PROFESSOR TIMO KAARTINEN, UNIVERSITY OF HELSINKI

THE SEMIOTIC RISKS OF IMAGE, VOICE, AND WRITING

Wednesday 23.10. 10:00

Semiotic risk arises when people watch, hear, recite, or exchange a text, object, or image that stands for some culturally accepted reality. Doing so is risky because it is never certain that the participants give the same meaning to the object, or think that it is proper to present it at all. There are different ideas about the proper way to use signs because people’s apprehension of them depends on semiotic ideology. In this paper, I refer to examples from my Indonesian fieldwork to discuss the problems of making visual images, written documents, and audio recordings about culturally significant topics. I suggest that prevailing semiotic ideologies give rise to a simultaneous desire for the public recognition of ethnic culture and concern to hide and safeguard its fragile, intersubjective reality. I discuss a controversy over a film released in 2017 and argue that a similar, mixed sensibility underlies the adverse, conflicted response among community members towards the cinematographic representation of their ethnic history.

Timo Kaartinen is Professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Helsinki. His research has focused on oral performances, memory practices, minority languages, environmental changes, and cosmological thought. He has done field research in Indonesia since 1992 with a focus on the Indonesian provinces of Maluku and West Kalimantan and currently works on a project on Indonesia’s Islamic higher education.