The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 37, Issue 3/4, 2021

Addressing Precarity The New Prague School of Semiotics Visual Semiotics

Martin Švantner
Pages 289-315

Agency as Semiotic Fabrication
A Comparative Study of Latour’s ANT

This text shows that Latour’s methodological displacement of the theory of sign into the realm of the general semiological narrative itself truncates his own theory of sign from its essential part, which is a tradition derived from the work of C. S. Peirce. This reduction of the general theory of sign is not just a matter of the given theoretical and methodological jargon or arbitrarily chosen expressions; it also has binding ontological suppositions and consequences. A debate on the semiotic-ontological aspects of actor-network theory (ANT) can be conducted beyond Latour’s general division into “the semiotics of discourse” and the “semiotics of things/material semiotics”, where the “semiotics of things” should be counter-positional, or at least complementary to, the discourse-centric concept of agency. This perspective (simply put: discourse vs. things) can be viewed in the context of the discussion of the realist and nominalist nature of a sign as a specific relation, which begs the question: By sign do we mean a phenomenon that is constructed solely by the power of the human mind, or do we mean an ontologically unique relation not reducible to human language?