Extended Summer School: Semiotic (un)predictability


Forecasting is a fundamental part of living. Gathering and processing information to predict the future states, behaviours or outcomes of a behaviour is not only a scientific endeavour, but also central in our everyday practices. Whether we cross the street, play chess, date, vote, or buy groceries, we are constantly, knowingly or unknowingly, resorting to some past experiences while envisioning or planning desired future outcomes. Predicting future becomes of a greater importance on a broader social, economic and cultural scale, in the context of investments, customer behaviour, urban planning, public policymaking etc.

It is not only the complexity of these social or cultural systems that makes predictability problematic, but also the semiotic mechanisms underlying them. Human social and cultural existence is mediated by signs and sign systems. Therefore, making sense of the (un)predictability of social and cultural processes requires also knowledge about the nature of sign processes in culture and society as well as better understanding to what extent our behaviour is guided by, determined, un- or underdetermined by the sign processes.

On one hand human socio-cultural behaviour as a process of meaning-making has a high degree of arbitrariness, freedom and choice. Yet, taking place within a particular system, it also has mechanisms that alleviate this arbitrariness by posing contextual limits to the freedom and available choices through various codes, conventions, norms and habits. Thus, cultural and social co-existence depends on and requires predictability of interpretations and meaning-making, yet produces constantly unpredictable and innovative readings, new and unforeseen perspectives.

Therefore, in cultural and social systems there is constant tension between the semiotic mechanisms that produce predictability and unpredictability, between relying on past experiences, following ready-made paths and inventing, creating new possible futures. Our future is not only determined by our past, but more so by our contemporary understanding, interpretations of that past and visions of future.

Can our future be predicted or can it only be invented, as Dennis Garbor once suggested?

The summer school of semiotics concentrates on semiotic mechanisms that underlie the (un)predictability of human condition and behaviour in culture and society.

We will start with the general basis of semiotics, introduce central approaches in semiotics of culture and socio-semiotics, but also relate these theoretical frameworks with other contemporary theories of culture, society, arts and media. Special attention will be paid to the semiotics of culture of the Tartu-Moscow Semiotic School and to the works of Jury Lotman in particular.

Theoretical issues will be discussed in the context of arts, media and urban planning. Lectures are accompanied with intensive seminars and applied analysis. By teaching conceptual tools and skills for analysing the mechanisms of (un)predictability in various semiotic systems, we aim to promote more informed and active attitude towards planning and designing (possible) futures.



MONDAY, AUGUST 10 : Arrival

17:00- … Meet-up at Uus Õu (Old Town, on the corner of Lai st./Magasini st., in front of Genklubi)


TUESDAY, AUGUST 11 : Perspectives from semiotics of culture

09:30 - meet the University of Tartu representative at the hostel and walk to the lecture hall

10:00-11:00 Peeter Torop “Culture, semiotics and cultural semiotics”

coffee

11:30-12:30 Peeter Torop “Cultural dynamics: (un)predictability and analysability”

lunch

13:30-14:30 Mihhail Lotman “Autocommunication and identity”

coffee

15:00-16:00 Mihhail Lotman “Autocommunication and identity”

16:30- … evening program


WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 12 : Perspectives from sociosemiotics

10:00-11:00 Anti Randviir “Semiotics and other social studies”

coffee

11:30-12:30 Anti Randviir “Semioticity of society and sociosemiotics”

lunch

13:30-14:30 Text seminar: Habit and social action (discussant: Tiit Remm)

coffee

15:00-... Tartu city tour (guide: Tiit Remm)


THURSDAY, AUGUST 13 : Spatio-temporal modelling and semiotic mediation

10:00-11:00 Tiit Remm “Predictability in semiotic space”

coffee

11:30-12:30 Text seminar: (De)contextualization and meaning (discussant: Lauri Linask)

lunch

13:30-14:30 Katre Pärn “Semiotic mediation and remediation”

coffee

15:00-16:00 Katre Pärn “Modelling future: premediation”

18:00- … evening program


FRIDAY, AUGUST 14 : Modelling history

10:00-11:00 Maarja Ojamaa “Transmediality of cultural memory”

coffee

11:30-12:30 Maarja Ojamaa “Transmediality of cultural memory”

lunch

13:30-14:30 Text seminar: “Lotman on unpredictability in culture” (discussant: Remo Gramigna)

coffee

15:00-16:00 Ilya Dvorkin “Relationship between Semiotics and the Philosophy of Dialogue”

17:00- … evening program


AUGUST 17-20 : Main program of Summer School

Conference program is available here.


FRIDAY, AUGUST 21 : Concluding remarks

10:00-11:30 Zczislaw Wasik “Epistemology of semiotics as a set of investigative perspectives”

coffee and final discussion



(1) Online application form (available from the end of January 2015 on web-page);

(2) Motivation letter (up to 1 page) that demonstrates the applicant's motivation to participate, explains how the participation in the summer programme is connected with applicant's studies and interests; and how the applicant plans to use gained experience, and knowledge in the future;

(3) Copy of the passport All additional documents to the online application should be sent as separate PDF files with correct titles (name of the document and applicant) to the programme manager: margot.must@ut.ee

Registration deadline: June 15, 2015



Programme fee 450 EUR. This includes tuition, academic and cultural programme.

Housing costs are 300 EUR. Accommodation with the breakfast in double rooms with private bathroom and shower. Accommodation will be booked and paid by the university.

If a student wishes to cancel the participation, he/she is required to give written notice to the university via e-mail to the programme manager. In case the student cancels the participation up to one month prior to the beginning of the program, he/she will receive full refund. If the cancellation notification is given less than one month before the start of the program, no refunds are given.


If the University of Tartu Lifelong Learning Centre makes changes in the course programmes (e.g. regarding the topics discussed during the programme, study visits or the culture programme) the participants shall be duly noted.

More information about Summer School