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Human Lifeworlds

The Cognitive Semiotics of Cultural Evolution

Edited By David Dunér and Göran Sonesson

This book, which presents a cognitive-semiotic theory of cultural evolution, including that taking place in historical time, analyses various cognitive-semiotic artefacts and abilities. It claims that what makes human beings human is fundamentally the semiotic and cultural skills by means of which they endow their Lifeworld with meaning. The properties that have made human beings special among animals living in the terrestrial biosphere do not derive entirely from their biological-genetic evolution, but also stem from their interaction with the environment, in its culturally interpreted form, the Lifeworld. This, in turn, becomes possible thanks to the human ability to learn from other thinking beings, and to transfer experiences, knowledge, meaning, and perspectives to new generations.
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Göran Sonesson & Gunnar Sandin - Chapter Eight : Urbanity: The City as the Specifically Human Niche


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Göran Sonesson & Gunnar Sandin

Chapter Eight

Urbanity: The City as the Specifically Human Niche

In this chapter, we aim to establish that city life, and more specifically, life in public space such as it can only exist (or so it would seem) in the city, constitutes an important step on the way to what we today take to be human specificity. Both Barry Allen (2004) and Raymond Tallis (2011) have suggested that city life may be, in some way or other, that which has allowed human beings to become immensely different from other animal species. Although none of them refer (in this specific context) to the work of Merlin Donald, it might be suggested that urban experience, and perhaps what led up to it, has constituted at least part of that specific human evolution, which, according to Donald, can not be accounted for by purely biological means. But neither Tallis nor Allen really offer any explanation of what is so particular about urbanity. This is where we have to turn to semiotic accounts of the meaning of environmental relationships.

8.1. The Non-Universal Specificity of Cities

The argument according to which the (big) city is the human Umwelt or niche par excellence cannot mean that it is the environment into which all human beings are born. Clearly, many human beings in historical times, and most of their ancestors, have not lived in what we call cities,...

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