Qualia and Ontology: Language, Semiotics and Materiality; an Introduction

Research output: Contribution to specialist publicationSpecial issue


Qualia—sensory experiences of abstract qualities such as heat, texture, color, sound, stink, hardness, and so on—focus attention on prototypically “material” entities. But how is the ontological category of materiality constituted by conventional qualities, or qualisigns? For instance, how does the sound made by knuckles knocking on a table come to be an exemplary experience of, and a conventional sign for, “materiality”? What ontologies might undermine the seeming naturalness of this category, and to what effect? This issue contributes to the growing literature on semiotic approaches to materiality by arguing that attention to qualia, as sensorial and somatic experiences mediated by cultural qualisigns of value (Munn 1986), offers a useful analytic approach to the dialectics of matter (substrate, affordance) and nonmatter (idea, concept, category). The articles in this issue describe how modes of being and becoming are represented in and organized by discourses on qualia and demonstrate the crucial role of qualia and qualisigns in “ontological politics” (Mol 1999).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Specialist publicationSigns and Society
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017


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