An Inquiry into Cultural Semiotics: Germaine de Staël's Autobiographical Travel Accounts

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)

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Cultural semiotics studies encounters between cultures. Notions such as Culture, Extra-culture and Non-culture were developed in the 1970s by the Tartu school and were used in their studies of Russian culture and its relation to Western Europe, with special focus on Peter the Great's attempt to Westernize Russia in the eighteenth century. The aim of this dissertation in cultural semiotics is to further develop existing models in the field by confronting them with new empirical data. In this connection Göran Sonesson's extended model of cultural semiotics has turned out to be especially useful. Concerning the empirical source material, the choice of Mme de Staël's autobiographical travel accounts from her years in exile (by order of Napoleon) between 1803 and 1812 has proved to be fruitful for the task that has been staked out for this inquiry. Hence, in the second place, this dissertation in cultural semiotics also aims at shedding some light on Mme de Staël's life and her times during those years.

By linking insights made by Alfred Schutz in his phenomenological sociology to those made in cultural semiotics, the importance of culture-bound types in human encounters has become clear. This is shown very neatly by Germaine de Staël's travel accounts, in particular when her own writings are confronted with the description of the same encounters by somebody else. Mme de Staël's writings were a result of being ideologically influenced by other texts, notably by authors of the Enlightenment. James V. Wertsch's theory (based on Bakhtin and Vygotsky among others) of written texts has been helpful when studying Mme de Staël's literary influences. Also, insights made by the Prague school have been equally important since they have pointed to the essential role of the receiver in the process of giving meaning to an artwork. Hence, the artist is influenced by the implied receiver in the making of the artwork.

The main conclusion drawn in this inquiry is that willingness and ability to establish a dialogue in cultural encounters is crucial for the understanding and/or appreciation of the Other. Germaine de Staël's point of departure in her cross-cultural meetings, as described in the writings by her and by others engaged in dialogue, was always the France she loved and identified with: the Parisian culture of salons at the end of the eighteenth century.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Cognitive Semiotics
  • Sonesson, Göran, Supervisor
Award date2007 Sep 28
ISBN (Print)978-91-628-7109-3
Publication statusPublished - 2007

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2007-09-28
Time: 10:00
Place: Lund University Department of Art History and Musicology Biskopsgatan 5, Lund

External reviewer(s)

Name: Marner, Anders
Title: Docent
Affiliation: Department of Esthetics


Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Languages and Literature


  • Phenomenological sociology
  • Fenomenologi
  • Contemporary history (circa 1800 to 1914)
  • Phenomenology
  • Humanities
  • Parisian salons
  • Humaniora
  • Fransk litteratur
  • Germaine de Staël
  • Cultural semiotics
  • Autobiographical travel accounts
  • French literature
  • Modern historia (ca. 1800-1914)


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