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Edusemiotics: Learning as a symbolic process

Arts, Myth &Imagination

Task: The Tarot card

It is suggested that the imagery of tarot cards give you access to your subconscious mind and your intuition.Select a random tarot card here: Using the interpretation guide here, what relevance might the card have to your day or life at the moment?How does this process relate to Jungian 'Active Imagination' or the notion of symbolic exchange?

What is semiotics?

Semiotics (the science of signs) is the study of sign processes (semiosis), which are any activity, conduct, or process that involves signs, where a sign is defined as anything that communicates something, usually called a meaning, to the sign's interpreter. The meaning can be intentional such as a word uttered with a specific meaning, or unintentional, such as a symptom being a sign of a particular medical condition. Signs can also communicate feelings (which are usually not considered meanings) and may communicate internally (through thought itself) or through any of the senses.

Historical precedents

John Dewey believed human beings learnt by doing rather than “cognitively” or “behaviourally”. This view is grounded in the Darwinian assumption that humans are environmentally dependent organisms rather than (super)natural minds with bodies attached (cognitivism) or predictable mechanical reactors to rewards and punishments (behaviourism).As such, Dewey rejected the view that mind and body should be treated as separate - he used the term “body-mind” (Dewey, 1925) to stress this inseparability.

Historical precedents

Lev S. Vygotsky remarks that 'human beings actively remember with the help of signs'. In these words can be detected the raison d’être for establishing a connection between semiotics as the science of signs, learning theory or the science of how signs are learned, and education, that is, the practical art/science of teaching individuals how to interpret and understand signs.Mind is not the property of autonomous rational souls but is rather a function, in some sense, of collective social and cultural practice.

Historical precedents

Stiegler (1998) argues that humanity is always already mediated by technics and that technics provide us with the modes and means of representation that define knowledge and subjectivity at any historical point; as such, the subject / object dichotomy that underlies humanist notions within traditional liberal education are undermined. From this perspective, any division between the human and the non-human is contingent on external forms of signification that disrupt any foundational substance upon which such a binary relies; our sense of subjectivity then is not defined by a soul or consciousness, but is given through a history of technics: human subjectivity is not exceptional because of spirit, essence or divine investment, but because we incorporate the world into our bodies – the reason we can think the way we do is because the non-human world has already cleared a space for us to think.

Peircean semiotics

Charles Sanders Peirce (1839 - 1914): Triadic sign system

A sign relates to an object through convention: words, road signs, logos

A sign relates to an object through causation: weathercock, medical symptom, brushstroke

A sign relates to an object through resemblance: Photographs, realist paintings & sculptures




The triadic nature of signs led to Peirce’s classifying them in terms of categories of Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness: First is the conception of being, pure sense, existing independent of anything else; Second is the conception of being relative to, the conception of reaction with, something else; Third is the conception of mediation, whereby first and second are brought into relation (Peirce 1991, pp.188-9)

Peircean semiotics



Sign / Representamen


Triadic sign system

Edusemiotics does not mean semiotics applied as a pedagogical aid or teaching tool.Edusemiotics thinks semiotics as the foundation for educational theory and practice at large.Conceptualizing learning-as-semiosis means that learning is not reducible to internal mental states, neurological activity, or behavioural responses.

The very first picture in the sequence of the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck, called 'The Fool', depicts a youth who projects the image of wide-eyed innocence, curiosity, and a trusting heart.The Fool is standing at the edge of the cliff, but with his head high in the clouds the Fool doesn’t seem to notice an uneven road or the possibility of falling down.The image symbolizing new beginnings, the potentiality of life, novelty itself.The decision to make a step ahead so as to separate himself from the unstable present and leap forward into the future in search of authentic experiences in the process of what Carl Gustav Jung called 'individuation'.

The goal of individuation is the achievement of a “greater personality” (Jung, CW 7, 136) culminating in the Self, the archetype of wholeness. The search for wholeness is an experiential process that, in the framework of Jung’s analytical psychology, means becoming conscious of many unconscious factors in the psyche. Individuation as at once a developmental and learningprocess was defined by Jung in terms of self-education during which both unconscious and conscious aspects of life-experiences become integrated.Jung was explicit that education should not be confined to schools. Jung (1954) emphasized self-knowledge that can be achieved by means of its symbolic mediation via images in the analytic process.

The Fool’s first step is motivated by curiosity or what John Dewey called interest, which represents a connection in the sense of an engagement of the self as subject with the world of objects.'What [a person] gets and gives as a human being, a being with desires, emotions and ideas, is not external possessions, but a widening and deepening of conscious life – a more intense, disciplined, and expandingrealization of meanings. … And education is not a mere means to such a life. Education is such a life' (Dewey, 1916/1924, p. 417)

Rhizomatic Learning

The Fool’s individuation begins when he connects with the world of objects in accord within a practice of relations. By jumping into the abyss the Fool will have engaged with the phenomenal world, thus defying the dualistic either-or split between thought and experience, the sensible and the intelligible, between ideas and sensations. The path of all relations, which makes relations shoot outside their terms and form multiple interconnections in a network constituting a rhizomatic structure.

Rhizomatic Learning

Rhizomatic learning is a way of thinking about learning based on ideas described by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in 'A Thousand Plateaus'. A rhizome, sometimes called a creeping rootstalk (like ginger), is a stem of a plant that sends out roots and shoots as it spreads. It is an image used by D&G to describe the way that ideas are multiple, interconnected and have no beginning or end… like the learning process.

Semetsky, I (2009) Deleuze as a Philosopher of Education: Affective Knowledge/Effective Learning in The European Legacy, 14:4, 443-456Deleuze, G (1995) Negotiations. New York: Columbia University Press

Deleuze refers to territorialisation and deterritorialization to delineate two opposing tendencies: a call to stasis and order in contrast to movement and the transformative play of difference. “Something in the world forces us to think. This something is an object not of recognition but a fundamental ‘encounter’ . . . . In this sense it is opposed to recognition” (Deleuze in Semetsky 2009, p. 451).

Rhizomatic Learning

Everything has 'its geography, its cartography, its diagram. What’s interesting, even in a person, are the lines that make them up, or they make up, or take, or create […] What we call a ‘map’, or sometimes a ‘diagram’ is a set of various interacting lines […]' (Deleuze 1995, p.33)

Deleuze and learning: The swimming analogy

How do you learn to swim? What processes are involved?Are there any unconscious processes involved?

Deleuze and learning: The swimming analogy

Learning to swim or learning a foreign language means composing the singular points of one’s own body or one’s own language with those of another shape or element, which tears us apart but also propels us into a hitherto unknown and unheard-of world of problems. To what are we dedicated if not to those problems which demand the very transformation of our body and our language? In short, representation and knowledge are modelled entirely upon propositions of consciousness which designate cases of solution, but those propositions by themselves give a completely inaccurate notion of the instance which engenders them as cases, and which they resolve or conclude. By contrast, the Idea and ‘learning’ express that extrapropositional or subrepresentative problematic instance: the presentation of the unconscious, not the representation of consciousness’ (Deleuze, 1994, p. 192)

Task:Mythological / symbolic thinking & Art

In what ways does mythological / symbolic thinking relate to the Eisner's notions of art as a mode of learning / understanding? How might semiosis relate to both art and mythological thinking?Both of these aspects will inform the two components of your assignment.

Directed Task: Reflective Writing

Create a structure for your reflection wrting (essay) and write at least one paragraph:Write a reflective account of the power of art and myth as potential transformative narratives for education within our contemporary society.

  • What is the potential of art and myth for generating narratives that both transform learning and wider society?
  • How might art and myth be approached to generate transformative effects? What strategies might be used and what might be their impact?
Your critical reflections should be supported with reference to relevant literature.


Deleuze, G. (1994) Difference and Repetition.New York: Columbia University PressDeleuze, G (1995) Negotiations. New York: Columbia University PressSemetsky, I. (2013) Edusemiotics of images. Rotterdam: Sense.Semetsky, I (2009) Deleuze as a Philosopher of Education: Affective Knowledge/Effective Learning in The European Legacy, 14:4, 443-456