“What is a sign? We usually think that it is a fixed relation: a red light signifies ‘Stop’. Signs are varying processes: seeing the red light triggers a creative response to the question, Should I stop?”

For many years now, I have been puzzled by the lack of a full process definition of the sign. My interest was generated by work on Deleuze and Whitehead, but it can be traced back to broader currents in post-structuralism.

It seems to me that a radical approach to the critical and creative role of signs can be attained if we do not define them as momentarily fixed relations between identified terms (‘Red means stop’) but instead see them as varying intensities in many directions (‘Increased redness and increased intensity of stopping’). A survey of cities around the world shows red does not reliably indicate stopping, but rather various degrees of halting, slowing and accelerating. It is a mistake to assume red definitely means ‘stop’ when you arrive in a new city. The sign is only validly represented as fixed if we ignore ongoing and multiple processes. We do so at peril of forgetting that life is process and not fixity.

If you want a simple version of the process definition of signs and its method you can read it in Process semiology defined simply.  In the process philosophy, instead of the structures of correspondences from traditional approaches to signs, different diagrams express processes for each process sign. Here is a simple explanation of how this works: How to diagram a process sign.  A practical explanation of my process philosophy of signs can be found in my short comments on journalism, signs and a mishap that recently befell the Prime Minister: For F’s sake: Theresa May, falling letters and the philosophy of signs.

Publications on the Process of Signs

The essays, chapters and draft articles below are all from the process philosophy of signs project.

I have added recent drafts of work on signs, process and truth, signs and comedy, and signs and style. There’s also a discussion of process signs and democracy; a critical discussion of Whitehead‘s symbolism in relation to my process philosophy of the sign; a defence of the process philosophy of signs as pragmatism, in response to objections made by Jon Roffe; a simple definition of process semiology; a response to “corrective” and “static” approches to linguistic signs through the argument that process signs are always political; a discussion of how process signs depend upon and can be given through diagrams; a short discussion of process signs as political in relation to a recent scandal in the treatment of asylum seekers; a sample chapter from my book A Process Philosophy of Signs (EUP, 2016); an essay that considers the political dimension of the use of the word ‘barbarian’ and wider ethical questions about the use of dangerous signs; an article, published in Parrhesia, that explains the role of diagrams in the process sign, in relation to Deleuze, Guattari and Hjelmslev, among others; an essay that begins to show how the formal process theory can be applied; an entry on process ontologies for a forthcoming encyclopaedia of posthumanism; the last draft of an article on signs and process in Barthes, Deleuze and Peirce; and the latest draft on an article that begins a critique of the model of the extended mind from a process point of view.

My book on a process philosophy of signs was published at the beginning of 2016 by Edinburgh University Press

Book Contents:

  • 1. Introduction: The Process Sign
  • 2. The Independent Life of Signs
  • 3. Biology and the Design of Signs
  • 4. Process Signs and the Process Philosophy of Biology
  • 5. The Sign
  • 6. The Process Sign, Structuralism and Semiology
  • 7. The Process Sign After Deleuze and Whitehead
  • 8. The Process Sign is Political
  • 9. Conclusion
Cover of A Process Philosophy of Signs
The cover of A Process Philosophy of Signs