Semiotics – history, the link with psychogeography and derive

 Semiotics doesn’t exactly have a simple definition but the easiest way to explain is that it is the study of sings. Semiotics is everywhere because if a certain item has a significant meaning to you, it is a sign. Anything that guides you somewhere is a sign for where you need to be so you follow it. Ferdinand de Saussure was the founder of semiotics and believed that semiotics is the “studies the role of signs as part of social life” (Saussure, 1983 cited by Chandler 2014). Roland Barthes also shared the idea that semiotics is a “…system of signs, whatever their substance and limits…which form the content of ritual, convention or public entertainment” (Barthes, 1967 cited by Chandler, 2014). For every philosopher, semiotics had a different meaning, but semiotics will always stand for the meaning of creating communication between your life and the certain sign (Chandler, 2014).

Semiotics is also the understanding of the sign and actually following a road that the sign is giving you. A sign can lead a person through the some visuals and lead them to the real meaning of what is happening around them. There are three stages of semiotics – the sign, the thing you look at, and then it goes in to denotation, where you identify what the sign means and the connotation of the sign where you understand what is happening (Whyte, 2012). This can be related to the study of psychogeography and derive because as you walk though the urban setting, looking at the city and exploring, you are looking at the signs and organising your route and where you will be headed next. It’s exactly what Guy Debord said about psychogeography and what it stands for (“the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.” (Debord, 1955 cited by ‘Psychogeography’, 2009)).

Another way semiotics relate to psychogeography is seeing how the specific spaces of the environment in a city link up with the certain neighbourhoods or areas. It is about what mood the signs create. If you are in an urban space and you are exploring, the signs will guide you and make you feel whether sad, happy or any other emotion. A new way is created due to a person seeing new signs; you create your own signs, which then create the meanings of them (Richardson, 2012). Guy Debord again remarks of how urban semiotics work and that “false creates taste…eliminating any possible reference to authentic” (Debord, 1998: 50 cited by Richardson, 2012), which is what psychogeography is about and creating something different that hasn’t been done before.

In the modern society semiotics can be given a different meaning due to the times changing and everything improving. An artist, David Hockney, known for his ways of cutting up images and giving them a different meaning, which has led to some people questioning whether that is real art or not. He does his art using an iPad, which gives it the modern feel (Whyte, 2012). As this can be linked in with surrealism, the way of cutting up the images and creating something completely different, it also leads us back to psychogeography. Hockney took the ‘derive’ way of art and he enjoyed it and most probably had fun. Semiotics will always be around use because we need signs in our lives to know what we are doing. They are there to be used as communication tools and they are important. Whatever we do is a message to someone else and everything around the universe will always be a sign (Berger, 2011: 5).


Berger, A. A. (2011) Media Analysis Techniques, Google Books. SAGE Publications. Available at:,+first+published+posthumously+in+1915,+suggests+the+possibility+of+semiotic+analysis.+It+deals+with+many+of+the+concepts+that+can+be+applied+to+signs+and+that+are+explicated+in+this+chapter.+Saussure+%281915/1966%29+wrote,+%E2%80%9CThe+linguistic+sign+unites+not+a+thing+and+a+name,+but+a+concept+and+a+sound-image.+.+.+.+I+call+the+combination+of+a+concept+and+a+soundimage+a+sign,+but+in+current+usage+the+term+generally+designates+only+a+sound-image%E2%80%9D+%28pp.+66%E2%80%9367%29.+His+division+of+the+sign+into+two+components,+the+signifier+%28or+%E2%80%9Csound-image%E2%80%9D%29+and+the+signified+or+%28%E2%80%9Cconcept%E2%80%9D%29,+and+his+suggestion+that+the+relationship+between+signifier+and+signified+is+arbitrary+were+of+crucial+importance+for+the+development+of+semiotics.+Peirce,+on+the+other+hand,+focused+on+three+aspects+of+signs:+their+iconic,+indexical,+and+symbolic+dimensions+%28see+Table+1.1%29&source=bl&ots=la10HhriTv&sig=3-wrJ9i48WFCJR_ungrDN49OiIU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=cub5VNnLJ-XU7Abm64DQAw&ved=0CCQQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=important&f=true (Accessed: 6 March 2015).

Chandler, D. (2014) Semiotics for beginners . Available at: (Accessed: 6 March 2015).

‘Psychogeography’ (2009). Mapping Weird Stuff. Available at: (Accessed: 6 March 2015).

Richardson , T. (2012) Using Psychogeography to Discover the Hidden Consequences of Social Reproduction, Particulatons . Available at: (Accessed: 6 March 2015).

Whyte, C. (2012) ‘Semiotics – The hidden truth behind what we see!’, Design and Technology throughout the Ages. Colm Whyte – Design and Technology throughout the Ages, 19 December. Available at: (Accessed: 6 March 2015).


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