What is it about?

A widespread opinion holds that norms and codes of conduct as such can only be established via words, that is, in some lexical form. This perspective can be criticized: some norms produced by human acts are not word-based at all. For example, many norms are actually conveyed through graphics (e.g. road signs and land-use maps), sounds (e.g. the referee’s whistle), a silent gesture (the traffic warden’s signal to halt). In this article, we will focus on the norms that are created by means of drawings and can be termed “drawn norms” or “graphical norms”. Specifically, we will inquire into the phenomenon of graphical norms with particular regard to traffic signs and land-use plans, and we will discuss the philosophical and legal problems to which these phenomena give rise.

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Why is it important?

There is clearly a form of “verbal-centrism” (a “language-centred monotheism”) dominating the general discussions on the mechanisms of communication, and in the area of rules in particular, largely or wholly leaving aside the role of images. Interesting studies have begun to change this perspective in the communication field. In the normative domain, however, research on graphic normativity and, more generally, non-linguistic normativity is lacking. The aim of this article, with particular reference to the theme of rules and regulations, has been to suggest that we should broaden our outlook and give greater ground to graphical norms, which may shed new critical light also on the more widely discussed written norms.

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This page is a summary of: How to make norms with drawings: An investigation of normativity beyond the realm of words, Semiotica, March 2020, De Gruyter,
DOI: 10.1515/sem-2018-0062.
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