Upcoming Presentations & Field Work 

Title TBD, A Conference in Honor of Michael Devitt’s 80th Birthday, Interuniversity Center, Dubrovnik, Croatia, September 10-14, 2018.

“Philosophical Perspectives on Communication by Prehistoric Bodily Adornment”, Visual Authority: Its Philosophy, Anthropology, Archaeology, Institut für Philosophie, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, September 27-28, 2018.

Discussions of prehistoric bodily adornment as a system of communication explicitly or implicitly rely on philosophical machinery about how artifacts can be bearers of meaning. Semiotic theory in the Saussurean or Peircean traditions are often explicitly appealed to by archaeologists (Weissner 1983; Conkey 2001; Hovers et. al. 2003; Trigger 2006; Preucel 2010; Bauer 2013; Crossland 2014; Johnson 2017). In some discussions of bodily adornment a theory of communication is not explicitly detailed but is implied by 1) the sort of evidence that is taken to demonstrate symbolic behavior, and 2) the sorts of messages that are proposed as the communicated content (Knight, Power, & Watts 1995; Kuhn et. al. 2001; D’Errico et. al. 2009; Stiner 2014; Hiscock 2014). In this presentation, I will begin by explaining why bodily adornment, understood as evidence of meaning-making practices in the archaeological record, is especially important. I will do this by comparing bodily adornment, such as ochre and shell beads, to other early candidates for bearers of intentional meaning, including handaxes and cave art. Then, I will detail the philosophical commitments made by relatively recent discussions of prehistoric bodily adornment as a system of symbolic communication. I will attempt to tease out for analysis the theoretical commitments and assumptions made by these theorists in the discussion of their empirical findings. I will then return to the philosophical frameworks. First, I will discuss the important distinction between signs that are arbitrary and signs that bear a necessary connection to what they symbolize. I will argue that archaeological discussions of symbolic bodily adornment have not always been mindful of this important distinction. I will conclude by highlighting the upshot of various ways of understanding communication by prehistoric bodily adornment.

Participant in archaeological field school, Añasco, Puerto Rico, University of Miami, March 11-16, 2019.


Past Presentations & Projects

Interpreter in Tino Sehgal’s “This Situation“, Museum of Art + Design at MDC, Miami, FL, March 31-April 29.

Comments on “Fashion as Play”, American Society for Aesthetics Annual Meeting, Eastern Division, Philadelphia, PA, April 20-21, 2018.

“Tree Trimming: Four Non-Branching Rules for Priest’s Introduction to Non-Classical Logic“, Phi Sigma Tau: The Philosophy Club, Florida International University, February 27, 2018.

“Artistic Capacities, Mindreading, & the Archaeological Record”, Gregory Currie Workshop, University of Miami, February 1, 2018.

“On Prum’s Theory of Biotic Aesthetics”, American Philosophical Association Eastern Division Meeting, Savannah, Georgia, January 4, 2018.

“Philosophical Perspectives on Communication by Prehistoric Bodily Adornment”, Digging Deeper: Philosophical and Archaeological Perspectives, Florida International University, Miami, Florida, December 2, 2017.

“On Prum’s Theory of Biotic Aesthetics”, Florida Philosophical Association Meeting, College of Central Florida, Ocala, Florida, November 4, 2017.

“Fashion & Philosophy”, Philosophy-in-Manhattan, New York, New York, Sunday, October 22, 2017.

“Systems of Dress: A Gricean Proposal for Communication by Bodily Adornment”, Fashion: Now & Then Conference, LIM College, New York, Friday, October 20, 2017.

“Seeking Speaker Meaning in the Archaeological Record”, Science Studies SeminarCUNY Graduate Center, New York, March 3, 2017.

“Incompleteness & Interpretation”, Great Incompletes: Italy’s Unfinished Endeavors, Columbia University, February 4, 2017.

“Reference Through Instruments”, Science Studies Seminar, CUNY Graduate Center, New York, September 30, 2016.

“Consciousness & Making Manifest”, 7th Intercultural Pragmatics and Communication Conference, University of Split, Croatia, June 10-12, 2016. *Received Best PhD Student Paper Award*

“Systems of Dress: A Gricean Proposal for Communication by Bodily Adornment”, Cognitive Science Seminar, CUNY Graduate Center, NY, February 26, 2016.

“Cooperation with Multiple Audiences”, School of Philosophy Thursday Seminar Series, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia, December 10, 2015.

“Systems of Dress: A Gricean Proposal for Communication by Bodily Adornment”, Philosophy Research Seminar, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, November 27, 2015.

“Meaning Through Things”, Symbols and Communicative Behaviour in Pleistocene Hominins Workshop, University of Sydney, Australia, November 21-22, 2015.

“Systems of Dress: A Gricean Proposal for Communication by Bodily Adornment”, School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry Seminar, University of Sydney, Australia, November 19, 2015.

“Metaphysics of Meaning”, Logic & Metaphysics Workshop, CUNY Graduate Center, NY, October 26, 2015.

“Cooperation with Multiple Audiences”, Philosophy of Language and Linguistics, Interuniversity Center, Dubrovnik, Croatia, September 7-11, 2015.

“Reference Through Instruments”, Bucharest Colloquium in Analytic Philosophy: Meaning and Reference, University of Bucharest, Romania, June 19-21, 2015.

“Women in Analytic Philosophy”, SWIP-Analytic Invited Panel, presented with Kate Pendoley, Hypatia and the APA Committee on the Status of Women Conference: Exploring Collaborative Contestations and Diversifying Philosophy, Villanova University, PA, May 28–30, 2015.

“Reference Through Instruments”, Envisioning Science Conference, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, February 27, 2015

“Why We Implicate: Revising Pinker’s Game-Theoretic Proposal”, CUNY Pragmatics Workshop: Relevance, Games, and Communication, CUNY Graduate Center, NY, October 14-15, 2014

“Reference Through Instruments”, The British Society of Aesthetics Annual Conference, St Anne’s College, Oxford, UK, September 19-21, 2014

“Maxim of Politeness, Please”, 6th Intercultural Pragmatics and Communication Conference, University of Malta, May 30 – June 1, 2014

“Tree Trimming”, Saul Kripke Center Brown Bag Lunch Lecture, CUNY Graduate Center, NY, December 9, 2013

Comments on “Incompatibilist About What”, Experimental Philosophy: Possibilities and Limits, CUNY Graduate Center, NY, April 5, 2013

“The Inner ‘I’”, Minding the Body Conference, CUNY Graduate Center, NY, March 1, 2013

Presenting “Cooperation with Multiple Audiences”, at the Interuniversity Center, Dubrovnik, Croatia, September 2015. Photo by Dunja Jutronić.


Marilynn Johnson
Department of Philosophy
Graduate Center, CUNY
365 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10016

Philosophy Department Website

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