Interpreting Meaning: An Application of Peircean Semiotics to Tourism

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In the background of Dean MacCannell's work on tourists lay the semiotic theory of the American philosopher Charles S. Peirce. Peirce's writings are voluminous, at times contradictory and, yet, his theory of semiotics is worth examining for what it can bring to the theorizing of tourism. This paper offers an introduction to Peirce's theory, the essential notion of how signs function, the three parts that constitute a sign - the object, representamen and interpretant - and the way in which the sign relates to its object either iconically, indexically or symbolically. Unlike Saussurian semiotics, which is based in linguistics, Peirce's concept of sign extends beyond the simple arbitrary relationship of a concept to its name and, hence, is far more applicable to explaining how we cognize objects within the physical environment.

Keywords: Charles S. Peirce; Landscape; interpretation; semiotics

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Geography, Indiana University, Bloomington, USA

Publication date: May 1, 2009

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