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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

IAS Fellows' Seminar - Tipping the Balance: A Comparative Study of the Scales in the Visual Rhetoric of Justice

10th October 2016, 13:00 to 14:00, IAS Seminar Room, Palace Green, Professor Massimo Leone (University of Turin, Italy)

Some symbols so skillfully traverse epochs and cultures that they are depicted as almost ‘natural’ embodiments of abstract values. The balance is one of these symbols, adopted to represent justice from ancient Egypt until the present time. Power appropriates this ‘natural meaning’ in order to construct a rhetoric of fairness. Yet, semiotics unveils that the balance, like every symbol, is not natural at all, but underpinned by a specific ideology. From the semiotic point of view, the balance is a device that produces indexes, i.e., causal signs that visually signal an invisible property, weight. Although this translation is not automatic, but based on specific indexical circumstances (such as the type of balance, the weighing techniques, and the measuring standards that are used), the balance is paradoxically turned into a symbol of justice precisely because it is depicted as a non-semiotic device, as an instrument that cannot lie, as a machine.

The paper will provide initial elements for a trans-historical and cross-cultural study of scales in the visual rhetoric of justice.

Fellows' seminars take place on Monday lunchtimes in the seminar room at Cosin's Hall.

Places are limited and so any academic colleagues interested in attending a seminar should contact the Institute in advance to reserve a place.

The aim of these seminars is to develop new thinking on the big issues that are of current concern/interest for the Fellows . Each Fellow is asked to present a core idea that informs their current work, or a problem that they are tackling, that could benefit from cross-disciplinary thinking. These seminars are informal and designed to encourage discussion.

Contact for more information about this event.