Futurology through Semiotics

Dr Rachel Lawes
Lawes Consulting


The scope of this paper.

This paper is titled 'Futurology Through Semiotics' so let me begin by defining those terms and explaining why I would want to write a paper about them. Futurology is the art and science of envisioning probable, and possible, futures. Semiotics is a formal, qualitative research method and a form of cultural analysis. It is increasingly widely-used in market research, and distinguishes itself by including a focus on cultural change over time. It is unique among market research methods in this regard. Ethnography shares the focus on culture, but the focus on monitoring cultural change over time is unique to semiotics.

Traditionally, market research has not made a strong claim on the future. Its traditional methods, based on a model of human psychology (uncovering privately-held attitudes, beliefs, motivations, prejudices, and so on), are inevitably limited to discovering how consumers feel today. It has had no methodology for discovering how they will feel tomorrow, or in ten years. Currently, the research method of semiotics enjoys good awareness in the market research community, but understanding of what semiotics can do is still very limited and many people think of it as essentially a method of improving visual communications such as packaging and advertising. There is relatively low awareness of the part of semiotics that deals with large-scale cultural change, and this is perhaps because British semioticians have not talked about it very much. Explaining the 'improved packaging and advertising' aspect of semiotics is by far the easier thing to focus on for audiences who are new to that method.