‘Big semiotics’ can help detect and decode the large social and cultural influences that shape consumer attitudes and behaviour. But top-down semiotics is largely unused by the market research industry because, as Rachel Lawes argues, nobody is explaining how to do it.

What you’ll learn:

  • New skills in semiotic analysis
  • A bigger, more complete picture of what semiotics involves
  • First-hand experience with a type of semiotic analysis the market research community is barely aware of
  • A clear understanding of the difference that big semiotics makes, based on practical examples and case studies from real-world research experience

Semiotics in marketing usually concentrates exclusively on bottom-up analysis – taking apart ads and packaging to decode the individual semiotic signs from which they are made. But this is only half the project of semiotics. As well as bottom-up analysis, semiotics also has the task of decoding society and culture, but a lack of understanding by the market research industry means few are learning from top-down or ‘big semiotics’.

This Speaker Evening, based on a forthcoming paper in the International Journal of Market Research, shows how to apply semiotics to the big questions of how society works, and the ways we can detect the large social and cultural influences that shape consumer attitudes and behaviour. It supplies a crucial set of skills currently missing from most commercial offerings in semiotics.

Dr Rachel Lawes shows how semiotics can be used to decode racism, gender identity and tourism, for example, and sets out:

  • the reasons commercial projects in semiotics need big sociological and political thinking to make an impact
  • how to be clear about the difference between semiotics and sociology
  • a research procedure – a ‘recipe’ – that can be used to organise top-down semiotic inquiry as a project in its own right, with clear and easy guidance for qualitative researchers

About the speaker:

Dr Rachel Lawes is a semiotician and social psychologist. Her academic career started with a PhD from Loughborough’s renowned Discourse & Rhetoric Group, and more recent positions include that of Principal Lecturer in Marketing at Regent’s University London.

Alongside academic activity, Rachel has supplied brand strategy and consumer insight, principally using semiotics and discourse analysis, to brands in 20 countries, via Lawes Consulting Ltd and Lawes Gadsby Semiotics LLP. She is author of numerous conference papers on semiotics and related methods, including Demystifying Semiotics (2002), Futurology Through Semiotics (2009) and Rebranding Charmin (2011).

Rachel has convened the MRS Advanced Qualitative Methods course for more than 10 years.


Bookings will open approximately 6 weeks before each event. 

This event is free for MRS members. Non-members are welcome to attend for a fee of £25.00 + VAT, which must be paid in advance.

If you would like to join MRS to enable you to attend this event for free and take advantage of the other benefits of membership please click here.


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