Laboratory for Semiotics, Ethnosemiotics, Nonfictional Studies and Audiovisuality (SENSA Lab)

The Laboratory for Semiotics, Ethnosemiotics, Nonfictional Studies and Audiovisuality (SENSA Lab) intends to promote the comparative study of signification and communication across cultures and societies, through the analysis of social interaction, film, nonfictional media, and audiovisual texts, as produced in different domains of everyday life. The SENSA Lab aims at bringing together research on semiotics, nonfictional studies and ethnographic methods, producing innovative insights from the mutual dialogue and methodological interface between film and screen media studies, anthropology and the social sciences. In order to foster productive collaborations across disciplines, the Lab thus intends to gather researchers from these fields, both in Ireland and internationally. 

As argued by Paul Ricœur in The Rule of Metaphor (1977), “‘sensa’ are, essentially, the ebb and flow of images allowed to be by the epoché of the referential relation”, while “sense” designates in semiotics the phenomenological quality of meaning as linked to perception, movement and direction (Greimas 1990). Within the SENSA Lab, we wish therefore to emphasise our commitment to follow this “ebb and flow of images”, as well as to study meaning as an “oriented process of actualisation”: a movement across a research pathway characterised by constant perceptive engagement with the world around us — without losing a certain sense of direction and purpose in trying to make sense of it.

By opening the first laboratory for semiotics in Ireland, we intend to catalyse this expanding field of research, creating a leading institute and international nexus for current semiotic debates on cinema, nonfictional studies, ethnographic methods and social theory. Our objectives are: to foster international research networks inside and outside Europe; to bring together for the first time scholars working on semiotics, social interaction, film theory, audiovisual culture and anthropology in Ireland; to establish an innovative platform for interdisciplinary collaborations between visual, nonfictional and social studies; to encourage PhD students and early-career scholars to work on new avenues of inquiry, dealing with ethnosemiotics, film and media studies, and anthropological theory.

We understand the four domains associated with SENSA Lab as open fields of inquiry, described in the following way:

Semiotics, as the study of signification and communication strategies through the analysis of verbal and nonverbal languages, texts and discourses. Whether we follow Ferdinand de Saussure’s classical semiology, Charles S. Peirce’s triadic definition of semiosis, Paris School’s actantial and generative semiotics, Juri Lotman’s cultural semiotics – or one of the innumerable adaptations and further developments adopted in anthropology, film and media studies, visual culture, philosophy, narrative and social theory – we remain committed to the concrete analysis of how verbal and nonverbal signs, texts, languages and discourses operate as active forces which shape ourselves and the world around us;

Ethnosemiotics, understood as a vast area of inquiry connecting semiotics and anthropology, through the ethnographic analysis of social interaction. Once defined as “a meeting place between anthropologists and semioticians”, for the analysis of “social languages”, “ethno-taxonomies”, “ethno-literary discourse”, and “signifying behaviour” like “rituals and ceremonies” (Greimas and Courtés 1982), ethnosemiotics could be considered as the ethnographic study of the way human and nonhuman relational fields, courses of action, affective stances and subjectivities are shaped and negotiated using verbal and nonverbal interaction and modes of communication (including space, bodily postures, materiality, sound, media, etc.);

Nonfictional Studies, seen as the study of documentary cinema now expanded and modified by filmic work that increasingly pushes the boundaries of generic conventions and mainstream formats, that no longer identifies with the myth of documentary and scientific objectivity but acknowledges the situated, subjective, connoted position from which a film looks at the world. Nonfictional Studies then cover today the wide sphere of a cinema of research – exploratory, artistic, hybrid, essayistic, critical, collaborative, interactive, polyphonic, experimentally ethnographic and auto-ethnographic ­­­– that engages with the real and with form, signification, and communication always in a self-reflexive way;

Audiovisuality, as the post-filmic domain of audiovisual texts that overflow from cinema and TV screens to invade all other spaces and the recombinant technologies of today – from art galleries and exhibition sites to the internet and computers, from mobile screens to VR headsets.


SENSA Lab interfaces with the Future Humanities Institute and its Arts Research & Practice Cluster, the MA Anthropology programme, UCC and with CARPE – Centre for Arts Research and Practice of the School of Film, Music & Theatre.

Please contact any of our co-directors to get involved:
Co-directors: Tatsuma Padoan (Study of Religions), Laura Rascaroli (Film and Screen Media). 


The Semiotics, Anthropology and Social Theory Forum is a permanent forum and international network hosted by SENSA Lab, in which scholars from different disciplines periodically gather to discuss works from semiotics, social and linguistic anthropology, Science and Technology Studies, linguistics and media studies, trying to bridge the gap between different semiotic traditions and schools. For information, please contact the convenor Tatsuma Padoan.



Wednesday 2 November 2022, 5.00–7.00 p.m., WW6

Dr Meghanne Barker (University College London)

"Reflect and Revise - Frameworks of Participation in Multimodal Ethnography"


Friday 27 January 2023, 2.30–4.30 p.m., online event

Professor Constantine Nakassis (University of Chicago)

Discussion of selected readings with the author, hosted by the Semiotics, Anthropology and Social Theory Forum

Event information


Friday 10 February 2023, 2.00–4.00 p.m., online event

Professor Piero Polidoro (LUMSA University of Rome)

"Advertising as a Cultural Language - A Semiotic Point of View"


Thursday 23 February 2023, 5.00–7.00 p.m., Film & Screen Media Auditorium, Kane Building B10B

Dr Yazan Doughan (LSE)

“Addressivity, Publicity, and Moral Critique in the Time of Corruption”


Monday 27 February 2023, 5.00­–7.00 p.m., Film & Screen Media Auditorium, Kane Building B10B

Dr Hing Tsang (University of Suffolk)

"Embodiment, Habit and Visuality: The Implications for Theory and Practice"


Friday 3 March 2023, 3.00–5.00 p.m., online seminar

Discussion of selected chapters (Introduction, Chapter 1 and 2) from Boris Wiseman's Lévi-Strauss, Anthropology and Aesthetics (Cambridge UP, 2007), hosted by the Semiotics, Anthropology and Social Theory Forum


Monday 27 March 2023, 5.00–7.00 p.m., Film & Screen Media Auditorium, Kane Building B10B

Dr Rupert Stasch (University of Cambridge)

“The Plural Reflexivity of TV Editors: Interactions of Documentary Realism, Photographed Speech, and the Mythos of Primitive and Modern”


Monday 24 April 2023, 5.00–7.00 p.m., Film & Screen Media Auditorium, Kane Building B10B

Professor Denis Bertrand (Paris 8 Vincennes – Saint-Denis University)

“The Construction of Greta Thunberg's Mediatic Mythology: A Semiotic Approach”





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Department of Film and Screen Media

Scannánaíocht agus Meáin Scáileán

O'Rahilly Building University College Cork Ireland