HENA03634U  Engelsk - Frit emne: Meaning in Mind and Society

Årgang 2013/2014
Engelsk titel

MA-course: Meaning in Mind and Society

Kursusindhold

Meaning is the central concept in the humanities – and the most basic property of language. From the cognitive point of view, meaning is a mental phenomenon, part of an individual’s mind.  But it is also – and perhaps primarily – a social fact: something that involves human groups. Knowing a word is only useful if it means the same thing to the speaker and the addressee.  Meanings therefore exist as part of the socially shared universe, not just in the individual mind.

In the past generation, the cognitive dimension of meaning has been in focus. This is due to the agenda-setting role of cognitive science, whose goal was a complete description of the powers of the human mind. This enterprise united psychologists, philosophers, linguists and other disciplines in an umbrella discipline; in linguistics, a key framework is Cognitive Linguistics with George Lakoff, Leonard Talmy and Ronald Langacker as main figures. But in its pursuit of what goes on in the human mind, cognitive science is beginning to face issues with social dimensions, and this calls for a theory that includes the relations between meaning as a property of the mind and meaning as a dimension of social life.

From a critical perspective, meaning in society is typically studied with power and social construction as central concepts, based on a poststructural approach that understands human subjects as victims of oppression and manipulation (Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu are key figures in this approach). In the past generation, the critical approach has been modified by a postmodern tendency, stressing the individuals’ options for imposing their own social constructions on reality: since what masquerades as reality is just a social construction, my own constructions (e.g. of gender roles and personal identity) are just as valid.

The course addresses these themes and suggests an approach that captures the dynamic interplay between individual and collective forces, based on a theory of cultural evolution and ‘niche construction’. Among examples of meaning in social space are the concept of ‘securitization’, as explored in the Copenhagen School of international relations, the issue of ethnic and national identity, the role of norms  for social life, and the role of key cultural concepts as sources of ‘selection pressure’ shaping the lives of individuals living in a cultural niche. Course materials include Peter Harder Meaning in Mind and Society (price: around 600 kr when purchased via the teacher) and a course compendium.

Holdundervisning
Point
15 ECTS
Prøveform
Andet
Kriterier for bedømmelse
Point
7,5 ECTS
Prøveform
Andet
Kriterier for bedømmelse
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