The Natural Subject

  • Paul Cobley
Part of the Biosemiotics book series (BSEM, volume 15)


As well as its insights into what it is to be human, biosemiotics also re-formulates what it is to be a human subject. It upsets notions regarding the distinction between collectivity and the individual that have contributed to common sense in the modern world and especially since the French Revolution (see Siedentop 2015). Arguments regarding the human subject have been part of the burgeoning literature of ‘identity studies’ in the last 25 years. In the modern literature in this area, there is often a tension between what is referred to as ‘selfhood’ and what is understood as ‘subjectivity’ (cf. Atkins 2005: 1–2). The former, broadly, involves a conception of the human as conscious of its own existence and most of its intellectual capacities as well as its distinction from others; the latter, generally, has come to mean the human as constituted by the range of ‘practices’ which precede its existence and subsequently – or ‘always already’ – shape its existence, thought processes and options. Such practices are ‘cultural’ in their bearing or, more pointedly, signifying practices. What has probably become axiomatic in much of the writing on identity, the subject and the self in modernity is that subjectivity and selfhood are synonymous mainly because they are no longer considered to be unitary or intrinsically constituted in character (see Benhabib 1992; Cascardi 1992; Giddens 1991; Taylor 1992). Elliot writes (2001: 2):


Code Duality Digital Code Real Relation Continental Philosophy Symbolic Reference 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Cobley
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Distinguished Visiting Professor, School of Foreign Languages and CulturesNanjing Normal UniversityNanjingChina
  2. 2.President of the International Association for Semiotic Studies; and Professor in Language and Media, School of Media and Performing ArtsMiddlesex UniversityLondonUK

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