On children's semiotic freedom and the right to be heard

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Understanding what others mean in a communicative situation, and to be self-understood, are key factors to be able to participate in and have influence on decisions that concern oneself. This is especially important in contexts where the person who is actually affected by a decision does not have the decisive power. Such a decision situation is many times relevant in relation to decisions concerning children, children's health, education and living conditions. According to Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) children have the right to be heard in connection with decisions concerning them. The article also expresses a reservation for this right due to age and maturity of the child.In this presentation, children’s right to be heard in connection with decisions concerning them is noted. It is claimed that knowledge of children's semiotics (cf. children’s meaning making and understanding of meanings) is required in order for such rights to be met in, for example, children's conversations with adults. A starting point for the discussions is that stories and narrative descriptions are semiotic recourses which meanings partly depend on the interpreter’s perception and habit of what “story telling” is in the first place. This condition applies to both those who tell and to those who listen to someone's story.Interestingly, even if a story is perceived by both a child and an adult in a conversational situation (and thus can be expected to be effective in a communication), such beliefs - from the point of view of the adult - can also be a barrier to the fact that the adult actually understands the conversation and the situation from the child's point of view (James & Prout 1997). The adult's habit and understanding of the narrative affect his or her interpretation in the conversation. Research on children's semiotic interactions has shown that even though children from early years participate in adult communication with pictures or stories, it takes many years of meaning making and communication for children to perceive these meanings in a manner similar to adults. Studies in children’s semiotic development suggest that a decisive factor for this gap in communication is related to differences in the use of sign relations (DeLoache 2004, Lenninger 2012, Piaget 1930, 1945, Vygotsky 2001).Moreover, in this presentation this difference is also discussed in terms of differences in semiotic freedom (cf. Hoffmeyer 2010). Semiotic freedom is about the ability to perceive and use different types of meanings in different contexts. Semiotic freedom follows the ability to navigate in, and affect, one’s social and communicative environment in a communicative situation.If we take the CRC seriously, the commitment lies with the authorities and itsrepresentatives to understand the child's perspective in meaning creation - not in children to understand the nuances of adult communication saturated with sign relations.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventThe 11th conference of the Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies, Stavanger, Norway, June 13–15th, 2019: Anticipation and Change - KJELL ARHOLMS HUS, UNIVERSITY OF STAVANGER, Stavanger, Norway
Duration: 2019-Jun-132019-Jun-15
Conference number: 11


ConferenceThe 11th conference of the Nordic Association for Semiotic Studies, Stavanger, Norway, June 13–15th, 2019
Abbreviated titleNASS

Swedish Standard Keywords

  • Other Social Sciences (509)
  • Learning (50303)


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