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Review of  Agency and Consciousness in Discourse


Reviewer: Qichang Ye
Book Title: Agency and Consciousness in Discourse
Book Author: Paul J. Thibault
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Psycholinguistics
Semantics
Sociolinguistics
Book Announcement: 16.1474

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Date: Mon, 9 May 2005 23:35:12 +0800 (CST)
From: Qichang Ye & Zhuanglin Hu <yqc58@yahoo.com.cn>
Subject: Agency and Consciousness in Discourse: Self-other dynamics as a
complex system

AUTHOR: Thibault, Paul J.
TITLE: Agency and Consciousness in Discourse
SUBTITLE: Self-other dynamics as a complex system
SERIES: Open Linguistics Series
PUBLISHER: Continuum
YEAR: 2004

Zhuanglin Hu, School of Foreign Languages, Peking University
Qichang Ye, School of Humanity and Social Sciences, Beijing Jiaotong
University

SYNOPSIS

The introductory chapter elucidates the notions of agency and
consciousness by means of linguistics and discourse analysis (p.1). The
general frame follows Peirce's semiosis: representamen, object, and
interpretant. Producing and processing signs and making them meaningful
are more than merely getting information out of them or making sense of
them. It is a matter of an intricate interplay between what Peirce called
firstness, secondness and thirdness. Firstness exists as possibilities,
secondness emerges as actualities, and thirdness comes into the picture as
potentialities for future signs becoming signs. The triadic relationships
among the Firstness, the Secondness and the Thirdness correspond to those
among representamen, object and interpretant. For Peirce, knowing is
perspectival, and this perspective is built up from monadic, dyadic, and
triadic hierarchy of icon, index, and symbol.

Agency and consciousness should be regarded as dialogical in nature.
Agency always deals with such concepts as agent and subjectivity, while
consciousness is always the consciousness of something.

The progression from icon via index to symbol takes the topological-
continuous to typological-categorial direction. Therefore, the different
stages of semiosis in human development are identified by the author, and
the progression from one stage to another is time-space bound.

No matter at which stage of semiosis we are, "I" (subjectivity) is not an
island, and it has to be treated as a split subjectivity, as the area the
different meaning-making activities come across or integrate. It is these
meaning-making activities that make agency and consciousness possible,
since both consciousness and agency emerge in the individual in and
through the individual's transactions with others (p.7).

With this frame as the theoretical background, Thibault begins to answer
the question:

How to link consciousness and agency to the ecosocial semiotic system and
its meanings?(p.13)

The whole book consists of four parts dealing with the different stages
and relevant aspects of this problem.

Part One emphasizes that any forms of social semiosis are characterized by
three very general parameters: indexical, intertextual, and meta-
discursive practices (p.13-4, 19). These correspond to the three-level
hierarchy of semiotic groundings, which in later chapters are designated:
L-1, L and L+1(p.176, 195,220,223,238,249,257,299,305, 311).

Thibault asserts that consciousness is a construct for making meaningful
the relationships between certain self-nonself transactions in the
supersystem and the contexts which these transactions occur (p.167),
hence, consciousness is always grounded relative to the notion of Self
(p.20).

Iconic mode of grounding (L-1) relies on one's relation to the world on
the basis of one's physiology and perception. It is perceptual-motor in
character and a most primary form of iconic being-in-the-world. For this
reason, it is vague but necessary, dependent on the here-now environment,
it is the core of consciousness. The characteristic of this stage of
semiosis is: there is no differentiation of meaning from experiencing. The
exchange orientation is socioaffective, that is, in the mother-infant
dyad. There does not exist stratal organization, it is a purely iconic
mapping of one topological-quantitative variation onto another. "The
relation between the two levels (i.e. continuously various energy flows
and continuously various flows of attention, interest, engagement, and so
on) is iconic in the sense that two topological modes are mapped onto each
other" (p.59).

In contrast, indexical grounding (L) is a further closing of the loop
comprising me-indexical sign-world-you (p.21, 235). It can be seen as an
extension of the level (L-1), it is probabilistic but not necessary. The
mode of semiosis on this level is experiencing of experiencing. The
exchange orientation is dyadic, and the bistratal organization is
required. As a transitional stage, it entails referent potential,
therefore, it clearly denotes the relationship between a conscious source
and the meaning-making trajectory (p.22). This stage typically emerges
when the infant is in the period from six to twelve months. Thibault
emphasizes the importance of this stage: "Here we see the transition from
the potentiality of iconic vagueness to the actuality and specificity of
indexicality. In turn, the semiotically salient distinctions of
indexicality pave the way for the emergent generalities of symbolic
meaning-making. Thirdness entails the mediation of instantiated sign-
tokens by an ordered field of systemic regularities, which have the status
of a habit or law for Peirce. Thus, sign-tokens with this status can be
replicated from one occasion of use to another. The ensuing regularity
allows for self-reference: a symbolic field of possibilities constitutes
the Thirdness in and through which symbolic signs can be construed" (p.
24).

The L+1 grounding is the symbolic one. It concerns the symbolic or
semantic topological-quantitative variation in the phenomena of experience
as typological-categorial semantic or other distinctions. This phase,
according to Thibault, possesses the following characteristics: (a) the
emergence of a lexicogrammatical stratum between the expression and
content of the bi-stratal (indexical) system typical of protolanguage; (b)
the move beyond the I-you interpersonal dyad to a triadic I-world-you type
of exchange; (c) the integration of both the interpersonal I-you domain of
the prior indexical phase and the phenomena of experience in the world
outside this domain that "I" and "you" attend to and interpret; (d) the
access to the interpersonal and experiential domains requires their
simultaneous mapping onto a shared system of semiotic (lexicogrammatical)
forms; (e) both the "I" and the "you" have the means for construing and
engaging with a plurality of different domains simultaneously; and (f)
there is no longer any requirement that both "I" and "you" have or share
the same sensori-motor access to the same domains or to the same
meanings. "Scalar heterogeneity increasingly enters the picture here"
(p.236).

To understand these three groundings in Peirce's three categories,
Thibault writes: "Iconic vagueness corresponds to Peirce's category of
Firstness. It is concerned with being and potentiality. Indexicality
entails the creating of a boundary or a distinction between Firstnesses.
In so doing, Secondness emerges. Secondness is concerned with here-now
actuality and with individual existence, hence the creating of the
distinction between self and nonself" (p.24).

The proto-interpersonal transactions in the mother-infant dyad, Thibault
believes (p.28), are iconic and topological in character. This behavioural
variability of the system means that the self has no meta-perspective on
its own primordial experiencing. There is no sense of a self which
is "separate" from nonself.

From the core level of consciousness to the symbolic level of
consciousness, "the individual's cross-coupling to an emergent stratified
linguistic system means, above all, that consciousness is increasingly de-
coupled from its prior iconic and indexical modes and is now increasingly
symbolic" (p.45).

Another important point revealed in this part is that meanings are always
mediated and made in and through particular intertextual thematic
formations, and from iconic, indexical, and symbolic dimensions, or in
other words, life is a referent.

From the foregoing description, the entire process is dialogic from the
outset and it is the resulting dialogic closure that allows for
progressively more adaptive developmental change to occur.

Part Two contains 4 chapters. Chapter 3 focuses on early infant semiosis.
Primary intersubjectivity emerges in this period. The mother-infant dyad
is the beginning of human semiosis (i.e. from the organic to the
symbolic). The two premises on which the author investigates the infant
semiosis are: "First, the individual is only definable as a subsystem
operating in some larger-scale ecosocial semiotic system. Secondly, the
individual is only definable in dynamical terms as a trajectory which both
develops and individuates through its interactions with its environment---
social and material---along its temporal (lifespan) trajectory" (p.55).
Here, Thibault draws a distinction between the topological-continuous
variation (unthematized knowledge) and the typological-categorial
variation. The former refers to the bodily activities, such as looking,
grasping, and manipulating of the infant, while the latter refers to the
thematized knowledge. Since any communication demands at least two sides,
what is the case with the neonates? Thibault contends that movement
patterns of looking, grasping, and manipulating entail a proto-self in
interaction with the immediate environment beyond its body and that the
interpretation of others is an inbuilt evolutionary priority (p.58). These
two are the conditions in which primary intersubjectivity emerges.
However, what we should give attention to here is that intentions are not
a pre-existing part of the child's mental equipment (p.61), since the
attribution of intentionality to self and others is based on indexical and
symbolic signs (p.60). But "meaning-making is an intersubjective process,
it requires some shared bodily orientation along some vector of interest
or attention" (p.59). Therefore, the guiding mechanism here is also the
principle of dialogic closure (p.61). How does the dialogue take place in
the mother-infant dyad despite the fact that mothers and infants do not
have access to the same system of symbolic meaning-making possibilities?

The answer lies in the fact that the mother adopts and takes up both the
adult and the child positions in this action sequence and acts them out
for the child. "That is, the mother is the agent who is, at this stage,
connected to the higher-scalar system of symbolic meaning-making
possibilities. She can make links beyond the here-now of the dyad to other
space-time scales that are not available to the infant in the here-now
scale of the dyad" (p.62). The child knows the world only indirectly
through his/her mother. Nevertheless, there are also differences between a
child's mental resources and those of an adult. "The child's mental
resources are pre-cultural and protolinguistic and are limited to the
primary consciousness of perceptual phenomena and early forms of
elementary social relations. On the other hand, the adult's mental
resources are cultural and linguistic; primary consciousness has been
integrated to higher-scalar symbolic consciousness" (p. 64). In other
words, primary intersubjectivity is characterized by the infant's
orientation to the other in the mother-infant dyad, rather than to the
self (p.169).

Based on the infant-mother communication, Thibault claims that bodily
activity constitutes the interface between the body-brain system and its
external environment. A sign is a perspectival representation of this
interface, therefore, signs are always for someone (p.73). On this view,
the definition of the sign as a relationship between a signifier and a
signified is not sufficient, for it truncates and distorts beyond
recognition the real nature of the processes and relations involved in the
making of signs. Thibault thinks it necessary to reconsider the definition
of a sign, and an adequate definition, according to him, should at least
take into account the following factors: (1) the relationship between the
conscious and the material domains; (2) the role of the body as interface
between the two domains; (3) the perspective(s) of the selves without
which there would be no sign; and (4) the meaning-making activity as
dynamic, time-bound loop which integrates all of the previously mentioned
components to its trajectory (P.74).

Chapter 4 discusses the birth of the other's viewpoint in the self with
the explanation of children's play. The main function of play in enhancing
children's links to both past situations and possible future is its de-
location of activities and its re-location of them in new contexts (p.77).
It is this aspect of ludic activity that explains "consciousness in all of
its forms is a consequence of the self's dialogically coordinated
engagements with the nonself, i.e. with the environment to which the
organism is adapted. The relationship between self and nonself is one of
complementarity; the individual is decentred with respect to the world in
which the individual is immersed and which is meaningful for the
individual" (p.93).

The function of play demonstrates that the prior stages are systemically
subordinated to the later stages in a hierarchy of both implication and
specification. But this does not mean that the prior stages are separated
from the later ones. On the contrary, "the holistic character of the
system is maintained as each stage integrates and reorganizes the prior
stages in the formation of iconic-indexical-symbolic consciousness"
(p.94).

Another important aspect of semiosis that play reveals is that agency
implies both a point of action and a point of view from which certain
effects derive and in relation to which these effects can be sourced. "An
agent, as both point of action and point of view, is the result of
semiotic and material constraints: it is like a semiotic-material figure
against the ground (the friction) of all the things that resist and oppose
its projects" (p.95).

Chapter 5 takes up the topic of egocentric speech, which is also one
aspect of the question mentioned in Chapter 2(p.13). Thibault holds that
this kind of speech is not independent of the whole ecosocial semiotics,
it is a turn to the interpretation of the self and the self's relations to
others in the context of the social processes in which the self
participates.

Egocentric speech must be considered as "a situated or on-line form of
reflexive interpretation of the self's linguistically mediated relations
to the phenomena of experience" (p.101). In this sense, egocentric speech
is important in the development of the child's situated capacity to view
him- or herself a standing in a particular relation to the nonself
(p.105). This is just the capacity an agent should possess, it is a
transitional stage between indexical and symbolic levels.

Thibault writes "Agency means having the capacity to project such powers
from some point of action. It means having the capacity to entrain matter,
energy, and meaning flows through discourse and to project these beyond
the self in socially meaningful ways. Without this capacity, one is not an
agent" (p.102). Symbolic semiosis, unlike the prior indexical mode,
invokes intertextual possibilities which go beyond the here-now scale of
indexical relations.

Chapter 6 focuses on the developing capacity mentioned above to create
semiotic links across an increasing diversity of space-time scales. The
two principles regulating semiotic relationships across different space-
time scales are: (1) Timescales on different levels are seen as distinct
from one another; and (2) Processes on long timescales produce effects on
much shorter timescale activities and processes (p.130). The episode to
support these principles is the case of a six-year-old girl who enacts a
solo performance in the form of a pretend concert recital before an
imaginary audience.

Part III consists of three chapters and focuses on consciousness. In
chapters 7 and 8, the emergence of a self-reflexive perspective is a
central theme.

Chapter 7 argues that a "state" of consciousness is a relation between
self and world: "Consciousness is a relation between self and world, not
access to a state" (p.163). In this sense, acts of consciousness (1) can
be represented as having Meaning System contextualization relations in
some system of interpretance; and (2) are constrained by the supersystem
(Interaction System) transactions in which they are embedded (p.163).

As to the relation between mind and brain, Thibault also explains them in
Peircean terms. He says, "the infant interpreter is a firstness who
engages with the nonself qua secondness. In the process, he or she
discovers and constructs higher-level thirdness in the form of the system
of interpretance which mediates and makes possible the transactions
between first and seconds. In actual fact, we have seen that, for the
infant, secondness is historically primary. Its sense of self---its
firstness---and the differentiation of self from others emerge in the
course of the proto-self's engagements with the secondness of others.
Moreover, the construction of thirdness in the process of doing so enables
the increasing differentiation of different kinds of selves and others and
different kinds of self-other relations" (p.165). In this way, the
observer's brain and the world of the nonself co-develop and co-
individuate.

Though consciousness is a highly specified form of Meaning System in the
perspective of a self, it can only arise from prior biological and social
systems.

Consciousness is not a state, but a construct for making meaningful the
relationships between certain self-nonself transactions in the supersystem
and the contexts in which these transactions occur (p.167). At the same
time, consciousness is a system which we (ourselves) are inside: it is
concerned with how we, as observers, give meaning to experience from the
perspective of the self that we are (p.171). This reflexive capacity to
posit the self (or the other) as the one who undergoes a given experience,
according to Thibault, is a semiotic capacity to interpret self-world
relations. It is a self-reflexive interpretation of some self's relations
to the world. The self's relation to the world (nonself) is a dialogic
one. Thibault indicates that "consciousness is always consciousness of
self-in-interaction-with-nonself" (p.169).

Naturally, along this ecosocial semiotic line of thinking, "the
ontological firstness of the self" is no longer the dictum of "I think
therefore I am", but the result of a culturally particular semiotic
polarizing of self-nonself, that is, "I am because others interact with
and interpret me" or "Others interact with and interpret me therefore I
am" (p.171).

In human semiosis, Thibault tells us, the system of interpretance (i.e.
meaning) can be understood as a historically specific higher-scalar social-
cultural formation that enables potentially meaningful configurations of
information to be interpreted as meaningful in the perspective of the
observer.

Along the line of social semiotics, Thibault argues that language acts on
and potentially transforms the consciousness of self and other.

Consciousness generally takes the form of self-reflexive ability, the
position(s) of the nonself. "The self-reflexive ability to evaluate one's
own actions and states of consciousness from the inner perspective of the
self as others see the self is vital for the development of moral
consciousness and, hence, to our ability to decide on (right or wrong)
courses of action on the basis of the self's evaluation of their goodness
or badness, rightness or wrongness, and so on" (p.179).

The self-reflexive ability mainly embodies the perspectives the self is
able to adopt. "The capacity to look at oneself and one's states of
consciousness as others do entails the self-reflexive ability to place
oneself in the position of the other" (p.180). In discourse, this ability
is reflected in the metafunctions of language.

Thibault emphasizes repeatedly that Agency implies a self whose meanings
not only constrain specific action trajectories; but also implies a self
who has the ability to self-reflexively choose from and evaluate
conflicting courses of action and their associated values (p.181). This
capacity even determines the agent's moral consciousness.

Whatever perspectives an agent takes and whatever is the relationship
between the self and the nonself, this kind of account theoretically
demands the dialogic basis of consciousness.

Chapter 8 emphasizes just this dialogic basis of consciousness.
Consciousness is not an intrinsic non-inferential awareness, on the
contrary, the perspectives and associated values which the self acquires
along its trajectory are selective re-envoicements of voices and their
associated values in the system of social heteroglossia of some
community. "The underlying structures of human discourse are, generally
speaking, implicit dialogic structures that do not only regulate the
contribution-the dialogic moves-of interactions; they also have the
capacity to act on and change the consciousness of both self and other"
(p.187).

Thibault also asks the questions: How is the distinction between self and
nonself punctuated and construed? How are these two levels of 'reality'
placed in a meta-semiotic relationship with one another (p.193)? To the
first question, Thibault claims that interpersonal meaning is about the
dialogically constituted relations between self and nonself. It is about
semiosis as action and dialogically organized interaction between these
two poles of experience. While the answer to the second question can be
found in the mood system of English, "the mood categories are an attractor
space for the organization of transactions between self and nonself"
(p.193). These two aspects of language---metafunctions and mood---show
there is a dialogical complementarity between the perspectives of Self and
Nonself. The case is the same with propositions and proposals. In systemic-
functional terms, propositions, like proposals, are forms of action that
only exist in the context of dialogic transactions between self and
nonself. This means that higher-order linguistically mediated thinking is
always self and nonself.

Therefore, "dialogic structures and transactions are transindividual
processes and systems" (p.194). At the same time, this also brings into
sight the limitation of the view to treat consciousness as a private and
unique experience of the individual's mind (p.201). Thibault declares that
his view of consciousness is the interaction one. This view stresses
that " consciousness is borne out of and always exists as a form of highly
specified Meaning system in the perspective of a self. Yet, the self and
his or her meanings in consciousness come from interaction. The
interaction view stresses that consciousness is always embedded in
supersystem transactions which put the self in some kind of (dialogically)
organized relation with the nonself". In this sense, moral necessity can
be understood as semantic in character, "the language of moral necessity
determines what we can and cannot do in a given social situation" (p.204).

Thibault believes that there are the underlying and more implicit
structural principles and dynamics of the exchange process behind agency:

"These principles of structuration and their dynamics perform the
following functions: (1) they stabilize and regulate physical-material and
semiotic-discursive cross-couplings; (2) they organize, constrain, and
direct the flow of meaning and matter-energy; and (3) they position social
agents at the intersection of the cross-coupling patterns referred to in
(1) in ways that allow the ecosocial dynamics of agency to emerge in the
activities whose implicit structure is a condition of their enablement"
(p.204).

In accordance with these principles, Thibault attempts a logical
reconstruction of the historical emergence of the self in terms of the
developmental emergence of self from historically prior self-other
transactions. The self, in this sense, can be regarded as a totality of
integrities in various historically emergent semiotic order (p.210).

Chapter 9, by relying on Lemke's (1999) Principle of Alternation, further
demonstrates that both agency and consciousness are fundamentally semiotic
in character. The material matter-energy base of semiosis requires to
think that matter and information are in a dialogical
relationship. "Matter is inherently also information. Matter and
information dialectically interact with each other" (P214).

The theme that "Consciousness is a meaning-making process" is re-
emphasized here. Instead of simply interacting with some object
energetically, consciousness is a process of construing some mental image
as a sign of this object. This mental image is what Peirce called
representamen, R; and what we take it be a sign of is called the object,
X. R does not directly refer to X, the relationship between them is and
should be mediated.

Thibault points out that "even at the most basic level of core
consciousness, there are principles of interpretation which mediate the
relationship between mental image and object. This means that there is a
system of interpretance---some principle of thirdness---which makes this
possible" (p.217). Higher-order consciousness does not stay outside the
process of semiosis, it is still the consciousness of something. The
problem here is of how to map the higher-order consciousness onto the
three-level hierarchy. Thibault discusses this problem by exploring the
text of wine tasters' evaluations of commercially sold table wines
(p.221). The analysis illustrates that "the material activity of
perception is itself dependent on practices of meaning construal that link
it to other meanings and practices in the ecosocial semiotic system.
Perception is a material activity which is based on biophysical
interactions between individual and environmental event in the ecosocial
semiotic system at the same time that it is entrained to and construed by
the meaning relations of the community as having links with particular
social practices in the community" (p.224). That is to say, consciousness
is a dialogic act which links self and object along a relational
trajectory, it is an integration hierarchy of semiotic levels: iconic,
indexical, and symbolic dimensions.

Part IV goes on with a further discussion of the Principle of Alternation
against the background of metaphor. It shows that metaphor can be seen as
semiotic reorganization across levels. Contrary to the embodied realism of
Lakoff and Johnson (1999), Thibault contends that the physical
transactions between an infant and its environment do not provide the
primary impetus for development and individuation. Instead, the infant's
transactions with the mother are in the outset socially organized and
constrained from birth. "…the very earliest manifestations of proto-
imperative sign-making are intrinsically social from the outset" (p.278).

The embodied realism's focus on the sensorimotor interaction between
embodied individuals and the world, Thibault points out, suggests that the
individual body-brain qua firstness is prior.

While Thibault's study demonstrates that it is the world qua secondness,
construed as the ecosocial environment in which body-brains are embedded,
which is prior both phylogenetically and ontogenetically. On this view,
the ecosocial environment precedes the self and provides the self with
something to interact with, in the process discovering and elaborating its
own sense of self. The Gestalt, sensorimotor and other embodied basic
level categories discussed by Lakoff and Johnson are the derived result of
the emerging agency of the individual.

Having stated the main differences between the present study and Lakoff
and Johnson's embodied realism (p.280ff), Thibault continues to sketch out
an ecosocial semiotic account of metaphor in accordance with the frame of
the three-level hierarchy of thinking introduced above. "Metaphor in
language is dependent on its ecosocial environment and cannot be reduced
to -- either causally or explanatorily -- its lower-level sensorimotor
schemata" (p.281). Thibault points out that the proto-semiotic dialogue
structures of primary intersubjectivity suggest that the newborn's
consciousness is continuous with that of mother. At this stage, there is
no a clearly cut distinction between the two: "the infant's developing
consciousness is closely dependent on the socioaffective flows
characteristic of the mother-infant dyad. The dyad is based on topological-
continuous variation such that there is no strong insulation of the
child's self from the mother's. It is only when the child begins to be
entrained into the typological-categorial distinctions of language and
other symbolic resource systems that he or she develops a consciousness of
him- or herself as having a distinct consciousness which is separate from
that of mother" (p.285). In this view, human consciousness, as well as
human semiosis, at all levels from perceptual to symbolic is embedded in,
and is a part of, higher-scalar ecosocial semiotic systems and their
dynamical, time-bound processes.

In the way as play functions, which is mentioned above, "the emergence of
metaphor affords the possibility for de-construing and re-construing the
categorical distinctions of the lexicogrammar of natural language as
topological-continuous variation. This variation can, in turn, be related
to less specified, less differentiated levels of semiosis in the
specification hierarchy of iconic, indexical, and symbolic modes of
semiosis. In this way, the typological-categorial distinctions made by
lexicogrammar can be related back to antecedent semiotic primitives"
(p.313).

From this viewpoint, the three-level hierarchy paradigm is necessary and
powerful in explaining semiosis of metaphor.

COMMENTS

Agency and consciousness have been the themes of two relentless debates
pursued by philosophers, semioticians, psychologists, and sociologists.
The central problem of agency is to understand the difference between
events happening in me or to me, and my taking control of events, or doing
things; while the problems concerning with consciousness include: Does
consciousness have a causal role? If so, what is it? Are all mental states
conscious? What is the relation between consciousness and intentionality?
What is the philosophical importance of the raw feel of conscious states?
Do persons have privileged access to their conscious states?

To these problems, Thibault's project certainly can not provide all
answers. In this sense, Thibault's research is only a new step in an old
dance. New is in the sense that he treats them in the level of eco-social
semiotics. Old is in the sense that the problems discussed here have
already received much endless attention from different branches of
science, thanks to the places in humanity occupied by these questions, as
well as their nature escapable of any complete solutions. Nevertheless,
they are worth asking.

As Thibault points out, agency and consciousness have a common character:
they begin with an inner perspective (i.e. the self). Agency is the
perspective to look at oneself, especially from the position of the non-
self, while consciousness is always the consciousness of something
(Husserl 1962). Both agent and consciousness are not islands far away from
the biological foundation and the society. Hence, knowing is perspectival.

If perspectival can be understood as belonging to a particular agent, or
community, then the notions of agency and consciousness should be
investigated in their social environment, and meaning is and should be
treated as trajectories taking place on different scalar levels.

Admitting that we are thrown (Heidegger 1962) is one thing, acknowledging
that no one is a full human at the earliest beginning is another. These
two is not separated but closely related in Thibault's project. Both
social and ecological are the fate of human being. We are phylogenetically
and ontogenetically positioned. It is in this respect that Thibault
provides an important angle to understand ourselves as well as a
theoretical alternative to observe semiosis of human being.

Analogous to Heidegger, sign is the house of being. Heidegger held that
facticity comprises the concrete situations and the cultural and
historical contexts into which Dasein (i.e. human being) finds itself
thrown a priori and which constitutes the concrete limitations of human
possibilities. As one component of care, facticity is a mode of Being of
Dasein. In contrast, Heidegger called what are merely material and non-
human conditions factuality. Dasein exists not factually, but factically.
Its facticity indicates that Dasein cannot transcend its concrete
situations as a free-floating spirit, but must have its Being in the
world. "The concept of 'facticity' implies that an entity 'within-the-
world' has Being-in-the-world in such a way that it can understand itself
as bound up in its 'destiny' with the Being of those entities which it
encounters within its own world" (Heidegger 1962: 82).

From this respective, Thibault's study can be regarded as an extension of
the study of being on the eco-social semiotic level, no matter whether the
striking resemblance between them is accidental or inherited.

Moral necessity is an important aspect of the notion of agency. As to this
aspect, Thibault really claims that "Moral necessity is semantic in
character" (p.203). However, it is here that the present reviewers agree
with Thibault with some reservations, for morality, not in all cases, can
be reduced to semantics [i.e. "To be" is not equal to "Ought to be".].

Just as the author himself says, "The perspective afforded by the three-
level hierarchy view as presented here does not, of course, resolve all of
the problems of consciousness…However, it does provide a perspective in
which the tight linkages across the different scalar levels are seen as
linking our material interactions with our inner and outer environments to
our categories and ways of making meaning such that the body-brain complex
is linked to the larger scales of ecosocial processes and their dynamics,
including the always constructed trajectory of the self" (Thibault,2004:
313).

It is highly commendable that Thibault has really provided a new way of
thinking and talking about human semiosis by means of "not so much
interdisciplinary as transdiciplinary" (Halliday 2004: xii) study. The
reader will benefit a lot more if he or she may read the present volume
with Thibault's another book: Brain, Mind, and the Signifying Body (2004).

Last but not least, it will be obviously necessary to say a few words more
on the theoretical relationship and the internal link between these two.

The latter volume mentioned above (Henceforth: Brain) is, to use the
author's statement (Brain: 314), an attempt to rethink meaning-making
activities from the perspective of the body-brain system (i.e. the
signifying body) enmeshed in its ecosocial semiotic environment. Brain is
complementary to the present volume mainly for its theoretical accounts.
The theme in the present volume is to explore the ways in which agency and
consciousness are created and enacted in and through transactions between
self and other (p. xi), while that of Brain is to provide, as the subtitle
denotes, an ecosocial semiotic background for the understanding of
ourselves (i.e. agency and consciousness in social practices). These two
themes can not be separated from each other, and they are composed of the
organic parts of the same project. Therefore, Brain doubtlessly deals with
the eco-social basis of the semogenic processes.

The schema for the exploration of these processes is the same with that of
the present volume, i.e. the Peircean theory of semiosis. The nature of
semiosis, according to Thibault, is intrinsically biologically inherited,
socially positioned, and time-bound.

In line with Gibson's (1979) ecological approach, as well as with the
statement that meanings are formed out of the impact between our
consciousness and its environment (Halliday & Matthiessen 1999:17), Brain
claims that "the intrinsic organization of language has evolved in the
species (phylogenesis) and develops in the individual (ontogenesis) so
that it cross-couples both with the biological architecture of the body-
brain system and with our ecosocial semiotic environment in ways that
closely related to the kinds of social activities that humans perform and
the meanings they make in and through these activities" (Brain: 48).

Logogenetically speaking, "the behaviour of the system as it unfolds in
time is the changes it undergoes as the system changes from one state to
another" (Brain: 149), that is, from iconic to indexical to symbolic.
These changes are "a qualitative leap to a new phase state such that the
entire attractor landscape is reorganized" (Brain: 246). Nevertheless,
Thibault reminds us of the fact that the symbolic level does not transcend
both the indexical and the iconic levels but integrates them. In this
respect, what he stresses, together with Kress and Leeuwen (1996), is that
discourse in its earliest beginning is multimodal in character.

As Halliday (2004: xi) points out, the most significant feature of
Thibault's many faceted approach reflects in the following two aspects:
language in its relation to the human condition and linguistics in its
relation to human knowledge. Such comment is suitable for Brain as well as
for the present volume.

In summary, Brain, together with the present volume, demonstrates that the
dialogical orientation of the self to the nonself is intrinsic to our
biological inheritance from the outset. Since " (Self-)consciousness is
necessarily and irreducibly a dialogical and semiotically mediated
relation between self and nonself" (Brain: 317), these two volumes, in
common, are to provide signs with worlds: towards a process ontology of
social being-in-doing.

REFERENCES

Blackburn, Simon (ed.) (1994) Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy. Oxford/New
York: Oxford University Press

Dreyfus, Hubert L. (1991) Being-in-the-World: A commentary on Heidegger's
Being and Time. Cambridge, Massachusetts/London: The MIT Press

Halliday, M. A. K. (1978) Language as Social Semiotic: The Social
Interpretation of Language and Meaning. London: Edward Arnold
(Publishers) Limited

Halliday, M. A. K. & Christian M. I. M. Matthiessen (1999) Construing
Experience Through Meaning: A Language-based Approach to Cognition.
London/New York: Continuum

Halliday, M. A. K. (2004) "Forward", in Paul J. Thibault (2004): xi-xii.

Heidegger, Martin (1962) Being and Time tran. J. Macquarrie and E.
Robinson. New York: Harper and Row

Husserl, Edmund (1962) Ideas. General Introduction to Pure Phenomenology
Trans. W. R. Boyce Gibson. New York: Collier Books

Johansen, Jorgen Dines (1993) Dialogic Semiosis: An Essay on Signs and
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Kress, Gunther & Theo van Leeuwen (1996) Reading Images: The Grammar of
Visual Design. London and New York: Routledge

Lakoff, George & Mark Johnson (1999) Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied
Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books

Merrell, Floyd (1997) Peirce, Signs, and Meaning. Toronto/Buffalo/London:
University of Toronto Press

Merrell, Floyd (2001) "Charles Sanders Peirce's concept of the sign", in
Paul Cobley (ed.) The Routledge Companion to Semiotics and Linguistics.
London/New York: Routledge: 28-39.

Peirce, Charles Sanders (1998) Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce
Vol.2; edited by Charles Hartshorne & Paul Weiss. Bristol: Thoemmes Press

Peirce, Charles Sanders (1998) Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce
Vol.5; edited by Charles Hartshorne & Paul Weiss. Bristol: Thoemmes Press

Peirce, Charles Sanders (1998) Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce
Vol. 8; edited by Arthur W. Burks. Bristol: Thoemmes Press

Taylor, Charles (1985) Human Agency and Language. London: Cambridge
University Press

Thibault, Paul J. (1991) Social Semiotics as Praxis: Text, Social Meaning
Making, and Nabokov's Ada. Minneapolis/Oxford: University of Minnesota
Press

Thibault, Paul J. (2004) Brain, Mind, and the Signifying Body: An
Ecosocial Semiotic Theory. London/New York: Continuum




 
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWERS


Zhuanglin Hu is Professor, School of Foreign Languages, at Peking
University. His main areas of interest are semiotics, pragmatics,
functional linguistics, discourse analysis and the studies of metaphor.


Qichang Ye is associate professor, School of Humanity and Social Sciences,
at Beijing Jiaotong University. Last year he received his doctorate degree
in linguistics and applied linguistics from Beijing Normal University
under the supervision of Professor Hu. His areas of interest are
semiotics, functional linguistics and discourse analysis.


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