Language and the shift from signs to practices in cultural inquiry

History and Theory 39 (3):289–310 (2000)
A model of culture as a partially coherent system of signs comprised the most widely employed instrument for analyzing cultural meaning among the new cultural historians. However, the model failed to account for meanings that are produced by agents engaged in practices that are not guided by "reading" the contrasts among signs. It also encouraged some analysts to conceive the difference between sign system and concrete practice as that between what is graspable as an intellectual form and what remains inaccessibly material or corporeal. This essay introduces three exemplars of the ties between signs and practices to show how the pragmatics of using signs comprises a structure and a generator of meaning in its own right. In the three exemplars, which are based on the tropes of metonymy, metaphor, and irony, I employ the analytic tools of linguistics to appreciate the non-discursive organization of practice. Analysis of the diverse logics for organizing practice offers promising means for investigating how signs come to seem experientially real for their users. Finally, this view of culture in practice suggests new hypotheses about the possible interdependencies as well as the lack of connection among the elements of a cultural setting
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1111/0018-2656.00132
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 36,537
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Add more citations

Similar books and articles


Added to PP index

Total downloads
20 ( #315,579 of 2,302,515 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #430,710 of 2,302,515 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Monthly downloads

My notes

Sign in to use this feature