Resources for a Dialectical Legal Semiotics

Salter, Michael (2011) Resources for a Dialectical Legal Semiotics. In: Prospects of Legal Semiotics. Springer, Netherlands, pp. 107-141. ISBN 978-9400739857

Full text not available from this repository.

Official URL:


This study discusses the possibilities for developing a model of legal semiotics based upon the distinctly dialectical theories of language, culture and society contained in the writings of Hegel and Theodor Adorno. It builds upon, and contributes to, a growing interest in Hegel’s theory of language more generally. For both Hegel and Adorno, it is not possible to develop a viable theory of culture, social integration and cultural/intellectual development occurring over various transitional stages, without attending to how the semiotic dimensions of human experience operate. The routine employment of various signs associated with, for example “law”, “legality”, “legal procedure” etc. and the relations between them, help generate, sustain and modify an overall, and collectively shared, interpretative framework. This study focuses upon only three of the host of possible themes that a Hegelian semiotics of law could usefully address. These are: the interpretation of core semiotics distinctions; the implications of the mediating role played by signs; and, thirdly, the application to our lived-experience of legal signs of a semiotically informed methodology of “immanent criticism”. The latter provides an approach to the conduct of advanced research into contextual aspects of semiotic themes, whose potential as a self-critical resource for “law and semiotics” has yet to be adequately realised. The Hegelian tradition rejects the idea that the relationship between legal signs and the signified is essentially arbitrary, treating this interpretation as itself an arbitrary and ideologically-loaded construct that articulates historically specific pathologies of late modern social, cultural and political relations. Instead, this scholarly tradition seeks to expose from within the zone of our concrete lived-experience of signs remnants of the mutual implication of these two strata. Its critical methodology aims to analyse contradictions between the implications of law’s normative expressions, and the impact of the actions of legal institutions upon specific groups of human subjects. Such a critical approach contrasts actual institutional outcomes with the implications of the norms they continue to rely upon to secure their legitimacy. This approach is only possible, however, once we grasp the significance of the potentially dialectical, that is mutually defining, nature of the sign/signified relationship. Without this recognition, legal semiotics risks self-imposed imprisonment within an artificially disconnected, experientially impoverished and narcissistic sphere of “cultural studies”.

Repository Staff Only: item control page