How to analyse culture: semiotics and discourse analysis

People are not all the same the world over. That is the real cultural insight. 

In research, the term 'cultural insight' can mean three different things:

  1. Insights into cultural groups and ethnicities, for example into the experiences, language and expectations of indigenous Australians
  2. Insights into how people use symbolism and rituals, especially (in our work) consumer rituals and symbols
  3. Insight into 'how things mean' in our own culture.

Most of our work is with the second and third of these (although we have done some work with indigenous Australians). 

Semiotics and discourse analysis tell us how things mean

Let’s say that you want to know how people’s ideas of ‘freshness’ are changing or how a concept like ‘the right to privacy’ is being debated and discussed. These are cultural issues, so you need to use cultural analysis methods.  There are two of these:

  1. Semiotics:  use semiotics to analyse how concepts and ideas are expressed  visually and through sound.  Semiotics comprises a range analytical techniques which can be used on such things as advertising, websites, packaging, books, movies and TV shows.

  2. Discourse analysis: use discourse analysis to analyse spoken or written language. Use it to analyse how ideas are expressed in corporate communications and print media for example.

Extensive experience  with these techniques

We have worked with semiotics and discourse analysis for several decades and were the first to use it and promote it in Australia. We conduct semiotics projects in Australia for international clients. We use discourse analysis frequently in our local projects. We innovate and use semiotics in contemporary ways.  Some examples:

  • The semiotics of female ageing and menopause

  • Understanding 'italianicity' from an Australian perspective

  • Cultural variations in notions of freshness
  • Sensory semiotics to assist packaging design for foods, beverages and pharmaceuticals


Susan Bell has spoken at conferences and webinars on semiotics and published papers on semiotics in peer-reviewed academic journals.  We offer insight backed by rigorous analysis and knowledge.

We are across all the major theories and know how to apply them to commercial marketing issues in ways that are easy to understand. We draw on a wide range of semiotic theories and models such as narratives, myths and rituals. 


Tags: Semiotics, Rituals, Cultural insight, Narratives, Myths, Menopause, Female ageing

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