Signs of Violence: Semiotic Violence and the U.S. Capitol Insurrection
Mona Lena Krook, Professor at the Department of Political Science at Rutgers University, will present for us today. The presentation is titled "Signs of Violence: Semiotic Violence and the U.S. Capitol Insurrection".
Political violence is often defined as the use, or threatened use, of force to advance political ends. A focus on physical force, however, does not capture the full range of this phenomenon. In this paper, I develop the concept of semiotic violence, which I argue is a particularly pervasive form that uses signs to communicate violence.
In the first section, I draw on broader conceptual work to argue in favor of understanding political violence – like other forms of violence – as a continuum of acts involving violations of integrity. I show how perpetrators employ semiotic violence to amplify or invoke other types of violence: physical, psychological, sexual, and economic. In the second section, I elaborate four expressions of semiotic violence: words, images, symbols, and gestures. I note that examples of semiotic violence are prevalent in accounts and debates on political violence, although they are not recognized as such – or given appropriate theoretical and empirical attention. In the third section, I apply these tools to an analysis of the U.S. Capitol insurrection. Using interpretive methods, I focus on three examples of semiotic violence on January 6, 2021: the parading of the Confederate flag through the Capitol Rotunda, the vandalism of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, and the hanging of a noose on a platform on the Capitol grounds. These cases reveal that semiotic violence is a key component of repertoires of political violence. They also show how semiotic analysis can shed deeper light on the meanings of these acts: rioters not only sought to undermine American political institutions, but also sought to reinstate a racist and sexist social and political order.
The event is in a hybrid format, you are welcome to join us for lunch from the Corner room at DIGSSCORE. Food is provided on a first-come first-served basis. Zoom link for digital attendance.