Seeing through Signs: On Economic Imagination and Semiotic Speculation

Robin Porsfelt

Research output: Book/ReportPhD thesis

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The aim of this thesis has been to trace the modern emergence, intellectual heritage, and operation of a branch of economic reasoning based on inferences from signs. In semiotics a sign is defined as something that someone interprets as representing something else. An inferential sign, if subscribing to the views of Umberto Eco (1984: 16), is a type of sign which allows the interpreter to conjecture the presence of some entity which is not immediately graspable to the senses. An example is the way smoke can signify an unseen fire. Semioticians and historians have traced a heterogenous epistemological paradigm of human sciences and practical disciplines which have inferential signs as their central element: the forensic use of a clue, the hunter squatting to see a trace, or the archeologist’s uncovering of ruins. My thesis is an extension of this epistemological history into economic reasoning and it demonstrates, in particular, a genealogical thread running between medical reasoning from signs and the emergence of financial and economic techniques of foresight at the turn towards the 20th century. My analysis shows how the development of specific economic and financial modes of semiotics were critical to how phenomena like national economies, financial markets, and value were imagined, became seen as predictable, and how it conventionalised specific modes of representing economic life that still live on today. Besides adding a forgotten branch in the epistemological history of semiotics and the human sciences, the study is also set to engage with recent theorising on economic action in relation to language and the problem of economic rationality under conditions of uncertainty.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationFrederiksberg
PublisherCopenhagen Business School [Phd]
Number of pages219
ISBN (Print)9788775680979
ISBN (Electronic)9788775680986
Publication statusPublished - 2022
SeriesPhD Series

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