Alfred Lang

University of Bern, Switzerland

Journal Article 1993

Non-Cartesian Artefacts in Dwelling Activities: Steps towards a Semiotic Ecoloy


@SemEcoPro @EcoPersp @CuPsy @DwellTheo @PhiSci

43 / 53KB + 3 figures  Last revised 98.10.25

Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Psychologie, 1993, 52 (2) 138-147.

Reprinted in: Quarterly Newsletter of the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition (UCSD)15 (3) 87-96; and pp. 185-202 in: Michael Cole; Yrjö Engeström & Olga Vasquez (1997, Eds.) Mind, Culture, Activity -- Seminal papers from the laboratory of compartive human cognition. Cambridge, Cambridge Univ. Press.

© 1998 by Alfred Lang

Scientific and educational use permitted

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Abstract: emiotic Ecology is introduced as a conceptual method. It is based on a triadic semiotic inspired by Charles S. Peirce. Its objective is to understand ecological systems, in particular person-culture-systems. Using research about people with their things in their rooms from the Bernese Environmental and Cultural Psychology Group as an illustrative example the author discusses some basic methodological problems and presents important concepts of the approach in their context.


Zusammenfassung: Die semiotische Ökologie wird als eine begriffliche Methode auf der Basis einer triadischen Semiotik nach Charles S. Peirce zur Untersuchung von ökologischen Systemen, insbesondere von Person-Kultur-Systemen eingeführt. Anhand eines illustrativen Beispiel aus der Forschung über Menschen mit ihren Dingen in ihren Räumen der Berner Gruppe für Umwelt- und Kulturpsychologie werden wissenschaftstheoretische Probleme besprochen und die wichtigen Begriffe des Ansatzes im Zusammenhang dargestellt.


Commonsense and science tend to presuppose human subjects separate from and opposed to an objective world. Questions are raised as to the adequacy of this view for understanding open and developing systems such as humans in their cultural environment. In response, a conceptual methodology is proposed. It explicates structure formation processes within persons and in their environment as of basically equivalent function. Throughout their ontogenetic development, individuals are building up and modifying structures in the form of dynamic memory not only in their mind-brains, but they also contribute to the formation and change of cultural artefacts in the physical and social space of their group. Both kinds of structures, internal and external ones, including their constitution of an ecological super-system and its development, are essential conditions of what personal and social system can do. Humans are as well creators as they are creatures of their environment. Conceptual tools elaborated from the triadic semiotic of Charles S. Peirce appear appropriate to reconceptualize the relationship between humans and their cultural environment in a framework of semiotic ecology.


1. Dwelling Activities in Cartesian Perspective

The present conceptual framework has evolved of attempts at understanding the human activities designated by verbs such as to "dwell", to "abide", to "reside", to "live in", "being at home" or, in French, "habiter" and, in German, "wohnen". These phenomena withstand clear definition or delimitation (see Lang in prep.). They can roughly be characterized as involving people and settings in relative continuity, usually small groups and houses or parts and contents and surroundings thereof. In most cultures these phenomena bear a more private or intimate character to be distinguished from the more public settings and events of the group at large. In modern civilization, in addition, they show some opposition the institution of work and labour. The dwelling activities, as a rule, manifest themselves in a rather large variety and loose connex of social or solitary actions interwoven with a similarly large diversity and slowly changing compound of smaller and larger artefacts such as, in addition to buildings, furniture and household contrivances or pieces of craft and trade. Possession or some other form of disposability of space and objects by the people involved often are of serious importance.

Psychologists have, until recently, given little attention to activities in and around homes in spite of the fact that they tend to take, on the average, roughly a third of a person's life time in Western societies, not counting sleep time (for reviews of research see Altman & Werner 1985; Flade 1987; Lawrence 1987). As a rule, we understand -- be it prescientific or rooted in various provinces of social science -- artefacts to be somehow instrumental for the persons involved. Settings, houses, objects, and arrangements, it is said, are to fulfill individuals' basic or secondary needs, such as for shelter, storage, sociality, privacy, etc., or they are to serve their planned purpose of better comfort and higher prestige.

Unfortunately such instrumental explanations are quite arbitrary and also circular in their logic (Lang 1990). First, they explain nothing, because neither those needs nor those goals can be pointed out independently of their explananda. These terms only mirror the observable in more abstract and collective terms. Second, they explain everything, in that anything could eventually become a reinforcer of secondary needs and anything can in principle become a target of human planning. Both the emergence of the supposed secondary needs and the causative path from the supposed needs or goals to the observable facts are obscure.

Indeed, these theories "explain" that anything in matters of building and contriving dwellings is admissible. "Anything goes" appears to be typical of 20th century environmental design in the industrialized countries, whereas in traditional cultures building and arranging things follow constraints within the social and individual life of the people involved. In fact, dwelling activities in modern civilization, as witnessed by local, regional and national variation, are also quite highly conventionalized; deviations can meet painful disapproval. This contrasts with widespread belief we could do as we like. Insofar the limitless production of material commodities in modern societies definitely consumes longterm resources and rapidly pollutes the planet's biosphere, suspicion arises that our instrumental understanding of space and objects in the interest of people is superficial and should be complemented.

Need and goal oriented theorizing is anthropocentric and, in addition, highly individuocentric. It obviously discounts our present knowledge of the human species' delicate place in the biosphere. Its background is what is often called the Cartesian view of the world and, in particular, of the human being. In a Cartesian view of the world, human subjects or mental systems (res cogitantes) are thought to be completely different from objects, i.e. material givens or artefacts. The latter are considered just another form of res extensae, although they are systematically formed by humans rather than having arisen just by themselves or by "nature". In its essence this dualistic world view opposes active subjects to passive objects, the latter being conceived as material and absolutely lawful in their behavior, the former being, in addition, imbued with a free mind.

This is not the place to discuss the manifold problems of dualism and its disguised offspring, nominalistic materialism, and their repercussions in psychology (for a comprehensive critique see Rorty 1979). However, a growing number of scientists from different fields are of recent investing in viable alternatives. Since Cartesian thinking and its idealistic or materialistic ramifications predispose a biased human-environment-relationship, attempts at redefining artefacts in relation to persons are particularly desirable. The dwelling processes, so poorly understood, offers an exemplary working place.

The present effort wants to dissolve some of the problems of dualism on a very basic level. The reader should keep this in mind when, in the following, we pass from concrete examples to an abstract conceptual framework. Another point to emphasize is our use of a general methodological approach that has been called conditional-genetic and contrasted with the more common investigation of classes of substantive objects ('subjects') and their traits or behavior (Lewin 1931; Lang 1992b). The goal of scientific understanding cannot lie in translating into special terms how parts of the world act upon us, their observers. Rather, it is our interest to find and formulate how parts of the world that we can discern act upon each other.

Therefore, as a second caveat we should remind the reader habituated to either an objectivistic or a subjectivistic approach that our non-Cartesian prespective is to open a third anvenue. If it is true that materialistic reductionism cannot, by its very definition, grasp what is essential in culture, it is equally justified to discredit considering the world, including culture, exclusively through the looking glass of mental systems, because both approaches are partial and prepossessed.

If we want to free ourselves from these opposed world views, an advisable focus for our interest migth be on the processes by which persons, groups, and culture constitute each other. The task is then to extricate from what we can observe those genetic series established by the interplay of structures and processes that have brought about particular dwelling settings and activities or, in other words to conceptualize what turns human-environment-relations into person-culture-systems of any specific kind. Following Peirce's implicit advice that "this act" of making "reference to a correlate", in other words, of creating or using a sign, "has not been sufficiently studied by the psychologists" (W2:53/1867 = CP 1.553, emphasis added). Judging his statement still correct today, I take the liberty of re-interpreting 20th century Cartesian psychological knowledge to fit my purpose.


2. A Young Couple's Dirty Clothes Chest

Let me start with excerpts from transcripts of an interview with a young married woman, called S., asked to talk "about some important things in their apartment" (Translation by A.L. from Slongo 1991:104f.):

The Dirty Clothes' Chest chosen by S. is one of several items S. reluctantly had to buy from her sister at the latter's emigration.

S.: The interesting thing, now, with the Chest that stands in the sleeping room, is that it pleases me highly, it's in fact almost like a sea trunk, that's what it is to me, you can stow away something like the used clothes of 3 weeks or so. I don't really like to do the laundry, and if I have to, I like to have the machine full; and this is the only thing [from the sister] which I have considered, I wouldn't like to give it back to her. Because this chest stands for comfort, on the one hand (laughs!), that is, there is a mad lot of clothes going in, I can hide the things inside, I can make them disappear, and then, on the other side, it's decorative, too. And then, the chest in addition takes charge of R. [the husband]. When he has no skirts left, you don't notice, because everything is inside the chest, he only sees it in the cupboard. Earlier, we had a smaller basket, it was overflowing already after one week, so you had to do something against, you just had to go somewhere with the dirty clothes. And then, since we live here and have this large chest, it is R. who does the laundry most of the time, not me (laughs!).


S.: I believe, it has something to do with the capacity of the chest, of what goes in there, there is a connection, that we did the laundry less often since then, and that we did not participate in the washing-day schedule that reigns the house. In this house, people do their laundry every week, each party has one fixed day, and when the people in this apartment left, then everybody in the house assumed we would take over their fixed day, but we didn't. And that's for me a kind of sign that I do not participate in the Swiss washing-day philosophy.


S.: Well, this chest, I would not like to give it back, i's a kind of freedom for me, well, a kind of revolt.


3. People with Their Things in Their Rooms

I cannot give here a full account of our psychological theory of the dwelling activity and even less of our methodological approach addressed at reconstructing formative transactions and their traces from interview and observational data (see Lang et al. 1987; Slongo 1991; Studer 1993). The reader should peruse the above example as standing for myriads of interlocking processes that form or modify structures within and around the persons living together.

One of our basic assumption is that we should not consider the environmental givens as objects and spaces having an elemental and independent existence and fully specifiable character in physical terms. For, in their pertinence for humans, those are things and places or entities of relational quality incorporating in some way some disposition of their originators and at the same time presenting all along some capacity to determine people within their range or persons making use of them (see Lang 1992a). Therefore, in our view, things and places are neither objective facts nor simply subjective constructions. Rather they are realities spanning across people and their environment.

Conversely, this corresponds to persons being found both, or more than, subjects and objects (Lang in print a). And while the researcher can observe "transactions" between individuals and parts of their environment, there is no necessity to comply with that particular articulation of the world also in his or her conceptualizations of what is going on. If real is what can have effects, the first task of science is to find those entities in the world that can have effects in a consistent manner. If individuals per se show different effects than persons together with their things, then persons-and-their-things or ecological units are real. Similarly, if objects alone compared to objects-with-their-people behave differently, the latter are realities to be understood.

It is true, our immediate apprehension seems to articulate ourselves as coherent and self-active individuals and self-contained elementary objects around us upon which we act. We seem to have some intuitive knowledge about this. But can we trust our impressions? It is obvious that many of those objects also determine people's behavior in various ways, while the freedom and power of the subjects, though evident, is rather constrained.

We do not immediately perceive groups and culture in a likewise comprehensive and unitary way as we "see" individuals. But then, what are "individuals" and where exactly are their boundaries? It is barely deniable that individuals as well as groups and cultures are to some degree coherent and at the same time divided into fluctuating and interacting parts. While some of the parts my appear more essential and others more accidental, in fact, any change of any part may change the whole in its potential to have effects. So, Peirce -- in a then premature philosophy of science statement of utmost actuality today -- compares the individual person to "a cluster of stars which appears to be one star when viewed with the naked eye, but which scanned with the telescope of scientific psychology is found ... to be multiple within itself, and on the other hand to have no absolute demarcation from a neighbouring condensation." (1893, Ms. 403; see Peirce 1986:82)

No doubt, groups are themselves like clusters of stars and capable of consistent acting and developing, be it in informal manner or ritualized or through representatives or some other forms. Some degree of coherence and directedness, indeed, is what characterizes social systems and cultures as well as individuals. By directedness I simply mean that events tend to form ecosystemic series the later segments of which depend on the earlier ones in such a way that future steps are as much accidental as predictable (Lewin 1934; Lang 1992b). In addition, we can infer from observation that organs and even smaller divisions within individuals act upon each other in similar ways. Finally, we must conclude that it is seldom clear in what way the whole or parts of an individual and what parts of her surrounds are really involved in what we perceive as an action of a subject.

Intuitions about coherence and differentiation of individuals and groups vary widely across cultures and change over time. So, perhaps, our habitual articulation of ourselves and of object-things should be taken as one of several possible inferences rather than an undeniable intuition (see Peirce 1868 W2:193-211=CP 5.213-317 or 1905 CP 5.462). Briefly, let us then refrain from any presupposition we are capable to avoid about the entities involved in, for example, residential transactions and let us try to describe these processes, using the "chest" example, as they might appear to happen in a non-Cartesian view.

Our pair of persons and their relationship is demonstrated to have changed in the course of a couple of weeks by the simple addition of the large chest to their dwelling. A considerable field of their actions towards each other and, in addition, another set of their everyday behavior towards third parties is reported to be different than before. The couple does in no way appear to have intentionally arranged any of these developments. Though S. is aware of the role of the chest, we have reason to suspect that her talking to the investigator about it has contributed to deepening her understanding. Also we can assume that R. behaves differently than before, whether he has insight into all aspects or not. On the other hand, it would be tenuous to ascribe this change to any kind of "stimulation" or other direct causation going from the chest or the clothes stored therein toward S. and R. The chest, like so many other discernible items or places in the houshold, takes a gradually transmuting role in the series of hundreds or thousands of transactive events in the ecosystem formed by the two persons and their dwelling. It is true, the chest as an object, if we neglect its new placement, in contrast to our couple has not significantly changed by getting its new role with the couple. However, our task is to explain the chest's potential to influence the relationship of our couple including their footing in the wider social system.

We propose to consider the system formed of the pair and their dwelling and analyze it in terms of its emergence and change over time. The chest, or for that matter any reasonable sample of things and places, serves the investigator as a focussing method or as a device to bring the functioning of the ecological system into the open. Considering the chest in separation would similarly lead into the off as considering humans in isolation. Taking the chest as a singular collection and arrangement of a multitude of molecules existing at a given place over a certain time and specifying it in terms of physical and chemical measures is just one of many possible descriptions. Equally valid are everday verbal descriptions pointing to its functions as a vessel for all kinds of things or to its shape and ornamentation in terms of style or impressiveness. In principle many more kinds of description can be evoked and combinations thereof might be feasible.

The point is that all such descriptions are selective or abstractive and therefore approximative only. A full description is simply not possible. This should become clear when we ask to what extent any trait of the chest can really be a character of the chest itself. If it would not be in a certain respect or potential effect, it would not matter at all. A trait is necessarily attributed by an observer in a certain respect, notwithstanding the fact that the trait can and should for practical purposes be grounded in reality. On the other hand, to include all attributable characters or potential effects that might, appropriately or fictitiously, ever be found in connection with this or that chest would be a nuisance. So we have to refrain from characterizing things as such or to glorify one particular ("objective") description above all others and, instead, explicate the context of their having effects we are factually interested in. This means to conceptualize people and things in places in inter-activity as evolving ecosystems.

Semiotic appears to be a suitable tool for this task because of its potential to overcome the Cartesian split between the supposed objective and subjective worlds. In Peircean semiotic, both cognitive systems and artefacts are similar in many respects, because they can be seen as sign-types. Signs are neither material nor mental, yet belong in a way to both of these realms (for a comprehensive reference to modern semiotcs see Nöth 1990). Indeed, Peirce considered "thought" (CP 5.594/1903), "human beings themselves" (CP 5.314/1868 = W2:241), and perhaps "the entire universe", including, of course, artefacts, to be composed of signs (CP 5.448/1906; Peirce exaggerates a bit). "But a sign is not a sign unless it translates itself into another sign in which it is more fully developed" (CP 5.594 /1903). The question then is, to be asked of cognitive systems as well as of artefacts, how they can be translated into other signs. In other words: how do signs come about and how do signs have effects? Obviously, in many cases, people are involved. (We shall not discuss here the thesis that the value of semiotic is exactly in the more general case.)


4. The Semiotic Function Circle

It might be advisable, then, for psychology to combine forces with semiotics (Lang in print b). A diagrammatic approach is perhaps helpful (a) for introducing semiotic tools and (b) in applying them to the human-environment-in-development constellation (see also Lang 1992c and in print c).

Let us represent Semiosis or the process of triadic structure formation by the semiosic arrow, i.e. the directed symbol composed of a circle for the origin or source, a rhombus for the resultant anaform and a band mediating between the two, i.e. interpreting the source into its anaform (figure 1, top). Origin (semiotically: referent), mediator (interpretant), and resultant anaform (presentant) are matter-energy-formations or structures; all three are entities that can in principle be empirically pointed out in their structure or process manifestations. By anaform I mean any discernible formation that is semiosically related to two other structures, be it by structural similarity or complementarity (iconically), by genuine causation, contingency or antagonism (indexically) and/or simply by habit or tradition (symbolically). The anaform may be seen as the sign carrier.



Figure 1. Diagrammatic Representation of Semiosis (the Semiosic Arrow and its Parts) and its Application to Exchanges between Persons and the World in Time


Any one of the three parts of the triad are naturally matter-energy-formations (or formations for short) with their respective characteristic binding and effect potential. However, only the three together as a unit is a triadic sign, i.e. a relative implying "meaning". This difference is of utmost importance and often neglected even in semiotics. Any formation can accept and produce effects by its proper disposition. Such are dyadic relations and are studied primarily by the physical sciences.

On the other hand, many formations can, in addition, induce effects under suitable circumstances that imply a triadic relative which is the proper topic of semiotics. In an encounter with certain other formations the effects of some formations can go beyond their proper dispositions and actually bring about a third formation, called their anaform. Semiosis is thus the process of interpretation of a referent into a (re)presentant. In their sign-character, formations have effects based on their embeddedness in a contextual history. We can only understand these effects when we can explicate their semiosic embeddedness. While the physical effects of formations have a necessary or chance character, the semiosic effects based on their contextual embeddedness are unique. They could as well be quite different, had their history taken another course. However, exactly due to their semiosic embeddedness they demonstrate regularity of some degree between necessity and chance or, in other words, a kind of lawfulness-with-freedom. In our intuition we therefore perceive the latter as carriers of "meaning", while the former must just be taken as they are.

Common semiotic parlance would define the anaform as a sign standing for or replacing in some respect its referent. In contrast, I prefer in line with Peirce to say that the anaform (his "representamen") presents the triad, i.e. it proffers the quintessence of the encounter between referent and interpretant for further semiosic occasions and is thus founding chains of mediated effects or history. The triadic character of this concept of semiosis is to be emphasized and it should be clear that this conception requires no split of the world in a material and a mental fraction. The essential point appears simple enough: to represent an entity, a medium is vital, if the entity is to have effects through something other than itself (note 1).

As a physical entity the chest of our example weighs on the floor with its mass in the gravity field, or it actually prevents other formations to pass through its location. As a sign-type the chest is interpreted by an animal as potentially preventing it from passing or as (im)possible to move around. This, of course, presumes a suitable perceptual-cognitive system in the encountering animal, i.e. an appropriate interpretant. For a suitably experienced human seeing the chest, in addition, a wealth of general and idiosyncratic potentialities are stirred, consciously or not: sumptuous, container, to be opened from top, antique, richly ornamented, bought from sister, original property of aunt Clara, no need to do the laundry, "a kind of revolt", ...

The triad can be dealt with as a structure or as a process. From the process perspective, one of several equivalent descriptions would emphasize the encounter of two preexisting structures, the referent and the interpretant, giving rise to a third, the anaform presentant. It is of no import whether the parts of the triad are physically transient or lasting. So, a sentence printed on paper would be a referent formation available over time for a reading capacity interpretant to understand its meaning, while the spoken sentence would serve a similar referent role with a listening interpretant in just one fugitive moment. Physically, both formations are nothing but spatio-temporal matter-energy-distributions. Together with befitting interpretant structures they develop a thoroughly distinct potential. I tend to speak of formations as structures when they have a distinguished character in being stable or repeatable or reproducible. We come back to the structural perspective below.

The illustrative diagram (figure 1, bottom) applies these semiotic concepts at the process level to the ecological situation. The schema represents the world as the white surface of the paper with entities in the world rendered as inscribed formations. The world changes over time from left bottom to right top. The individual person we are interested in is depicted at three successive points in time by the filled-in rectangle. Exchange processes -- one might think of them as "metabolism" on the information level -- between the person and the world are indicated by semiosic arrows. In those aspects the person can relate to it, receptively or effectively, the world becomes the person's environment.

There are semiosic processes spanning from the environment into the individual (IntrO) and from the individual into the environment (ExtrO). In addition semioses occur within the person (IntrA) and also totally outside the person (ExtrA), the latter usually involving other individuals (see below). A cardinal feature of our approach is the thesis that all of these four classes of processes are of essentially the same nature, in that they can be conceived as triadic semiosic processes resulting in an anaform implying an interpreted referent. On the other hand, the four types of semiosic processes can be distinguished on the basis of the location of the involved referent and presentant structures. See Lang (1992c; in print c) for a more elaborate presentation of this semiotic conception inspired by and elaborating on Peirce. The reader should be warned again that the present approach to semiotics is not of the "something-stands-for-or-signifies-something(-to-somebody)" kind but conceives of semiosis as a general form of causation and a device for creating memory and history (see Lang in print c).

In figure 1 we have indicated IntrO- and ExtrO-processes coming from and going to the environment in general. Evidently these refer, quite generally to perceptive and actional processes, i.e. the taking into account by the individual of her environment and of having effects into that environment. In addition we have diagrammed IntrA- and ExtrA-processes that, together with IntrO- and ExtrO-processes tend to form genetic series (see above and Lang 1992b). While the latter two are ecological processes relating the individual to her environment, the former two correspond to psychological processes proper and to social and cultural processes respectively.



Figure 2. Four-phased Function Circle (Spiral) with the Processes Relating Living Systems to their Environment in Common and Semiotic Terminology


In figure 2 these processes are diagrammed schematically abstracting from time and relating them cyclically. This conception elaborates on the idea of the Function Circle of Jakob von Uexküll (originally 1906, see 1934/1991) reformulating it semiotically and adding the IntrA- and ExtrA-phases. If we conceive the four phases in the framework of semiotic ecology as triadic structure formation processes, it is easy to see that the circle in fact goes in a spiral through time and implies the ecological basis of co-development of a living system within its environment. This is so because each of the four phases has the potential to create self-referent dynamic memory structures (an anaform presentant of itself) which can enter in later phases in the same or later cycles either in the form of referents or of interpretants to contribute to the emergence of an ongoing sequence (process) or network (structure) of semioses.

Let's consider acts of an individual that leave traces, i.e. some anaform of her condition, in her environment (ExtrO-semiosis, figure 3). These presentants can be taken up, immediately or later on, IntrO-semiosically by the same or by some other person or agency within the social system. In other words, ExtrO-semioses proffer some concrete embodiment of the actor. These externalizations "store" some condition of the actor and keep them potentially effective for so long as the anaform exists (Fuhrer 1993). Some aspects of the actor can thus be profused to everywhere and everytime the anaform can be brought to without the person herself being present. Presentants of ExtrO-semiosis, thus are a form of external or social memory (see Lang 1992a and in print a), provided there is some suitable interpretant to make use of it as its referent in one or several ExtrA-semioses.


Figure 3. The Semiotic Function Circle and the Role of IntrO-, IntrA-, ExtrO-, and ExtrA-Semiosis in Constituting Persons and Culture


If this is indeed the case, the minimal condition for communication is given (Slongo 1992). And if eventually the original actor becomes a member of the semiosic chain anew, the function circle is closed, no matter how many intermediate semioses intervene. To the extent that all interpretants involved in the chain or net of ExtrA-semioses are affiliated among each other, a system of co-existing and co-constituting entities -- semiosic referents, interpretants and presentants -- is established which can rightly be equated with the culture, our target person is dwelling in (Fuhrer 1993). One advantage of the semiotic conception lies in its dealing with processes and structure in the same terms.

IntrO-semiosis is the process to build internal dynamic memory structures. Take the idea serious that any semiosic process results in a concrete formation and is unthinkable without equally concrete referent and interpretant structures. Indeed, if perception is to have effects on behavior, on problem solving, on emotional states etc. it must leave something upon which these and other further processing can be based. Most probably, IntrO-semioses can be thought of leaving altered states, transiently or enduring, of the brain-mind, anaforms of the stimulus, if you like. This corresponds well with Peirce's idea that percepts, feelings, thoughts, etc. and, indeed, persons themselves, are nothing but signs (see above). The presentants of IntrO-semioses, like any other semiosic resultants, need not necessarily stand in an iconic relation to some stimulus, as perception psychologists seem to assume. Indexical and symbolic relations are as well possible. In fact, a semiotic conception of perceptual processes is an excellent starting point for justifying the indigenous and autochthonous nature of psychological processes in general while at the same time assuring the adequate relatedness of the living system to the character of its environment (Uexküll 1934).

Finally, IntrA-semioses are fully closing the function circle. They conceptualize semiotically structures and events in the proper domain of psychological and physiological approaches to human functioning. In figure 3 some hints are made as to levels of primary and secondary connections between ingoing and outgoing semioses. While instincts and other routine processing would be seen as semiosic paths on the relatively direct primary level, so-called higher processes would also construct and recruit secondary semiosic structures such as consciousness, imagery, language, and the self. Evidently the mind-brain is an extremely complex, as dynamic as enduring, structure and process about which there is plethora of speculation and knowledge. An important methodological point is the lack of direct access to IntrA-referents, -interpretants and -presentants; we have to infer everything based in covariation of ExtrO-semiosic presentants with IntrO-semiosic referent. I a sense, the person is semiotically one multifaceted interpretant. It is also opportune to mention, as a general heuristic that intra-personal and extra-personal structures of a given individual are unthinkable if not in a peculiar correspondence which is due to the high degree of their phylogenetic and ontogeneticc and culture-genetic co-development (Boesch 1991).

The reader should now be able to further unfold our example of the dwelling activities with the dirty clothes' chest for herself. The quotation in section 2 above describes all sorts of events that can be conceptually reconstructed as IntrO-, ExtrO- and ExtrA-semioses in relation to S. Also some conjectures as to her IntrA-semioses might be feasible. In addition, semioses of all phases involving R., as conjectured by S., can be used to complement the circumstances. Important ExtrOs, naturally in conjunction with all kinds of IntrOs and IntrAs, are preparing the course of events in connection with the purchase, placement, and dedication of the chest. Once in use, changes in perception of and actions with underwear and skirts are evident in her and him. But, correspondingly, the chest mediated through the people also changes the factual situation in the dwelling in terms of distribution of the clothes. Most dramatic, perhaps, are the changes in the time intervals for doing the laundry induced by the chest's capacity and the subsequent shift from internal to external control in the laundry schedule. The fact of parallel shifts in responsibility sharing for the laundry among the couple is only understandable on the basis of affiliated but different internal structures that manifest themselves in changes of perception and action patterns. The extended effects of the chest hatching and strengthening a certain type of social relations in the house and beyond are quite unexpected. Naturally, the chest is only one of an ensemble of external structures that carry coordinated semiosic exchange of cultivation processes among the couple and their dwelling.

Changes on many levels and in many directions within this dwelling ecosystem have been induced by the simple addition of the chest to the household. Of course, as Ernst Boesch (see 1991) has repeatedly shown, much of this could be brought to insightful interpretation by means of careful phenomenology based on controlled observation and interview. Valuable insights into transactions between people and their cultural environment can also be gained by traditional methods (Fuhrer 1990). What we are lacking so far, however, is the conceptual possibility of explicating the genetic series carrying the manifest changes from the chest into the people and back to the things and places or the social system. The present sketch of some conceptual problems and tools for establishing a psychologically appropriate conception of causation can be no more than a first set of stepping stones into the larger domain of semiotic ecology.



1. Readers knowledgeable of Peirce will be aware of some divergence. I emphasize the mediating role of the interpretant in line with some of his statements (e.g. CP 1.553f., 1867; 8.177, late). In addition, with the present concept of an elementary semiosis I hope to surmount some of the problems related to his subcategories of "Objects" and "Interpretants". <<<<<<



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- Fuhrer (1993) Living in our own footprints -- and in those of others: cultivation as transaction. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Psychologie 52 (this issue).

- Lang, Alfred (1990) Bauen und Wohnen psychologisch zu verstehen: drei theoretische Perspektiven. Pp. 401-402 in: Frey, Dieter (Ed.) Bericht über den 37. Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Psychologie in Kiel 1990. Vol. 1. Göttingen, Hogrefe.

- Lang, Alfred (1992a) On the knowledge in things and places. Pp. 76-83 in: Cranach, Mario von; Doise, Willem & Mugny, Gabriel (Eds.) Social representations and the social basis of knowledge. Swiss Monographs in Psychology Vol. 1. Bern, Huber.

- Lang, Alfred (1992b) Die Frage nach den psychologischen Genesereihen -- Kurt Lewins grosse Herausforderung. Pp. 39-68 in: Schönpflug, Wolfgang (Ed.) Kurt Lewin -- Person, Werk, Umfeld: historische Rekonstruktion und Interpretation aus Anlass seines hundersten Geburtstages. Frankfurt a.M., Peter Lang.

- Lang, Alfred (1992c) Kultur als 'externe Seele' -- eine semiotisch-ökologische Perspektive. Pp. 9-30 in: Allesch, Christian; Billmann-Mahecha, Elfriede & Lang, Alfred (Eds.) Psychologische Aspekte des kulturellen Wandels. Wien, Verlag des Verbandes der wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaften Österreichs.

- Lang, Alfred (in print a) The "concrete mind" heuristic -- human identity and social compound from things and buildings. In: Jaeger, Carlo; Nauser, Markus & Steiner, Dieter (Eds.) Human ecology: an integrative approach to environmental problems. London, Routledge.

- Lang, Alfred (in print b) Eine Semiotik für die Psychologie -- eine Psychologie für die Semiotik. In: Montada, Leo (Ed.) Bericht über den 38. Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Psychologie in Trier 1992. Vol. 2. Göttingen, Hogrefe.

- Lang, Alfred (i.D. 1993) Toward a mutual interplay between psychology and semiotics. Journal of the Society for Accelerated Learning & Teaching 18 (3) Ms. 9 pages.

- Lang, Alfred (in print c) Zeichen nach innen, Zeichen nach aussen -- eine semiotisch-ökologische Psychologie als Kulturwissenschaft. In: Rusterholz, Peter & Svilar, Maja (Eds.) Welt der Zeichen -- Welt der Wirklichkeit. Bern, Paul Haupt.

- Lang, Alfred (in prep.) Dwelling. In: Posner, Roland; Sebeok, Thomas A. & Robering, Klaus (Eds.) Semiotics: a handbook on the sign-theoretic foundations of nature and culture. Vol. 2. Berlin, DeGruyter.

- Lang, Alfred; Bühlmann, Kilian & Oberli, Eric (1987) Gemeinschaft und Vereinsamung im strukturierten Raum: psychologische Architekturkritik am Beispiel Altersheim. Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Psychologie 46 (3/4) 277-289.

- Lawrence, Roderick J (1987) Housing, dwellings and home: design theory, research and practice. New York, Wiley.

- Lewin, Kurt (1931) Der Übergang von der Aristotelischen zur Galileischen Denkweise in Biologie und Psychologie. (The conflict between the Aristotelian and Galileian modes of thought in contemporary psychology.) Reprinted in Kurt-Lewin-Werkausgabe, Vol. 1, 233-278. Bern, Huber, 1981.

- Lewin, Kurt (1934) Der Richtungsbegriff in der Psychologie: Der spezielle und allgemeine hodologische Raum. Psychologische Forschung 19, 249-299. To be reprinted in Kurt-Lewin-Werkausgabe, Vol. 3)

- Nöth, Winfried (1990) Handbook of semiotics. Bloomington Ind., Indiana Univ. Press. 576 Pp. (Enlarged translation of (1985) Handbuch der Semiotik. Stuttgart, Metzler).

- Peirce, Charles Sanders (1931-35/1958) Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. 8 vols. Cambridge Mass., Harvard Univ. Press. Cited as CP x.y-y (=volume.paragrap).

- Peirce, Charles Sanders (1982ff.) Writings of Charles S. Peirce. 30 vols. Bloomington, Ind., Indiana University Press. Cited as Wx:z-z (=volume:pages).

- Peirce, Charles S. (1986ff.) Semiotische Schriften. 3 Bände. Kloesel, Christian & Pape, Helmut (Übers. u. Hersg.) Frankfurt a.M., Suhrkamp.

- Rorty, Richard (1979) Philosophy and the mirror of nature. Princeton Univ. Press. Deutsch (1987) Der Spiegel der Natur: eine Kritik der Philosophie. Frankfurt a.M., Suhrkamp.

- Slongo, Daniel (1991) Zeige mir, wie du wohnst, ... -- eine Begrifflichkeit über externe psychologische Strukturen anhand von Gesprächen über Dinge im Wohnbereich. Diplomarbeit, Institut für Psychologie der Universität Bern.

- Slongo, Daniel (1992) Dinge kultivieren: ein Verständnis von Kommunikation. Pp. 123-134 in: Allesch, Christian G.; Billmann-Mahecha, Elfried & Lang, Alfred (Eds.) Psychologische Aspekte des kulturellen Wandels. Wien, Verlag des Verbandes der wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaften Österreichs.

- Studer, Hubert (1993) Individuelle und kollektive Wohnformen -- eine explorative Untersuchung ihrer sozialer Implikationen. Diplomarbeit, Institut für Psychologie der Universität Bern.

- Uexküll, Jakob von & Kriszat, Georg (1934) Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen. Hamburg, Rowohlt. (Engl. translation 1991 in Semiotica).

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