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Signs and States: Semiotics of the Modern State

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A study on the transformation of the exercise of symbolic power

A feature of the modern state in its early phase is the development of distinctively political societies. Here, exclusively interpersonal links or the arbitral powers of family or social group leaders have to compete with other sources of authority.

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SAS (Signs and states: Semiotics of the modern state) sought to understand the transformation of the exercise of symbolic power through semiology (the study of signs) of the state. The EU-funded project developed two hypotheses to test its research objective. The main hypothesis stated that the understanding of the birth and development of state institutions and processes have been hindered by an excessive perseverance on material elements and on the impact of political ideas and propaganda. The second, methodological hypothesis was that the central issue is the evolution of the system of communication, where both contents and media have to be analysed at the level of languages and signs. Researchers tried to balance theoretical and empirical approaches with the development of new digital tools. These approaches were presented in three sets of conferences, and are in the process of being published. The conferences that were organised in Rome touched upon central themes of the project. The Franco-Italian workshops were more oriented towards conceptual issues, rites, political languages, values and space. Finally, the last set of conferences dealt with comparative political themes, directly linked to the project's approach. SAS developed new digital tools for medieval culture studies. The first project, PALM/MEDITEXT comprised an online platform that is able to lemmatize medieval texts that contain no orthographical norms and a numerical library containing a corpus of medieval texts. Researchers are able to bring their texts to use the lemmatization system and can enrich the library. The other project included development of a software (PROSOP) and a set of open access numerical data (STUDIUM) serving as a bio-bibliographical dictionary. PROSOP is an independent software adaptable to other sets of data and new ontologies – for example, to a prosopography of English authors in the fields of history and politics. Finally, preliminary studies have been conducted for a third project, BIB, a DBF database on books in the possession of individual book owners in England from 1200 to 1550. Overall, the project examined the process of legitimisation of the concept of acceptance, and the relation of political societies to the components of the communication system.


Symbolic power, modern state, political societies, semiotics, communication

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