Bateson

Klaus Krippendorff
Pages 17-34

The Dialogic Reality of Meaning

This paper offers a non-representational alternative to semiotic notions of meaning as the designatum of signs, the content of messages, or what a text is about. It derives from considerations of how things—artifacts and objects of nature—could mean something to somebody. Rather than treating things as signs of themselves and thereby undermining the two-world ontology of semiotics, it explores the cultural roles that artifacts acquire in the lives of their users and when questions of their meanings arise and how they are answered in conversation. The paper presents a dialogical conception of meaning, which relies on Bateson’s recognition of the importance of multiple descriptions, Wittgenstein’s “seeing as”, theories of embodied narratives, and bricolages involving technology.