The international Congress of the German Society of Semiotics 2024

RPTU in Landau (Rheinland-Pfälzische Technische Universität in Landau), 24 –28 September 2024



From a historical perspective, "digitization" can be seen as the current stage of the ongoing process of (re-)mediatization, in which the transformation of the analog into the digital and the emergence and transformation of digital infrastructures play a central role. Medial upheavals caused by technical or technological innovations are not in themselves a new phenomenon, but have always placed demands on societies to transform themselves. This ongoing process has strong socio-cultural effects, in which semiotics can both support the process of understanding and offer solutions in dealing with the digital. The analog is always considered as a counterpart and is by no means passé, for example, when a revival of Polaroid, vinyl records and the like can be observed in pop culture.

From a semiotic perspective, the main interest in this large complex of topics is how the digital flows into the cultural use of signs, (co-)shaping and transforming it; but then conversely, how the analog partially recalls itself. In addition to classic skills such as reading and writing, there is increasing talk today of digital literacy, which is essentially about mastering cultural practices in which the digital and the analog are mixed in a variety of ways: both mutually shape each other. When talking about AI, the conceptual question quickly arises as to what extent we can really talk about 'intelligence' here. Today, AI technologies are used as machine learning technologies, including Convolutional Neural Networks (CNN), and are used in a wide variety of social and cultural contexts - for example, in education as well as in the legal and medical fields. In the process, everyday language terms (such as 'fairness') are often transferred to algorithms, which can lead to the formation of concepts that then have an effect on the everyday world and change it imperceptibly - sometimes in connection with a racial or gender bias of some algorithms. The change of the concept of presence in the age of videoconferencing, the potential perpetuation of the momentary (e.g. through cell phone cameras), the ubiquitous potential of digital storage, which in turn is or can become symbolic, the changed conditions of scientific analysis (digital humanities, digital methods), the change of competence expectations (digitality as a school subject?) should also be critically reflected. It is the task of the humanities, cultural studies and social sciences to describe and critically reflect on such processes and also to name the social responsibility associated with them – and it is in particular also the task of semiotics: To what extent do sign processes as digital semioses change cultural meanings? What can semiotics, with its fundamental orientation toward the concept of the sign, contribute to the questions and problem areas raised?

At the DGS congress "Signs.Cultures.Digitality", panels and lectures are welcome that deal with the outlined field of tension between the digital and the analog in various cultural fields of action from a semiotic point of view. Specifically, the following questions arise, for example:

- Which conceptual distinctions that are relevant here are still instructive under the changed conditions of digitality, and which need to be reformulated?

- To what extent are today's digitization processes comparable to historical (media) transformations, and what are their specifics?

- To what extent can the re-reading of semiotic classics and their conceptual distinctions contribute to the reflection of digitalization discourses?

- What happens when - for example in machine learning - concepts are (supposedly) detached from cultural contexts?

- How do analogous and digital sign systems relate to each other in detail? What value do analogous media retain or receive in digital environments?

- What can be said from a semiotic perspective, for example, about AI processes of image recognition and categorization?

- How can the relationship between aesthetic phenomena and the digital be conceptualized and described?

- What kinds of digital literacy are actually needed today, and how can they be specifically promoted in education?

- Can we meaningfully speak of 'communication' or even 'social interaction' when machines are involved as 'actors'? What role does (missing) intentionality play here? To what extent can we speak of agency in the case of chat bots or algorithm-based advertising?

- Following from this, can we speak of a 'post-human semiosis' in the context of 'augmented reality', 'smart wear' and the 'Internet of Things', for example, and what would characterize this term?

- To what extent are digital semioses linked to digital-medial operativity, i.e. how must signs be handled under the conditions of the digital?

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