First, we must understand that symbols like the Confederate Flag have no intrinsic meaning. The meanings symbols carry is that which humans attach from their own learning. Thus, any viewer of a symbol is free to assign it any range of meanings. The symbol itself, then is constant, but the value symbolized is not. Assuming that the Confederate Flag is an element of our culture, it becomes neccesary to define culture. Stephen M. Fjellman, in his book Vinyl Leaves, defines cultre as: "a public, more-or-less shared set of symbols, meanings, understandings, and beliefs people use to make sense of and reproduce their normal lives." Culture and symbols, like the Confederate Flag, can be shared on an international, local, regional, economic, racial, ethnic, or family level, all of which can overlap forming an infinite array of possibilities. Herein lies the source of controversy over the Confederate flag.
Semiotics is the term for this "study of signs." Semiotics involves a sort of unpacking of signs by looking at them not as having any natural meaning, but as constructs reproducing society's beliefs. As Valetin Volosinov put it: "Whenever a sign is present, ideology is present" (cited in Chandler). For a more detailed explanation of Semiotics, see Daniel Chandler's Semiotics for Beginners.