Stillar, Glenn
University of Waterloo

Glenn Stillar
Department of English
University of Waterloo
Waterloo, Ontario
Canada N2L 3G1

Strand: semiosis in language and other modalities

Title: Expert Advice and the 'Gift': Verbal and Visual Orientational Semiosis in Business Discourse

What orientational resources are at risk in the giving away of free advice? Free advice is ubiquitous: in books, brochures, magazines, seminars, internet sites, television broadcasts, courses, counseling regimes, and so on. Experts are giving it away advice on what to buy, eat, drink, see, love, think, and consume. Paradoxically, even if we do not or cannot accept these gifts and the participatory injunctions that accompany them, the heteroglossic relations constructed verbally and visually in these discourses direct us usually implicitly and usually with our complicity toward guilt and self-mortification.

The interpersonal function focuses on the semiotic resources for constructing acts and interactions between social agents. It recognizes both the relational and the attitudinal dimensions of meaning making. These two dimensions overlap in complex ways when we consider that an attitude is not merely an index of a subject position, it is an injunction to act in a certain way. An attitude is an incipient act.

This session focuses on orientational strategies used in a sample of expert advice discourse in order to explore how linguistic and visual semiosis function in concert to construct and ultimately control subjects by offering gifts of knowledge that can only be redeemed by actions in a field rigidly constructed by the same expert discourse.

The sociologist Anthony Giddens has defined expert systems as follows: "Expert systems bracket time and space through deploying modes of technical knowledge which have validity independent of the practitioners and clients who make use of them. Such systems penetrate virtually all aspects of social life in conditions of modernity in respect of the food we eat, the medicines we take, the buildings we inhabit, the forms of transport we use and a multiplicity of other phenomena" (1991, p. 18).

My corpus draws from two seemingly disparate multimedia registers; financial advice brochures produced by a large chartered bank and introductory material in business communication textbooks. In each case, linguistic and visual semiosis work together to hail a particular audience to create membership and to valorize membership by promoting the advice offered. Both of these text types function as expert systems. In the latter part of this session, I will explore how the texts reproduce locally the more global social restrictive meanings of the Gift of expert systems.

Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and self-identity: Self and society in the late modern age. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.