Current research projects


Maarja Ojamaa

The prevalence of new media has brought along a gap between cultural heritage and everyday culture, weakening also cultural identities. The aim of the project is to work out the concept and operating principles of educational platforms for the transmedial valuation of cultural - especially literary - heritage. First, it will focus on transmedial cultural analysis and on the functioning of cultural heritage within different textual and medial networks. Secondly, the project cultivates transmedial literacy and analytical competences by synthesizing students’ digital experience and the affordances of school settings. The practical goal is a digital educational platform aimed at integrating cultural heritage with everyday (digital) cultural experience in three languages (Estonian, Russian, English) and corresponding cultural contexts. The conceptual basis of the project is the Tartu-Moscow semiotic school's understanding of culture as a hierarchical complex of cultural languages.

Project PRG314

1.01.2019 - 31.12.2023

Team Leader: Kalevi Kull

The impact on diversity by the survival of a new agent in a semiotic system largely depends on the fitting of its communicative relations (sign relations) into the novel environment. We call this process semiotic fitting. Our project aims to discover the general features of semiotic fitting that characterise its effect on diversity in ecological, cultural and virtual systems. To solve this task, we are going to elaborate a general conception and a model of semiotic fitting, and to study the formation of semiotic diversity (1) in urban ecosystems, (2) in social media and the environment of e-Estonia, and (3) in the processes of cultural translation. We expect to demonstrate that semiotic fitting is an important mechanism responsible for diversity in all these different cases.

08.03.2019 - 31.01.2023

Team Leader: Andreas Ventsel

Participants: Mari-Liis Madisson, Sten Hansson 

The project focuses on analysis of strategical narratives that are related with (cyber)security discourses. Strategic narratives is means by which political actors attempt to construct a shared meaning of the past, present, and future of international politics to shape the behavior of domestic and international actors. Strategic narratives usually establish the identity of the active actor (who we are?), a desired destination (what we want to achieve?), the obstacles related to it and the recommended way of overcoming these obstacles. Strategic narratives may include the justification of policy objectives or policy responses to economic or security crises, the formation of international alliances, or the rallying of domestic or international public opinion etc. We conceptualize our research results in the framework of security dilemma. It refers to a situation in international relations in which actions by a state intended to heighten its security (eg increasing its military strength, committing to use weapons or making alliances) can lead other states to respond with similar measures, producing increased tensions that create conflict, even when no side really desires it. Our project we will research how cybersecurity narratives shape the dynamics of policy between Russia and NATO members. We will use interdisciplinary research-methods from semiotics, discourse analysis, media studies, narrative studies, conflict- and security studies etc.

Past research projects


Andreas Ventsel

The aim of the research project is set on identifying discursive strategies of hostile influence activities and examining the awareness of the target group. The project consists of three interrelated phases: qualitative and quantitative research, and the development of a design of a web-based learning platform for identifying hostile information influence strategies and techniques.  For finding out the most common deception strategies and techniques we use semiotics, discourse analysis and other methods of qualitative analysis.To get an overview of the awareness of hostile influencing activities and possible problem areas, we use a quantitative research method.  Synthesis of these two research strategies will provide the knowledge to develop a better and more effective teaching materials and a web-based learning platform in the future.

Personal Research Funding (PUT) project 1363

January 2017 - December 2020

Team Leader: Timo Maran

The goal of this project is to study how different species use semiotic means for engaging in shared environments, how species’ Umwelten allow for relations with other species and environments, how shared sign repertoires emerge and what semiotic and cultural properties of humans influence these processes. Specifically, the project focuses on problems and potentials in multispecies urban nature, cultural representations of interspecies relations and theoretical-conceptual basis for treating multispecies semiosis.

Project homepage


Chair of the Action: Professor Peter Knight (University of Manchester, UK)

 From the Department of Semiotics, University of Tartu: Andreas Ventsel, Mari-Liis Madisson (member of project management committee)

The increasing influence of CTs to various social processes (rising with the popularity of social networks in particular) is clearly noticeable in the present-day European security environment. CTs are not confined to the political margins as the product of a pathological mind-set: opinion polls confirm that the majority of citizens in Europe and the U.S. now believe in one or more conspiracy theories. The aim of this COST Action is to provide a comparative analysis of conspiracy theory (in terms of its different causes, manifestations and effects across countries, cultures, time periods, political systems, media regimes etc.), and to develop recommendations and strategies for stakeholders confronted with it.

Project homepage:

Personal Research Funding (PUT) project 1231

1.01.2016 − 31.12.2019

Team leader: Mihhail Lotman

The proposed project is interdisciplinary, drawing from semiotics, verse theory, history of literature and translation studies. The project will center on the unstudied sphere in Estonian poetry: the relationship between verse rhythm and semantics. The main focuses of the project are: 1) relations between semantics and rhythm in the chronological-esthetic framework, 2) comparative analysis of semantic structure of Estonian iamb and trochee, 3) autometadescription in verse structure, 4) problems of semantics and rhythm in translations. Research will proceed from the concept that different semantical mechanisms are related to meter and rhythm. Meter is generally conventional, but may be also indexical and even iconical. Rhythm can be iconical as well, there are also symbolic signs, while iconic signs are rare in poetic rhythm. The methodological basis of the study is generative method, followed by a modified form of component analysis with the subsequent statistical data processing.

Information in the Estonian Research Information System

1.08.2017 - 31.12.2018

Team leader: Vladimir Sazonov (Estonian National Defence College)

Participants from the department of semiotics: Andreas Ventsel, Mari-Liis Madisson

Information warfare takes place in the minds of human beings by using emotions and beliefs as weapons and it is able to produce significant damages to the security and stability, which are comparable with armed conflicts. This project focuses on different aspects of disinformation campaigns, fake news and different strategic narratives hostile to Estonia. The project includes security studies, media and communication studies, but also semiotic approach, which combines postclassical narrative theories with cultural semiotics, and analyses how narratives are connected with wider cultural values in the cultural memory.

Information in the Estonian Research Information System

January 2013 - December 2018

Team Leader: Kalevi Kull

Project homepage

1.04.2017 - 31.03.2018

Principal investigator: Elin Sütiste

Culture and cultural identity develop in relation to other cultures, to a significant extent through literary translation among other kinds of contact. Estonian cultural history is incomplete without Estonian translation history. The primary foundation of a translation history is bibliography, which comprises both translations as well as metatexts (texts written about translations and translating). The aim of the present project is to fill a gap on the way towards the compiling of Estonian translation history: to create a bibliographic database that draws together materials pertaining to literary translation, translation theory and reception published in linguistic and literary journals (e.g. “Estonian Literature”, “Looming”, “Keel ja Kirjandus”) in the years 1900-1991.

Information in the Estonian Research Information System

1.04.2016 - 31.03.2018

Principal investigator: Andreas Ventsel

The project will focus on the formation of different discourses of e-Estonia articulated viavarious formal and alternative media texts and explain the specifics of their meaningmakingas well as values on which they are based. The practical outcome of our projectwill lie in developing a more diverse understanding of e-Estonia (the perspectives of ecitizen,e-consumer, etc., will be outlined) and opening up alternative perspectives.

Information in the Estonian Research Information System

September 2013 - December 2016

Team Leader: Timo Maran

The goal of this project is to study how humans perceive animals in changing environments, how human cultural mediation of animals contributes to environmental change and how environmental change influences human-animal relations. Specifically, the project focuses on problematic cases of human-animal relations (including wild, domesticated, and captive animals) and their cultural representations and analyses these from semiotic, especially from biosemiotic and zoosemiotic perspectives.

Project homepage

Team leader: Kalevi Kull

Project description

Project focuses on the analysis and modelling of autocommunication and self-description phenomena in semiotic systems. These include (1) the role of self-models in assuring the system's integrity; (2) the role of self-description in generation of conflicts. An innovative aspect of the project lies in the extension of cultural semiotic models via inclusion of bio- and ecosemiotic aspects, enabling to further the understanding and explanation of cultural conflicts and mechanisms of cultural equilibrium. This general task will be approached via case studies: (a) typology of autocommunication in the models of translation process; (b) synthesis of Lotman's and Uexküll's autocommunication models; (c) analysis of autometadescription in poetic texts; (d) typology of self-description as related to naming; (e) an integration of biosemiotic and cultural semiotic models in a study of hybrid objects: the case of nature writing; (e) power relations and political communication in case of biopolitics.

Team leader: Kalevi Kull

Project description

This project aims a description, framework and analysis of biosemiotic methodology, particularly as compared to the natural scientific approaches to living systems, and to anthroposemiotics. This will include on the one hand the characterization of disciplinary independence of biosemiotics, and on the other hand the interaction and co-existence of the variety of methods in biosemiotics as an interdisciplinary field. The series of papers as the result of the project will provide a review of the methods of biosemiotics, and a formulation of the role of its methods in the biosemiotic research programs.

Team leader: Ülle Pärli

Project description 

The project has evolved from previous researches concentrating on the semiotics of naming. Therefore the new project is based on the already done research being a further development of them. The research team's constant main group has due to the analysis of separate subjects and the enrichment of the theoretical basis come to the questions answering which demands the diversifying and expanding of research area and methodology. Naming is a field of study that combines socio semiotics and cultural semiotics and unites the semiotics methods of study with other disciplines devoted to culture and society. The planned project aims at contributing to political theory and methodology of cultural studies. Besides to develop theoretically the semiotics of naming as a methodology of studying sociocultural practice and creation of semiotic reality. At the same time the project is not devoted solely to theories but an all-in disquisition of nomination through studies of various subtopics: *segmentation of sociocultural reality through naming *schemes and chains of institutional power which demonstrate the inner structure and order of culture and society *comparative analysis of culture through strategies of naming (mainly Russian-Estonian) *naming and collective memory, preserving and forgetting cultural structures *subcultures and social groups, naming as self description and meta description *naming as political act, question of "empty signifier" in ideological discourse *naming as the signifier of choice and marking, the wider study of "self" and "other" *dependence of culture and space, sacralized space, creating "cultural spaces" through naming *naming to ad historical dimension to space *strategies of naming in art texts, proper names and nature of art One part of the output are scientific articles, in which the processes in Estonian culture and society will be explained through naming. Studies will concentrate mostly on recent years. One of the important parts is analysis of soviet ideology, in order to understand power of name in a totalitarian society more generally. One of the definite goals is publishing popular articles explaining to a wider audience the essence of nomination as a powerful semiotic operation. Main theoretical result will be a compendium of theoretical articles which must ponder semiotics of naming as a method which brings forth the hidden processes in the society and varying attitudes toward a sign.


Team leader: Timo Maran

Project description 

The research project departs from the legacy of Th. A. Sebeok who formulated the paradigm of zoosemiotics in the 1960s by synthesizing language semiotics, communication theory, ethology and J. von Uexküll’s Umwelt theory. The project develops an interdisciplinary, dynamic and analysis-based approach to zoosemiotics. The focus is on the history, dynamics and different forms of representations of biological and semiotic relations and resemblances between humans and animals. The project puts to use the scientific potential of Th. A. Sebeok’s zoosemiotic library, housed by Department of Semiotics. The project integrates approaches of humanities and natural sciences by connecting the study of cultural representations with studies of animal communication. The starting point for the research is the recognition of the traits common to humans and other animals: biological embodiment and semiotic activity in their relations with each other and with the environment. In studying communication, attention will be paid to contextual aspects, resemblances, changing communicative relations and needs for self-representation and emotions in animals. In studying cultural representations our approach acknowledges: a) the biological nature of humans (embodiment, spatial relations, biological senses); b) the semiotic and communicative nature of other animals as meaning generating subjects. The main objectives of the research project are: 1. reinterpreting and elaborating classical zoosemiotic theory, working with and analyzing T. A. Sebeok’s zoosemiotic library; 2. developing semiotic tools for analyzing sign relationships that extend beyond the limits of culture; practical analysis of sample cases; 3. studying semiotic strategies and evolution of representative forms used for depicting animals in myths, literature and visual culture; 4. including environment in the analysis of communication between humans and animals; regarding changing communicative relationships as an object for zoosemiotic research. The practical results of the project will include using Umwelt theory in practical analyses; publications on zoosemiotic theory and representations of animals in literature and visual culture; publication of a monograph on semiotics of mimicry in English; compilation of a reader on zoosemiotics; organizing an international zoosemiotic conference. A prospective outcome of the grant project is the application of zoosemiotics in visitor studies in cooperation with Tallinn Zoo.

Principal investigator: Anti Randviir

Project description 

Sociosemiotics (Ssem) can be seen fragmented on the international scale. To secure the purposefulness and continuity of this large field, it is vital to study and determine the actual paradigmatic essence of Ssem. Semiotics is associated with interdisciplinarity – usually from the perspective of the humanities. Ssem allows to connect this interdisciplinarity with a wider understanding connecting the social sciences and the humanities both in the amount and range of research objects, while integrating also social science methodologies with traditional methods of humanities (even e.g. fieldwork). There will emerge a methodological whole being capable of applied research of the complex ‘man-culture-society-environment’, using the notion ‘sociocultural system’. The project has 2 main directions: a) concentration at determining the foundation of Ssem as a relatively new scientific trend and outlining its paradigmatic distinctive features, b) establishing applied methods of Ssem. These aspects are interrelated and connect semiotics interdisciplinarily with various social sciences and humanities. a) Establishing Ssem in the context of social sciences and humanities. The Ssem angle to unite the so-called classical semiotics and contemporary disciplines in the social sciences would enable to view phenomena beginning from the sociocultural development and behaviour of the individual in his daily life, and ending with the dynamism of identities in intercultural communication. At the demarcation of the grounds of Ssem we will pay specific attention to the classics who are considered as representatives of separate disciplines, focusing at the beginning and following decades of the 20th century. b) Two main aspects of the applied side of Ssem: issues of principal modelling of concrete sociocultural associations, and retrospective modelling of sociocultural communicative processes. The topic is not about the description of history in terms of events on the scale of cause and effect, but about the description of informational processes in culture as results of interaction between technological, ideological, economic, political and other processes. In long-term, the project foresees application of the Ssem toolkit to the description of paradigmatic changes that have taken place in Estonia in the 20th and the 21st century.

Principal investigator: Andreas Ventsel

Project description 

The project strives to contribute to both political theory and to the methodology of cultural studies and also to develop a dialogue between the social sciences and the humanities through integrating approaches of discourse analysis and semiotics into larger social-science paradigm. Being aware of the critiques leveled against the poststructuralist social theory from the empirical-quantitative sociology, we set the task of engaging in a dialogue that could include the positive aspects of both trends. The Essex school of discourse theory has tried to formulate the meaning of democracy and its distinction from authoritarian or populist political logics. Assuming (in the spirit of the Tartu-Moscow School) that any meaning is of communicative character, it could be possible to combine the theory of hegemony with the ideas of semiotics of culture into a theoretical framework for analyzing the communicative conditions of democracy. Thus, the planned project would not limit itself to merely updating the theoretical basis, but would strive to pose concrete guidelines for studying the process of identity-making more generally. Empirical material of the planned research project is based on the interverbal media texts found in Estonian press and other media. The object of study is to set the question concerning how the texts in the Estonian media are constructed. The point of departure is the observation that there is an extreme lack of analytical and argumentative language use in the Estonian media. This in turn entails the decrease of transparency of the communication in the public sphere, the receding of the citizenry from the common decision-making process. Estonian history provides excellent comparative material and expectations for developing a typology of political communication. The goals of the project are: 1) critical revision of the concepts of discourse theory and their complementation with the categories of social and political sciences. A bridge between the humanities and the social sciences could be built through integrating semiotic research methodologies with theories of discourse. 2) Applying the methods of analysis to interdisciplinary studies of culture. Special emphasis should be laid on the new forms of communication. The methodology of study is interdisciplinary: socio- and cultural semiotics; linguistics and discourse criticism; cognitive psychology visual studies; studies of ideology, political rhetoric and mass communication.