Multimodality and Literacy

May 24, 2008 at 9:37 am Leave a comment

Hi again! What I have to share with you today is a reading I have made of Kress’ chapter Meaning, Learning and Representation in a Social Semiotic Approach to Multimodal Communication[1].
You know I have been working as a lecturer in New Technologies Applied to Education and issues related to literacy and multimodality have been redesigning my research interests lately.

In this chapter, Kress points out that in the broad cultural economic scenario, “neo-liberal, post-modern societies and states do not, cannot and actually often do not wish to provide frameworks for ethical principals”. This has direct consequences on the making of identity. In the past, identity formation depended on an individual’s integrations into institutional, national and economical structures. Nowadays identity formation is much more related to participation (or no participation) in consumption. These remarks echo van Leeewven’s description of change from class division to stile of life. Kress however wants to highlight that the only ethical guidelines which inform identity formation through consumption are those the market might offer.

Kress identifies two main areas in which the changes in the broad cultural economic scenario described above influences the world of representation: first, the means we use to disseminate our messages; secondly, the means we use for making representation. If we focus on the means used in the new world of representation, we see that for a growing number of people, access to the new media changes authoring into a more usual and common process, and, as a consequence, a less powerful one. This represents an important shift in the “ordering of the world”, because world representations change from being “ordered for the reader” into being “designed by the reader”. In other words, readers, or at least some of them, become authors and authors loose monopoly over representation.

If we focus on the means we use for making representations instead, we find that learning how to represent means developing an orientation in and to the world that transforms as well as naturalizes certain logics. Kress calls this orientation a “social epistemology” which informs the different affordances allowed by the different modes. Semiotic modes are governed by general principles, like prominence, for example, but each mode has a certain potential for meaning production, as they have different logics – there are time based modes, like speech, music, dance and gestures, for example, and spatial based modes, like image. The choices I make when I select a mode of representation, says Kress, “forces me into specific epistemological commitments” (Kress, 2007: 26). The author goes on to say that a consequence of constant training in the use of a certain mode and its affordances is the shaping of one’s attention and epistemological orientation in a certain way. As image becomes a progressively more prominent mode of representation, displacing writing (Jewitt, 2006), conflicts may arise between, on the one hand, students, natives of this new world of representation, and those who make the curricula and devise pedagogies still having in mind linguistic accounts alone as a theoretical basis for the understanding of communication and subjectivity.

For Kress, “learning can be seen as the individual’s agentive selection from, engagement with and transformation of the world according to their principals” (Kress, 2007: 37). The choice of one theory of learning or another will have consequences on teachers’ ordering of the world: a world that can be ordered for the reader/student or designed by the reader/student. The fundamental question is whether educators will engage with a theory of learning which attends to the meanings of those who have power or a theory of learning which attends to the meanings which result from principled engagement with the world.

What theories of learning are we engaging with as teachers? What theories of learning have we been given the opportunities to engage with as learners? Each of us has a certain learning history that (partially?) makes who we are, what we know and the way we move in the world.
[1] Kress, Gunther. (2007). Meaning, Learning and Representation in a Social Semiotic Approach to Multimodal Communication. P. 15-39. In: McCabe, Anne; O’Donnell, Mick; Whittaker, Rachel. (ed) Advances in Language and Education. Continuum: London.


Entry filed under: Multimodal Literacy.

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