Emergent Meaning Structures: A Socio-Semantic Network Analysis of Artistic Collectives

Friday, 20 July 2018: 17:45
Oral Presentation
Nikita BASOV, St Petersburg State University, Russia
Wouter DE NOOY, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
Alexandra NENKO, NRU ITMO, Russia
This paper explores meaning structures in the social practice of small groups. While social and institutional fields impose meaning structures, they are put to practice (emerge) in the context of specific activities that take place within a field. Collaborating in small groups, field participants form such practical contexts. It enables playing on gaps and overlaps among imposed meaning structures and joint creation of emergent meaning structures that define them as a social group. Difficult to capture, emergent meaning structures are largely disregarded by institutional and field perspectives on meaning structures. As a consequence, the importance of collective practice to meaning structures is underrated.

We investigate imposed and emergent meaning structures in artistic collectives. The field of contemporary art does not impose its meaning structure explicitly, so meaning structures that emerge in artistic practice are relatively free to vary across social groups. In particular, we study two St. Petersburg collectives of artists, who intensely interact with each other and engage in joint creative work and exhibitions. We show that these collectives elaborate their own meaning structures within the framework of field-specific meaning structures, blending meanings corresponding to the different fields and field positions occupied by members of the collective.

The duality of semantic and social structure is central to the notion of meaning structures. We use word collocations in natural language as semantic structure and interaction ties as social structure in a mixed methods socio-semantic network analysis. In this approach, social networks help to understand semantic networks.