The truth about the content

November 7, 2008 at 10:36 pm Leave a comment

Guess what! This summer I was on vacation in my home town, Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and, guess  who was presenting a conference in the school where I took my PhD: Gunther Kress.FALE

No way I would miss it! In the conference at the Faculdade de Letras, UFMG, Kress presented a definition for learning in which, for those of us who have been following his work, it is possible to notice theoretical moves from previous ones. In Belo Horizonte, Kress defined learning as

“The transformative engagement with an aspect of the world which is the focus of attention of an individual; on the basis of principles brought by her or him to that engagement; leading to a transformation of the individuals semiotic/conceptual resources”

Now compare to the definition I quoted in my last post. 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)

FALE - UFMGSo, he’s added interest as a trigger for transformation, but not of any transformation, for the transformation of internal conceptions. What Kress is doing here is to semiotize cognition, that is, he’s using the same principles he applies to think about external, tangible representations to think about internal, mental ones.

 The other day I presented a seminar in the research group I’m working at, LATE, and in the audience I had people from psychology and pedagogy. My experience is that one problem some of them will experience with multimodality is that they tend to see content as something independent from its realization – as many linguists still do. We took the water cycle, for example, and someone said:

“The water cycle is the water cycle, content is content regardless the way you represent it.”

My view is that the water cycle will be one thing or another very different thing depending on the way it is represented, the semiotic modes used to do it, the media used in the process, the people who represent it and what time of history this representation is made. Some of my colleagues argued there is something the water cycle is, its truth. My point is, however, no matter how human beings try to access that truth, they will do that through representations, external or internal ones, which are always interest driven and only close to what reality is about. Besides, who knows if we really know “the truth about the water cycle”… I mean, what if tomorrow scientists find out something not known to the day… Actually, a scientist’s understanding of what the water cycle is is surely different of mine, and even if he knew everything that is possible to know about it nowadays, nobody knows what he could find out tomorrow.

gunther kressI came home after the seminar thinking about so many people who did not live to send photographs instantly over their phones, to call other continents for free on their computers or to know the sea urchin and the human genome have so much in common. Maybe I misinterpret the theme, but if the content were always the content, independently of its representations, some kind of eternal truth, either it would never change or we would never have access to it. I think the option of semiotizing cognition is an interesting one. And I am aware it is what it is, an option: as interest driven and limited as any other form of representation is.

Entry filed under: Multimodal Literacy, Uncategorized. Tags: , .

Multimodality and Literacy Technologies & Education at the Science Week

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