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Signs of pain. A semiotic inquiry of a semantic field. Semiotic of pain. The aim of my Ph.d research project is to investigate that large semantic field which is concerned with the experience of pain.

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signs of pain

Signs of pain

A semiotic inquiry of a semantic field

Marina Peluso University of Bologna

semiotic of pain
Semiotic of pain
  • The aim of my Ph.d research project is to investigate that large semantic field which is concerned with the experience of pain.
  • This topic, as we shall see, appears really complex and intricate and puts me in front of hermeneutic questions, not only concerning the description of the chosen object, but also questioning the very method of semiotic inquiry.

Marina Peluso University of Bologna

why pain is a semiotic object
Why pain is a semiotic object?
  • The experience of pain is particularly interesting from a semiotic point of view because it is strictly related with the antropic way of giving sense to the world and to its own bodily experiences. Pain in fact is not a simply sensation but its perception depend on cultural and contextual factor, as neuroscientific research point out (Kandel 1989, Kruger 2001, Ercolani e Pasquini 2007)
  • “Pain is a subjective consciousness experience, a multidimensional phenomena that include a sensorial discriminative component, a motivational and affective component and a cognitive evaluative component; so pain is not a primitive sensation but the result of a complex elaboration process, normally inducted by the nociception” (Ercolani e Pasquini 2007).
  • The experience of pain is mediated by our culture, and by the way in which culture organizes the semantic field related to it; so my question is how do we build the sense of this experience? How does this mediation plan inform our perception and our mental representation of what we have to consider pain?

Marina Peluso University of Bologna

methodological reflections
Methodological reflections
  • The experience of pain is related to our sense construction and for this reason it could be a semiotic object, nevertheless its significations are very changeable founding its own manifestation in very different kind of expressions and languages. For this reason I bear that we need different kind of semiotic approach to investigate how this field is organized.
  • Reducing our investigation in how texts tries to manifest it, would mean not keeping in account how we manage it in course of our experiences.
  • For this reasons I believe that this object requires a previous methodological research that could keep together a semiotic of perception a semiotic of practice and a textual semiotic. Besides during the last years semiotics interests widen beyond the text and discoursive manifestation, acknowledging even in practices and in perception (as Peirce point out) that could be seen as an antropic configurative activity.

Marina Peluso University of Bologna

pain and perception
Pain and perception
  • Semiotics of perception for example is concerned with the way in which we gave sense to the world. This approach will be necessary because the perception of pain modulate our relation with the environment in which we are involved, and the way in which we perceive it.
  • Pain in fact is a particular kind of percept because it institute relations with the environment that are orientated in a timic way.

Marina Peluso University of Bologna

a semiotic of culture approach
A semiotic of culture approach
  • So even if my object requires to be investigated trough a corpus made by different things (such as texts, practice, and bodily experiences) using different instruments, as I just pointed out, I believe that they all join the same purpose: studying pain from a semiotic of culture point of view.
  • Our culture in fact is made by all this things and not only by text.

Marina Peluso University of Bologna


As conclusion of the beginning of my research I can only outlines some considerations that will guide me in my studies:

  • First of all I suppose that pain is a semantic field basically unitary, although it manifests in discourses referring to different perspectives as if it had as a means of measure among them, the experience of pain of an embodied subject;
  • secondly, that such an experience emerges gradually in different ways according to the point of view under which it is going to be interpreted and made significant the relation between the subject and the world;
  • thirdly that the expression of the experience of pain in its discoursive rendering makes it sensible.

Marina Peluso University of Bologna


The semiotics, as a discipline that wants to study the processes of meanings, can't avoid comparing itself with what seems to be a place of necessary emergency of his subjects of inquiry: the translation of a non sense experience, and also for this a painful one, into a sensible universe of signs, which makes it communicative and measurable.

Marina Peluso University of Bologna