Call for Papers

Issue 12: The Semiotics of Role-Play: Call for Papers

This special issue examines the social and semiotic work that goes into and is performed through role-playing. As “fictional” spaces in which norms and roles are both made explicit and (often) suspended, role-plays can be potent sites of institutional and cultural maintenance, critique, and transformation. As interactional events, role-plays are distinctive in offering heightened reflexivity about the shared fiction/reality being co-produced by participants. Role- plays establish frames which delineate roles, rules, and responsibilities for participants, as well as a bounded "play" text that is distinguished from the context of "reality." Yet, this meta-discursive frame holding the role-play apart from reality is never fixed, being both citable and contestable. We thus conceptualize role-play as being asymptotically bounded on one side by actual role relations and on the other by virtual play scenarios.

Theatrical performances and games have often been taken as metaphors and sites that allow researchers to describe and analyze how worlds are socially constructed and contested. Taking inspiration from anthropological and sociological studies of social roles, games, and play, we consider role-plays to be key sites for the study of roles, norms, and the creation (or foreclosure) of spaces in which to question them. In this issue, we call for empirical analyses of role-plays as embodied discursive interactions, illuminating the contingency of both role-play's constitution and consequences. We contend that questions about the consequentiality of role-play can only be answered through empirical investigation of role-plays as unfolding interactions.

As such, we wish to elucidate not only the effects of role-plays, but also the ideological and institutional conditions and interactional mechanisms that make role-plays consequential activities. How are roles, norms, and identities taught, learned, questioned, and re-worked through role-plays? How are role-plays evaluated as texts (critiques of role-play) and how do role-plays and participants in them call into question the contexts within which they take place (role-play as critique)? These questions call for investigations of (a) ideologies regarding the relationship between performativity, play, and practice that people bring to role-plays (e.g., ideas about the (in)appropriateness or (in)effectiveness of role-plays as pedagogical, therapeutic, or recreational activities), and (b) how such ideologies are upheld or challenged through the socio-semiotic, interactional co-production of role-plays. How do role-play participants set up, maintain, adjust, and evaluate the role-play frame before, during, and after the role-play? And what happens when role-players straddle the inside and outside of the role-play frame, step out of character, "break the fourth wall," or otherwise breach the boundary between “real” and “fictional” worlds?

We seek interactional analyses of role-plays which take place in institutional (e.g., therapy, professional training) or recreational settings (e.g., Live Action Role-Playing [LARP], children's games), recognizing that role-play often blurs the boundary between the two (e.g., therapeutic LARPing, professional training via children's games). The editors of Semiotic Review, and the guest editors Katie Gibson, Grigory Gorbun, and Lily Ye, invite essays, articles, and book reviews from contributors representing a wide range of disciplines. We plan to review the initial set of papers beginning March 18, 2024, and the issue will remain open to essays and interventions, as we will continue publishing new contributions in an ongoing dialog for at least a year.

Issue 11: Semiotic Review -- Call for Papers for special issues, "Ostension"

Guest edited by Jeff Tolbert and Remo Gramigna

Understood as the simplest form of unmediated communication, ostension is a primary way of expressing meaning through co-presence. Ostension functions as a form of indexicality, pointing to the thing about which one wishes to communicate.

While relatively new to semiotics, philosophers from Augustine to Wittgenstein have developed ostension’s theoretical meanings in several directions. It is typically framed as the most basic form of non- or pre-linguistic communication, relying on the directing of one interlocutor’s attention to a physically present object or action. Through this direction of attention, ostension can be used in the teaching of language. A substantial, but widely divergent, literature on ostension has also grown up over the last forty years within the discipline of folkloristics. Introduced into the field by Linda Dégh and Andrew Vázsonyi, the term was rapidly assimilated to two seemingly unrelated folkloric practices: “acting out” the content of a legend; and legend-tripping, the well-attested process of visiting places associated with legend narratives in order to experience some part of the legend (usually a supernatural phenomenon) for oneself. In folkloristic treatments, ostension emerged as a way of interacting with the truth-claims made by the legend genre.

Despite these divergences, there remain important points of contact between semiotic/linguistic/philosophical and folkloristic models of ostension. This special issue seeks to set folkloristic and semiotic understandings of ostension in productive dialogue. Potential areas of inquiry include ostension’s relationship to epistemology and notions of “truth”; the possibility of “mediated” ostensive communication; and forms of ostension that do not depend on the co-presence of interlocutors and the things/actions being ostended.

Semiotic Review is a fully online, peer-reviewed, open access journal. Like all thematic issues, this issue will remain open to new essays and interventions, and there is thus no deadline for submission.

Issue 10: Special Open Issue on Animation in Semiotic Review

“The animated drawing is the most direct manifestation of…Animism! That which is known to be lifeless, a graphic drawing, is animated. Drawing as such—outside an object of representation!—is brought to life…..The very idea, if you will, of the animated cartoon is like a direct embodiment of the method of animism.”  â€“ Eisenstein, Eisenstein on Disney.

What is animation? What does it mean to animate things in various media, to invest them with their own life and agency? And what is it like to live among such animated things?  This special issue is open to papers from any discipline that look at animation semiotically, not only as a specific medium or art form (viz. cel animation, stop motion, and so on) but also as a broader category of semiotic action, the projection of humanity into the nonhuman world. Inspired especially by Alan Cholodenko’s (1991, 2007, 2016, this issue) and Teri Silvio’s (2010, 2019) wide-ranging syntheses, we see the term animation as encompassing a series of related approaches, ranging from new reconceptualizations of what has been called “animism,” including the recognition of “other-than-human persons” (Hallowell 1960) and Sergei Eisenstein’s conception of the  â€œplasmaticness” of animation as a kind of animism (1986), to the animated “life” of nonhuman characters in Japanese media and everyday life (Nozawa, this issue), to the agency of heterogeneous assemblages in the “Vital Materialism” of Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter (2010). We invite papers that approach the proliferation of animated beings (resulting either from narrower or broader definitions of animation) populating our “more than human” world.  In the spirit of the epigraph by Soviet film pioneer Eisenstein, we invite theorizations of animation in broad relation to animism and vitalism, bringing together cartoon characters and stop motion animated objects with ghosts, dolls, puppets, ancestors, gods, brands, automatons, robots, cyborgs, voice chips, vocaloids, avatars, virtual idols, and so on.

Submissions should be sent to Information on submission is available here:

Semiotic Review is a multidisciplinary open-access online peer-reviewed journal publishing review articles as well as original essays. It endeavours to monitor those domains in the Humanities, the Social and the Natural Sciences which bear upon symbolic and communicative behaviour, cognitive systems and processes, cultural transmission and innovations, and the study of information, meaning and signification in all forms. It specializes in open issues, thematically linked issues that accept publications on a rolling ongoing basis.

Bennett, Jane, 2010. Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. Duke University Press.

Cholodenko, Alan. 1991 Introduction, The Illusion of Life: Essays on Animation, ed. Alan Cholodenko, Power Publications in association with the Australian Film Commission, Sydney.

Cholodenko, Alan.  2007. The Illusion of Life 2: More Essays on Animation, ed. Alan Cholodenko, Power Publications. Sydney.

Cholodenko, Alan. 2016. The Expanding Universe of Animation (Studies). Animation Studies, vol. 11.

Alan Cholodenko. This issue.  The animation of Cinema.  Semiotic Review.  Originally Cholodenko, Alan. The Animation of Cinema. Semiotic Review, [S.l.], n. 3, sep. 2022. Available at: <>.  Reprinted this issue.

Eisenstein, S., 1986. Eisenstein on Disney. Seagull Books.

Hallowell, A.I., 1960. Ojibwa ontology, behavior, and world view. In Culture and History  ed. Stanley Diamond. Columbia University Press.

Nozawa, Shunsuke. This issue.  Characterization. Semiotic Review. Originally Nozawa, Shunsuke. Characterization. Semiotic Review, [S.l.], n. 3, nov. 2013. Available at: <>. Reprinted this issue.

Silvio, Teri. 2010. Animation: The new performance?. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 20(2), pp.422-438.

Silvio, Teri. 2019. Puppets, gods, and brands: Theorizing the age of animation from Taiwan. University of Hawaii Press.

Issue 9: "Images," a special issue of Semiotic Review

One persistent ideological ambivalence in Western academic thought is the differentiation and slippage between language and image. As historians of philosophy have pointed out, Western philosophy has often construed language as a species of vision and imaging. Just as frequently, however, it is asserted that there is a radical caesura between language and image (and representation and our sensory modalities), the latter being a space of non-representability and thus the boundary of language. This special issue confronts these two persistent problematics by critically asking, how are we to rethink the relationship between language and image, text and the sensorial, representation and presence through a holistic semiotic framework, one which refuses, on the one hand, refuses to reduce one side of these seeming antinomies to the other and, on the other hand, to instate their radical difference?

Providing a space for emergent conversations between distinct disciplines that are too often not in conversation with each other—linguistic anthropology, media and visual anthropology, visual studies, film studies, art history, semiotic theory, among others—we invite papers concerned with the semiotic mediation of social life by images, in any and every modality and medium, beyond the canonical divides, definitions, and ideologies that have long defined, and blinkered, theories of the image.  Images is an open issue, and invites new submissions in a range of formats (articles, interviews, roundtables, reviews, etc.) on a rolling basis. 

Issue 8: Place

This special issue examines how people in an array of cultural contexts interpret the experience of place to furnish the conceptual language that structures collective narratives of the world and the cosmos. The issue seeks articles that illuminate the forces that hold our realities together and render them intelligible. As editors, we have elected to label this complex of cultural practices and expressions “local cosmology,” but we also acknowledge that the discourses produced therein have ramifications that extend into the regional, the national, the global, and the universal.

A semiotics of place implies the use of perceived local realities as representative modes. A place is not just a place, but a metaphor for the group, the family, the nation, and by extension all the other places against which it is defined. Our hope in grounding the focus of this special issue in the local is to operate from a particular vantage that showcases the grand scale of diverse strategies and techniques for making worlds knowable. Neighborhoods, institutions, roads, sacred spaces—all become linked in an experiential logic predicated on individual perception. The editors invite essays from various disciplines to consider the implications of a semiotics of place. Some questions to consider include:

  • How does the language of place impact the construction of personal and/or collective ontologies?
  • What strategies do people employ to make sense of “the local,” “the national,” “the global,” “the cosmic,” and how do they relate these levels of social experience to one another?
  • What does it mean to be defined by place but no longer able to experience that place (as in the immigrant experience, or following catastrophic environmental disruption)?

Guest editors Jeffrey A. Tolbert and Bryan Rupert invite essays, articles, and book reviews for this special issue on the semiotics of place. There is no final deadline as we will continue publishing new contributions in an ongoing dialog.

Issue 7: Blank Faces

A Call for Papers for a special issue of Semiotic Review

You gaze at a face. Something is missing – the eyes are closed, the mouth is covered, the nose has ended up in the barber’s bread. This issue of Semiotic Review works to uncover semiotic ideologies of the face by analyzing what happens when people obscure, strip away, omit or overlook features. Reckoning the significance of faces, real and represented, requires a range of approaches, including those from scholars of art, media, anthropology, and face-to-face interaction. In this issue, contributors will interrogate what happens when a face – or part of it – goes absent, whether through masks or screens, erasure or enclosure. We examine faces as ideas and as technologies, as sites of sociality and of self-fashioning.  

The face lives a dual life: as pinnacle of artifice and deliberate control, and as the supposedly natural outlet for micro-expressions and “real” emotion. We invite scholars to reflect on presuppositions of authenticity and duplicity, immediacy and vacancy, which have informed studies of the face. From peek-a-boo to one-way mirrors, the politics of non-reciprocal face-work can help us revise assumptions about the roles of the face in social exchange.  

Beyond what the face shows, we will also probe what blankness means or achieves. Distinctions among faces and their features depend on social norms stratified by ability, gender, race, and class. When does facial perfection become suspiciously artificial? How do people use or accuse others of masking, in rituals or in everyday encounters? We encourage scholars to consider the roles of suspicion and abjection in making sense of achieved or imputed facial qualities.  

How are bodily channels mobilized or frozen to achieve social effects? How might the face express more or less than an agentive self? What kind of contact do faces enable or prevent? An inquiry into the blank face gives purchase on the central role that the physical and metaphorical face plays in models of interaction, deception, and apprehension.  

Guest editors Meghanne Barker and Perry Sherouse invite essays, articles, and book review essays for this special issue on blank faces. The issue will remain open to new essays and interventions, with no final deadline, as we will continue publishing new contributions in an ongoing dialog.

Issue 6: Vegetal Ontologies: A Stroll Through the World of Plants and People

A Call for Papers for a special issue of Semiotic Review on Phytosemiotics

With the recent animal and multispecies turns in critical theory and philosophy, everything from cats and dogs to microbes and mycorrhizal fungi have become vital allies against anthropocentrism, yet plants have been largely ignored. This is a call for papers that consider the importance of plants as contributing thinkers and actors within multispecies interactions, landscapes, and worlds. We begin with the path breaking insight of Martin Krampen (1928-2015): that the study of plant life cannot be reduced simply to mechanical descriptions of efficient cause, but must account for phytosemiotics, or sign use and interpretation by plants. Like other life forms, plants are autonomous subjects with their own, meaning- laden life worlds, from which those of human and nonhuman animals emerge. The role of plant cultivation in human civilization, from the rise of the state to the green revolution, is well known. But recent botanical research shows that plants also respond to and communicate about their surroundings, not only by exchanging chemical signals through the air, but also by sharing and stealing nutrients via symbiotic networks underground. In climate change policy and practice, furthermore, plants are leading indicators of, and countermeasures deployed against, the dawning Anthropocene.

Plants lack nervous systems that mediate between life worlds and experience, which means that they are characterized by a degree of immersion in their habitats that other creatures depend upon, and may come to dread or desire for ourselves.1

The activities of “individual” plants give rise to multi-species collectives, including forests, swamps and jungles, of which animal subjects are living thoughts.2 For Krampen, the fact that all animal bodies and behaviors must establish correspondence with the “vegetative rules of endosemiotics” (1981: 208), places an ethical demand on us to know and care for plants lest we asphyxiate ourselves and destroy the planet we share with them.

We seek contributions from various disciplinary perspectives that will consider:

  • How we know plants as organisms and subjects.
  • How we care for them—as aesthetic objects, as sustenance, as biocapital—as well as the lives they lead for themselves, indifferent to us. 
  • For whom plant thinking matters, or for whom should it matter, and why? 
  • What stands in the way of plants thinking their own thoughts, of our thinking their thoughts, of their ability to think ours? 
  • How could this be overcome so that we might become better for and with plants?

Editor Kane X. Faucher and guest editor Joshua O. Reno invite essays, articles, and book review essays for this special issue on phytosemiotics. We plan to review the first set of papers in February 2016, and the issue will remain open to new essays and interventions, with no final deadline as we will continue publishing new contributions in an ongoing dialog for at least a year.

1 Marder, Michael. 2013. Plant Thinking. Columbia University Press, Press, p. 12.↩
2 Kohn, Eduardo. 2013. How Forests Think. University of California Press.↩

Issue 5: Semiotics of food-and-language

“There is communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk.” (M.F.K Fisher)

This special issue of the Semiotic Review will look at food as a signifying medium through which humans negotiate their material and spiritual existence. We seek to complicate the well-established tradition of using language as a semiotic analog of food—from Levi-Strauss and Douglas to beyond—by calling for works that look at how food and language are semiotically interconnected in new ways. While such interconnections may appear to develop naturally out of the shared orality of food and language or their spatial-temporal contiguity, it is clear that these interpolations take various forms across diverse social and cultural contexts. Numerous studies suggest the fruitfulness of considering food and language as embedded within the same semiotic frame: research on language in use often incidentally includes data about the production, distribution, preparation, representation, and consumption of food, while many studies of food depend on linguistic data such as, for instance, words for food, utterances organizing its production, genres surrounding its preparation, and pragmatic routines for accessing and sharing it. However, the intrinsic simultaneities of food and language have rarely been explicitly theorized nor their interdependencies made into specific objects of analysis.

For this issue, we invite papers that address this lacuna by examining: 1) discourse about food (from discussions of how it is procured to how it tastes), 2) discourse around food (how social interactions frame and elaborate acts of hunting, marketing, cooking, eating, etc.), 3) discourse through food as a semiotic resource (the communication of emotional, social, and cultural meanings via discursive or other semiotic systems involving food itself as a semiotic medium), and/or 4) discourse as food (the representation of talk as a necessary form of human nourishment). Papers need not take a traditionally linguistic approach (i.e., no need to analyze phonemes, morphemes, transcribed turns at talk, etc.), but should explore the semiotics of food from any new vantage point that considers food and language as mutually constitutive semiotic media, interrelated in sometimes coherent and sometimes contradictory ways.

Semiotic Review's editor, Paul Manning, along with guest editors, Jillian Cavanaugh and Kathleen Riley, invite essays, articles, and book review essays for this special issue on the semiotics of food-and-language. There is no final deadline as we will continue publishing new contributions in an ongoing dialog for at least a year

Issue 4: Im/materialities

Over the past decade, scholarly interest in the material characteristics and qualities of human worlds has developed apace. Under the heading of ‘materiality’ scholars have emphasized the effects of the material world on meaning, and the dynamic relationships that exist between people and things. This focus on materiality has been positioned by many writers as a move that goes beyond visions of the material world as a passive constraint on meaning. Rather, materiality has been held out as a means to undercut dualistic divisions into subjects and objects, culture and nature, people and things. It is said to do this through drawing attention to the relationships between humans and nonhumans, and to their mutually entangled and constitutive nature. Related to this is an emphasis on “material agency” and a questioning of the status of objects as non-human actors (here drawing largely on the work of Bruno Latour and Alfred Gell). Most recently this impetus has been associated with a broader questioning of accepted ontological frameworks and a search for alternate ontologies, again often positioned as move that pushes back against questions of representation.

Here we’d like to question this recurrent rejection of semiosis as a legitimate subject of inquiry, arguing that the very emphasis on materiality (or ontology in its most recent framing) reveals its limitations as a way to work through or undercut dualist divisions. It amounts to little more than a re-centering of a dualist perspective, which slips between a focus on non-humans and a focus on relations between humans and non-humans. This becomes particularly apparent in the way in which questions of representation, subjectivity and semiosis are often ignored or devalued. Instead, indexical relations are privileged as somehow “beyond” or aside from meaning. The papers in this thematic issue aim to reframe this debate, refusing an opposition between materiality and meaning; not only do we advocate expanding the terrain of semiosis to include the material, but we also search for ways to explore and tease out different im/material semiotic modes. This then is about finding ways to maintain the material and the immaterial within the same analytical frame. We suggest that a Peircean semiotic approach is particularly fruitful for this endeavor, given that it partitions the world in ways that cannot be reduced to traditional binary relations. In this issue we explore different dimensions of Peirce’s semiotic, as a route for thinking through questions of materiality, focusing in particular on the material in terms of semiotic process rather than as static sign vehicle.

Some questions to consider are:

  • What does a Peircean approach offer for a reframing and reconfiguring of subject/object, agent/structure, and material/immaterial dualisms?
  • How might the self-organization encompassed in Peirce’s concept of “habit” provide a more productive way to think about material agency?
  • How are human worlds created and understood by being brought into semiotically mediated relationships with objects and others?

The Editors of Semiotic Review, along with guest editors, Alexander Bauer and Zoe Crossland, invite essays, articles, and book review essays for this special issue on the semiotics of im/materiality. The issue will remain open to new essays and interventions, with no final deadline as we will continue publishing new contributions in an ongoing dialog for at least a year.

Issue 3: Open Issue

Semiotic Review publishes two kinds of issues: thematic issues (often proposed and edited by guest editors) and a single non-thematic “open” issue (issue 3) which collects those contributions that are not submitted for thematic issues Like the “thematic” issues, the “open” issue is an ongoing issue that accepts new papers and publishes them on an rolling basis so that new material will continue to be added to them indefinitely.

Issue 2: Monsters

This issue of Semiotic Review explores the intersections of the monstrous/grotesque and the semiotic.

In a manner similar to the fetish, the monster, a figure of radical alterity or difference, can be viewed as a semiotic figure which collects and foregrounds a series of sign relations at the boundaries of semiosis.  The Latin etymology of the term which connects the term to indexicality (monstrare ‘to point’) already underlines the semioticity of the monster.  Monstrosity and the grotesque occupies an aporia in historical, cultural, and semiotic contexts, and the monster therefore serves as a figure of the variousness and heterogeneity of semiosis:  As a sign of portent or omen in the ancient world, as an impossible chimerical sign vehicle standing at the limits of licit representation, for the ineffability of God or the impossibility of the Idol, in the form of ‘monstrous races’, forming a set of inversions of the normal that define the exotic lands of the East as spaces of radical alterity, as a wondrous sign of the absolutely singular, novel or exotic exhibited in curiosities from far-flung voyages and on woodcut images on pages of early newspapers, as a sign of a playful animate Nature which creates preternatural exceptions to its own orderly categories in the Early Modern period, to the scientific and epistemic practices that sought to rationalize monstrosity in its myriad forms into clinical schema in the modern period, to the playful proliferation of monsters in contemporary media mixes. We invite scholarly contributions that make monstrosity and the grotesque the central pivot of sign relations, including papers that explore the semiotic aspect of monsters and monstrosity and other comparable forms of radical alterity, to papers which explore the category of monstrosity and comparable forms of radical alterity as ethnosemiotic categories: is there a universal category of the monster or does it denote a changing semiotic category of specific cultures?  
The editors of Semiotic Review call for submissions that explore any of these themes or similar ones.  Like all thematic issues, this issue will remain open to new essays and interventions, and there is thus no deadline for submission.

Issue 1: Parasites

This issue of Semiotic Review looks to multiple sites of parasitic action, considered here both as the study of the parasitic as well as a reflections on parasitic encounters, methods and theories.

For example, the recent turn to animal studies has highlighted the interdependence of humans and nonhumans, from dogs to mushrooms, bees to yeast, cheese cultures to intestinal bacteria. But it has also revealed the relationship of humans to their nonhuman world to be one of oscillating internalizations and externalizations. In both cases, the relations of the parasite to its host unsettles our ontological assumptions about whose world is inhabited by whom, of who is the parasite of whom. Focusing upon the parasite helps us to move beyond the anthropocentrism often inherent in our theoretical conceptions of the world: parasitism is vital to life across distinctions of domain – animal, plant, bacteria, alien, machine, and onward.

The figure of the parasite provokes ruminations on the external that turn out to be internal after all, or that, at any rate, call into question the identity or the ontology of the host. So: let us ask after the parasite that inserts material into the host, that colonizes the host, that transforms the host, and think thereby about scholarship as a parasitic practice that makes and remakes its worlds through its imbrications in the very capacities of life. This issue of Semiotic Review is unified in its interests in a process, not an object. Parasitism over the parasite.
The editors of Semiotic Review, and the Guest-Editor Matthew Wolf-Meyer, call for submissions that explore any of these themes. Like all thematic issues, this issue will remain open to new essays and interventions, and there is thus no deadline for submission.