Reintroducing the Semiosphere: The 8th Annual Lotman Conference at Tallinn University

Estonian Semiotics Repository Foundation
Closing date for submissions: 
14 March, 2016
Event dates: 
27.05.2016 - 29.05.2016
E-mail contact: 

The 8th Annual Lotman Conference at Tallinn University



Confirmed keynote speaker: Dr. John Hartley, John Curtin Distinguished Professor, School of Media, Culture and Creative Arts, Curtin University


The Estonian Semiotics Repository Foundation is inviting submissions for the 8th Lotman conference at Tallinn University, 27 – 29 May 2016, this year organised in cooperation with the Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu.

In the recent decades, humanities and social sciences have been devising approaches better suited to make sense of the social and political relations in the globalising world. Increasingly the non-linear network logics based on the view of different elements as interdependent has emerged as a central outlook. The key concepts that this kind of approaches operate with are reciprocity, relationality, networkedness, rhizomeness, etc. In this connection the conception of semiosphere worked out by Juri Lotman (“On the Semiosphere“ 2005 [1984], Universe of the Mind 1990) can offer a productive direction of development for the methodology of social sciences and humanities.

Lotman first formulated the concept of semiosphere in analogy to that of Vladimir Vernadsky’s ’biosphere’. For Lotman, semiosphere designates the totality of all texts, languages and sign processes in the world; importantly, however, that total semiotic space, rather than a single sign or a language, is also the smallest functioning unit of meaning-making. A sign cannot make sense without the context of other signs and ultimately without the presupposition of the multilayered and interactive semiosphere as a whole (Lotman Universe of the Mind; Kotov and Kull “Semiosphere is the Relational Biosphere“ 2011).

Cultural semiotics studies cultures as parts of the semiosphere, analysing the hierarchical correlation of the languages of differing complexity that constitute it (Lotman e.a. “Theses On the Semiotic Study of Culture“ 1975 [1973]). Thus, to understand a culture it is important to recognise and extricate the diverse communicative processes in its variety of languages. This is a complex task as the cultural languages can only heuristically be described as separate systems, in reality they are always interdependent and interwoven.

In Lotman’s theory the processes are described as those of continuous dialogue and translation across and within the borders of different cultural units. These dialogical processes underlie both a variety of types of cultural change and cultural reproduction mechanisms. It is noteworthy that among cultural languages Lotman consistently drew upon the examples of the languages of art when developing his conception of the semiosphere. He saw the study of art languages as methodologically vital for the attempts to model sign processes in general, because of their complexity and dynamism among sign systems (“The Dynamic Model of a Semiotic System“ 1977 [1974], Universe of the Mind, Culture and Explosion 2009 [1992].

The conference explores the heuristic potential of the notion of semiosphere in the conceptualisation and analysis of the relationality of cultural elements and their social environment. Lotman’s work offers a fruitful focus to study contemporary globalising forms of culture, including networked media, as well as their local historical-cultural underpinnings and ramifications.


The conference welcomes both theoretically-methodologically oriented contributions, as well as relevant case studies from different disciplines. The topics to be discussed include, but are not limited, to the following:


* Different understandings of ’relationality’ in semiotics, political theory and other fields

* Relationality, reciprocity and (self-)identification as aspects of the semiosphere

* Different understandings of ‘dialogue’ in Lotman, Bakhtin and other approaches

* The boundaries of the semiosphere and the boundaries of semiotics

* Boundary and translation

* Globalisation, relationality, physical and symbolic borders in the contemporary world

* The freedom of the subject in the networked world and autocommunication

* The media- and internet sphere as part/model of the semiosphere

* The arts as part/model of the semiosphere;

* History and semiotics; a historical era as a part/model of the semiosphere

* The methodological inspiration of ‘semiosphere’ for ‘distant reading’ approaches and multimodal digital humanities

* Lotman’s work at the end of 1980s and the beginning of 1990s



The conference invites submissions from a variety of fields, such as semiotics, politics, media studies, cultural theory, history, studies of arts, etc., as well as inter- and multidisciplinary contributions. We welcome submissions in English and in Russian, the two working languages of the conference. The submissions should be sent via e-mail no later than 14 March 2016 and include:

  • The title and a short abstract of the proposed presentation (up to 2000 characters with spaces)

  • A short CV (name, surname, institutional affiliation, scholarly degree, description of scholarly interests up to 1000 characters with spaces).


The organising committee will choose the presenters based on scholarly merit and thematic relevance for the conference. The results will be announced via e-mail no later than 4 April 2016.

The submissions in English should be sent to Piret Peiker:

The submissions in Russian should be sent to Tatjana Kuzovkina:

Speakers shall be allocated 30 minutes in total: 20 minutes to deliver the presentation and 10 minutes for discussion.

Useful information:

The conference will take place in the Mare building of Tallinn University, 5 Uus-Sadama Street, 10120 Tallinn, Estonia.

There is no conference fee. All conference events are free of charge for the presenters. The conference cannot offer any grants for travel or accommodation. However, please do not hesitate to turn to us, if you need advice making your arrangements. If you need our help with obtaining the Estonian visa, please let us know.

Organising committee of the 8th Lotman conference at Tallinn University:

Rein Raud (chair), Мarina Akimova, Boris Egorov, Indrek Ibrus, Tatjana Kuzovkina, Mihhail Lotman, Daniele Monticelli, Vadim Parsamov, Piret Peiker, Peeter Selg, Andreas Ventsel





lotman_conference_2016_2.doc28.5 KB