Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Semiotics Meets The World of Transportation

A new, quite interesting dissertation out of our UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies offers an analysis of the semiotics of Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV). Perhaps a foreign concept to those outside the humanities, semiotics is the study of signs and sign processing by humans. Semiotics is relevant to HEVs, author R. Heffner argues, as the perceived image of the HEV, its sign, is a relevant factor in its appeal to consumers. In Heffner's summary, he writes:
This study addresses the relationship between image and car purchases. Image, defined as the associations linked to a product or brand name [...] is often cited as influential in automobile purchases. But relatively little research has been conducted into what image is or why it is important to consumers. [...] The objective [of this study] was to understand how buyers of HEVs perceived the image of their vehicles, and the role image played in buyers' purchase decisions.

Using a data set consisting of a number of interviews with HEV buyers, Heffner analyzes the significance of the symbolic power of HEVs (perceived as being bother environmentally sound and economically prudent) in customers' purchasing decisions. Heffner also draws explicitly from philosophers like Ferdinand de Saussure and Roland Barthes and implicitly from the American pragmatist C.S. Peirce's semeiotics (and here).

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