Eva Lepik, Riin Magnus, Tanel Pern, Priit Põhjala, Katre Pärn, Tiit Remm, Katre Väli
University of Tartu, Department of Semiotics


This paper is based on a research project on semiotic manifestations in different processes that are called crises - from the more general financial crisis and ecological crisis to more specific local crises (namely the Bronze Soldier affair). The specific phenomena discussed in this paper are the semiotic practices surrounding the current economic crisis and their influence on the development and proliferation of the overall sense of crisis in culture. Yet we bring also examples from other critical processes to point out parallels in what we call the rhetorics of crisis. These semiotic practices concern not only the use of specific semiotic markers pointing to crisis to induce further sense of crisis but also various tactics used to alleviate the pressure in culture. However, the study leaves out the issue of ontology or existence of the process of crisis itself and proceeds only by analysing the crisis as a phenomenon in semiotic reality.

We analysed the use of the rhetorics of crisis in two layers: description (a cultural system uses the rhetorics of crisis to describe the state of another cultural system), and self-description (a system uses the rhetorics of culture to describe itself) (cf. Lotman 2001: 128-129). These can be seen as the basic mechanisms used by culture in general and any cultural subsystem more specifically for sense making and for achieving order. Both relate a semiotic system to the world outside its borders (cf. Lotman 1992) while also organising the inner space of culture. While these relations in culture make up the abstract cultural space, the logic and scale of their change make up the temporal character of culture. Thus the system of culture as a whole involving multiple relationally acting systems and possible generalizable tendencies of development can be described in terms of chronotope as an indivisible whole of space and time (cf Bakhtin 1981).

We propose a four-stage model of the chronotope of crisis. These four stages
describe the dynamics of the rhetorics of crisis between description and self-
description, as well as its gradually totalizing effect in culture. Yet it should be noted that the model does not describe isolated phases, but rather stages that are embedded into each other and can simultaneously function in different cultural systems.

Keywords: crisis, chronotope, self-description