Title

Conceptualizing Meaning with Semiotic Mediation: Expanding the Conversation

Location

Hiawatha 3

Start Time

18-10-2014 1:10 PM

End Time

18-10-2014 1:40 PM

Session Type

Theoretical Paper

Abstract

There is much to be considered concerning how meaning is examined when the capacities for speaking or writing are not possible. Meaning, as it is discussed in occupational science and occupational therapy literature, is generally couched in the understanding that the meaning of occupational experiences are revealed through verbal and written language. Lev Vygotsky, as cited by Berthoff (1978), theorized that it is not possible to appreciate the power of language in its entirety if it is reduced to a communication skill. Verbal and written forms of communications have become a substitute for understanding meaning, and these forms of communication as a means to interpret meaning alone are insufficient. To conceptualize meaning, as Vygotsky does with language, requires “recognizing that word and idea are dialectically related and the place to begin considering them both is ‘the unit of meaning’” (Berthoff, 1978, p. 253). Similar to the complexity of the relationship between word and idea, meaning is enacted in the complexity of everyday living. Scholars within and outside occupational science have explored meaning by considering cultural, contextual, temporal, and spatial factors (Humphry, 2002; Spitzer, 2003; Reed, Hocking, & Smythe, 2010); how objects are used by people individually, in addition to how objects are used with others, should be considered. Vygotsky’s concept of semiotic mediation, the way in which people learn to co-construct meaning via signs and objects in their environments, may provide an alternative way to conceptualize meaning. Objects or signs become demonstrations of or symbols for meaning (Holland & Lachicotte, 2007). We learn how to ascribe meaning by placing objects or signs into the environment for others to pick up. In turn, how others use those objects mediates our learning about our own meaning making. In other words, one learns how to see what is meaningful. To understand meaning is to understand the whole social person, which involves more than expressed language. This paper expands the discussion on how making meaning is conceptualized, employing the theoretical contributions of Vygotsky as a framework for our understanding. I will use examples from my preliminary observations and work experience with persons with intellectual disabilities to illustrate how the use of semiotic mediation contributes to understanding meaning.

Keywords: Meaning, Semiotic Mediation, Intellectual Disabilities

References

Bertoff, A. (1978). Tolstoy, Vygotsky, and the making of meaning. College
Composition and Communication, 29
(3), 229-255.

Holland, D. & Lachicotte, W. (2007). Vygotsky, Mead, and the new sociocultural
studies of identity. In H. Daniels, M. Cole, & J. Wertsh (Eds.), The
Cambridge companion to Vygotsky
(pp. 101-135). New York, NY:
Cambridge University Press.

Humphry, R. (2002). Young children’s occupations: Explicating the dynamics of
developmental processes. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 56,
171–179.

Reed, K., Hocking, C., & Smythe, (2010). The interconnected meaning of
occupation: The call, being-with, possibilities. Journal of Occupational
Science, 17
(3), 140 – 149.

Spitzer, S. L. (2003). Using participant observation to study the meaning of
occupations of young children with autism and other developmental
disabilities. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 57, 66–76.

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Oct 18th, 1:10 PM Oct 18th, 1:40 PM

Conceptualizing Meaning with Semiotic Mediation: Expanding the Conversation

Hiawatha 3

There is much to be considered concerning how meaning is examined when the capacities for speaking or writing are not possible. Meaning, as it is discussed in occupational science and occupational therapy literature, is generally couched in the understanding that the meaning of occupational experiences are revealed through verbal and written language. Lev Vygotsky, as cited by Berthoff (1978), theorized that it is not possible to appreciate the power of language in its entirety if it is reduced to a communication skill. Verbal and written forms of communications have become a substitute for understanding meaning, and these forms of communication as a means to interpret meaning alone are insufficient. To conceptualize meaning, as Vygotsky does with language, requires “recognizing that word and idea are dialectically related and the place to begin considering them both is ‘the unit of meaning’” (Berthoff, 1978, p. 253). Similar to the complexity of the relationship between word and idea, meaning is enacted in the complexity of everyday living. Scholars within and outside occupational science have explored meaning by considering cultural, contextual, temporal, and spatial factors (Humphry, 2002; Spitzer, 2003; Reed, Hocking, & Smythe, 2010); how objects are used by people individually, in addition to how objects are used with others, should be considered. Vygotsky’s concept of semiotic mediation, the way in which people learn to co-construct meaning via signs and objects in their environments, may provide an alternative way to conceptualize meaning. Objects or signs become demonstrations of or symbols for meaning (Holland & Lachicotte, 2007). We learn how to ascribe meaning by placing objects or signs into the environment for others to pick up. In turn, how others use those objects mediates our learning about our own meaning making. In other words, one learns how to see what is meaningful. To understand meaning is to understand the whole social person, which involves more than expressed language. This paper expands the discussion on how making meaning is conceptualized, employing the theoretical contributions of Vygotsky as a framework for our understanding. I will use examples from my preliminary observations and work experience with persons with intellectual disabilities to illustrate how the use of semiotic mediation contributes to understanding meaning.

Keywords: Meaning, Semiotic Mediation, Intellectual Disabilities