The International Association for Semiotic Studies — Association Internationale de Sémiotique IASS-AIS was founded in 1969 and is the world organization in semiotics.
The IASS-AIS has both individual and collective members (international and multinational associations dealing with the semiotics of particular topics, national semiotics associations, regional groups, research centers, etc.). Among the founding members were scholars such as Algirdas Julien Greimas, Roman Jakobson, Julia Kristeva, Emile Benveniste, Thomas A. Sebeok, and Jurij M. Lotman.
According to Article 2 of the Statuts de l’Association Internationale de Sémiotique, the IASS-AIS has the following goals:
1. promouvoir les recherches sémiotiques dans un esprit scientifique;
2. renforcer la coopération internationale dans ce domaine;
3. collaborer avec d’autres associations similaires;
4. organiser des colloques nationaux et internationaux et des stages de formation;
5. publier une revue internationale [. . .]: Semiotica.
The IASS-AIS has about 1,000 members from all continents, and combined with the members of Collective Members (multinational, national, regional associations, research groups, circles) the Association represents several thousands of semioticians who are organized all over the world.
The major body is the General Assembly, convened during the Congress. The members present in the Assembly elect the representatives to the Executive Committee/Comité Directeur for a five years period. Since the last General Assembly in Berkeley, 1994, they represent 38 different countries (each country has no more than two representatives). In its first meeting, the Executive Committee elects the Bureau of the Association which has also a five years period. The Bureau of the IASS-AIS consists of 11 members (President, 5 Vice-Presidents, Secretary General, Assistant Secretary General, Treasurer, Assistant Treasurer, Editor-on-Chief of Semiotica). Since 1994, the IASS-AIS has three Honorary Presidents: Umberto Eco, Cesare Segre, and Jerzy Pelc.
[This is only meant to be a short overview. Those of you who want to know more, can look into the report, published in The Semiotic Web 1986, cf. Withalm 1987 – or, even better, the extended report dated 2004 which is available here (GS)]
In the early 60s, awareness about, and interest in, a particular approach to cultural phenomena increased, an approach that made the sign processes its starting point — semiotics. Specifically in 1962, two important conferences took place: the first in Bloomington, originally devoted to paralinguistics and kinesics; the other in Moscow, where the Symposium on the Structural Study of Sign Systems was held, uniting scholars from both Moscow and Tartu.
Although the IASS-AIS was founded at the end of the decade, its history dates back to the mid-60s. In1966 the very first international semiotic conference was organized in Poland (the Proceedings plus contributions from an earlier conference in Warsaw were edited by Greimas et al. 1970). In the same year, a Semiotic Association with Stefan Zolkiewski as president and Greimas as secretary general (cf. Deledalle’s “Presentation” in Balat & Deledalle-Rhodes 1992) was founded as well as a semiotic journal which appeared as a section of Social Science Information (a selection of articles was later published in a book: Kristeva, Rey-Debove & Umiker 1971). It was a goal of the association to formalize this first foundation, but due to the political situation in Central Eastern Europe the 1968 conference in Warsaw was not a representative forum. Finally, on January 21-22, 1969, a meeting was convened in Paris and the IASS-AIS was officially established.
To be brief, we will only mention the names of the officers who devoted their time and energy for the Association during the first 25 years (a detailed list can be found in the IASS-AIS Bulletin 13(1-2)1993 & 14(1-2)1994: 5-7; the current Bureau is listed on another page). Emile Benveniste was the first president. He was followed by Cesare Segre and Jerzy Pelc. Scholars such as Julia Kristeva, Umberto Eco, Gianfranco Bettetini, Antonino Buttitta, and Gérard Deledalle acted as Secretary General. Among the former Vice-Presidents between 1969 and 1994 we find names like: Haroldo de Campos, Vyacheslav Vs. Ivanov, Roman Jakobson, Jurij M. Lotman, Aleksandr Ljudskanov, Jean Petitot, Décio Pignatari, R.N. Srivastava, and Masao Yamaguchi. The Treasurers were Jacques Geninasca and Gloria Withalm. From the very beginning, the Editor-in-Chief of Semiotica has been Th.A. Sebeok.
For more details, see the extended report of the Lyon conference, written by former Secretary General Jeff Bernard.
In his Inaugural Address as President of the IASS-AIS (delivered in Berkeley on June 16, 1994) Roland Posner outlined the following objectives for the current policy of the IASS-AIS (cf. Posner 1995):
1. New programs for the teaching of semiotics at schools, colleges, universities and in continuing education need to be developed and implemented globally under the auspices of the IASS-AIS.
2. International cooperation in semiotic research must be intensified on a regional basis by setting up local networks of multiply overlapping semiotic research groups (e.g. in Scandinavia, Central Europe, Latin America, and in the European, Asian and African countries bordering the Mediterranean, as well as in the American and Asian countries bordering the Pacific). The IASS-AIS will stimulate this world-wide communication with the help of its Executive Committee: in addition to having an assembly of the complete Executive Committee once every five years, there will be frequent Regional Meetings between its members, thereby constituting, e.g., a Scandinavian, Central European, Latin American, Mediterranean, North Pacific section of the IASS-AIS.
3. New semiotic insights often originate by comparing the problems and methods of distinct sign-oriented disciplines. The IASS-AIS will therefore encourage encounters between the specialists of different disciplines within the humanities, the social sciences, and the natural sciences, and, especially, across the boundaries of these groups of disciplines. The IASS-AIS will mirror these efforts in its organizational structure by establishing a system of Special Interest Groups and project-oriented joint ventures, each involving several disciplines.
4. To create synergies between semiotics and related interdisciplinary approaches (e.g. Cognitive Science, Communications Research, Ethology, Ecology, Pragmatics, Hermeneutics, Aesthetics), the IASS-AIS will set up long-term organizational relations with the international associations that are in charge of these approaches. Joint projects will be initiated and joint congresses organized.
5. Innovative ideas must receive the attention of as many semioticians as quickly as possible. To guarantee this, the IASS-AIS is introducing the most advanced communications technology available. In addition to the printed publications (the Bulletin-Annual appearing once a year, and the Bulletin-Newsletter published twice a year) an IASS-AIS E-mail Circular has been created, which distributes news as soon as they reach the Secretary General. Furthermore, it is planned to make central components of the content of the Bulletin available on Internet, so that the IASS-AIS Bureau acts as a global clearing house for all semiotically relevant information.
After the splendid opening of the series of IASS-AIS Congresses by Umberto Eco in Milano in 1974, there has been a steady increase in semiotic activities, which reached international attention every five years in the Congresses of Vienna (1979), Palermo (1984), Barcelona–Perpignan (1989) and Berkeley (1994). It is obvious that there was a parallel growth in semiotic publications both in quantity and quality. More and more of the academic fields which used to be uninformed or skeptical of semiotics have since been convinced of its necessity. More and more scientific and educational institutions are approaching the IASS-AIS for cooperation. Although semiotics itself is still rarely institutionalized as a university subject in its own right, the acceptance of semiotics as an interdisciplinary field with a strong complementary form of organization has risen remarkably. This is true to such a degree that the IASS-AIS success story has been taken by many an interdisciplinary field as a model for the way it should proceed.