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What is Ecosemiotics?

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“Eco” means inhabition.

“Semiotics” is the study of signs and symbols.

Ecosemiotics is the study of how our inhabitations are constructed by signs and symbols—which is to say: the study of how we construct our “place” with signs and symbols.

Ecosemiotic study is a central activity of Field Environmental Philosophy.

FEP “reads” the signs and symbols that constitute the plot or narrative of an environment, urban or wild.

FEP is a practice of ecosemiotics undertaken by a walking group on a treasure hunt for biocultural historical content. Classes proceed through the world as it exposes itself—its identities, stories, biophysical dynamisms—in the present moment. They perceive and categorize environmental signs and symbols, fitting them like puzzle pieces into narratives (i.e., histories) of the place.

As they do this, they gain “historical consciousness”: the existential awareness that reality (as a collective experience) is an amalgam of many histories, and they’re living one of them (personally, yet connected to all). Since this awareness is based in the world as it presents itself, it is ideal (i.e., composed of signs, symbols, and narratives) and biophysical (we are what we eat, drink, eat, breathe).

By mixing ecosemiotics and sensual immersion during the treasure hunt, FEP induces a psychosomatic (mental, emotional and physical) historical consciousness and, also, a deep and lasting memory of what is learned. FEP is a way of learning history psychosomatically, and can be contrasted with history that is learned only through symbols (i.e., through books and movies in indoor classrooms). FEP should be seen not in opposition to indoor, symbolic learning; it is complementary, because it makes history (i.e., collective narratives) something felt personally.

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