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Review of  Multimodal Studies

Reviewer: Agnieszka Lyons
Book Title: Multimodal Studies
Book Author: Kay L O'Halloran Bradley Smith
Publisher: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Discourse Analysis
Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 23.593

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EDITORS: O’Halloran, Kay L.; Smith, Bradley
TITLE: Multimodal Studies
SUBTITLE: Exploring Issues and Domains
SERIES: Routledge Studies in Multimodality
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2011

Agnieszka Knaś, Department of Linguistics, Queen Mary, University of London

This volume, edited by Kay L. O’Halloran and Bradley A. Smith, comprises 14
chapters in which authors explore the scope of this emerging field within
specific domains. Following the introductory Chapter 1 (Multimodal Studies), the
book is divided into two parts. Part I, Issues in Multimodal Studies, consists
of six chapters whose main aim is to explore general issues, while Part II,
Domains of Multimodal Studies, includes seven chapters which extend multimodal
studies into or focus on specific domains of multimodality, defined as “the use
of several semiotic modes in the design of a semiotic product or event” (Kress &
Van Leeuwen 2001: 20).

In Chapter 1, “Multimodal Studies”, the editors set the scene by arguing for
distinguishing between studies of multimodality which focus on a particular
domain of enquiry and multimodal studies as a stand-alone field of expertise.
They discuss the question of this area as an emerging discipline and comment on
the fact that although scholars working within multimodal studies have
backgrounds in a variety of established disciplines, there has been a movement
towards generalisations applicable beyond those particular disciplines. The
volume aims to present these two foci as a dialectic and complementarity,
between the exploration of issues of general significance to multimodal studies
and the exploration of specific domains of multimodality, while acknowledging
that some works tend towards one or the other.

Part I “Issues in Multimodal Studies” begins with John A. Bateman’s chapter,
‘‘The Decomposability of Semiotic Modes’’ (Chapter 2), which is concerned with
developing a definition of a “semiotic mode” to support its identification and
better meet the needs of multimodal text analysis. Bateman notes a tendency in
multimodal studies to make a priori assumptions concerning the categorisation of
semiotic modes based on their assumed self-evident character or alignment with
sensory modalities. He draws on social semiotic approaches to multimodality as
well as cognitive science, computer science, and film studies and proposes a
definition of semiotic mode which emphasizes both the material substrate and
mode-specific discourse semantics as its essential components.

In Chapter 3 (“Speech and Writing: Intonation within Multimodal Studies”),
Bradley A. Smith considers the consequences of taking different approaches to
the study of multimodal phenomena, drawing on the history of research on
intonation . Showing that a choice between bottom-up (anatomistic) and top-down
(functional) approaches leads to different results, he argues that each approach
has its own merits and limitations in terms of its capacity for making
statements of meaning about semiotic phenomena. He also demonstrates that the
application of register theory forms a useful empirical basis for interpreting
written representations of speech by relating texts to their contexts.
Feng Dezheng, in Chapter 4 (“Visual Space and Ideology: A Critical Cognitive
Analysis of Spacial Orientations in Advertising”), analyses a corpus of 100
static visual car advertisements from newspapers, magazines and the Internet and
draws conclusions about the construction of persuasive ideology through spatial
orientations and page layout. He argues that the association between spatial
orientation and information value can be established by the cognitive theory of
metaphor (Lakoff & Johnson 1980) and shows how semiotic choices (orientation,
camera angle, and layout) work together to make the advertised product an object
of desire.

Combining perspectives from the study of music and representations of musical
abstraction (e.g., graphical user interfaces), Rodney Berry and Lonce Wyse
discuss issues related to tangible interfaces for music composition in Chapter 5
(“The Music Table Revisited: Problems of Changing Levels of Detail and
Abstraction in a Tangible Representation”). They observe that tangible
interfaces (i.e., objects that can physically embody both a path for control of
certain parameters as well as the main representational aspects of the
interface) offer advantages in terms of their physical accessibility and nature,
but are limited in terms of the large-scale abstractions that motivate and
constitute a significant aspect of music composition.

Chapter 6 (“Enregistering Identity in Indonesian Television Serials: A
Multimodal Analysis”) contains important suggestions for the analysis of
multimodal signs. Through the analysis of an episode of an Indonesian serial,
Zane Goebel explores how multimodal signs become emblems of identity and lead to
the establishment of a “semiotic register”. He draws upon ethnomethodology,
linguistic anthropology, and studies of embodied interaction. His analysis shows
how affordances of the medium serve to represent personhood with respect to
ethnicity and social relations, and how, over time, such representations lead to
“enregisterment” of a particular semiotic register which then forms the context
for interpretation of such emblematic signs.

In the final chapter of the first section (Chapter 7 “The Semiotics of
Decoration”), Theo Van Leeuwen is concerned with the domain of decoration. He
presents arguments for and suggestions towards the study of a new “semiotics of
decoration”. Decoration represents here a philosophical approach to design
across materials, modes, and eras. This approach is contrasted with pure
functionalism of such approaches as the Bauhaus. Van Leeuwen emphasises that we
need to analyse meaning-making beyond the traditionally accepted ways.

Part II is concerned with domains of multimodal studies. Just as with “issues”,
the term “domains” is here defined broadly, allowing for a variety of distinct
approaches. In Chapter 8 (Multimodality and Social Actions in ‘Personal
Publishing’ texts: From the German ‘Poetry Album’ to Web 2.0 ‘Social Network
Sites’”), Volker J. Eisenlauer explores the domain of social networking as a
category distinct from the old and new media through which such social action
has been achieved. He is interested in the domain of user-generated texts (also
known as personal publishing texts)and treats examples of the German genre of
the Poesiealbum (poetry album) and friendship books, which has served as a site
for social networking since the sixteenth century. He adopts a diachronic
perspective and describes continuities and differences between new and old media
with respect to articulating social networks.

Carmen Daniela Maier in Chapter 9 (“Knowledge Communication in Green Corporate
Marketing: A Multimodal Discourse Analysis of an Ecomagination Video”) explores
the issue of multimodal communication of knowledge within eco-business contexts.
Maier shows that verbal and visual modes of discourse subvert rather than
complement one another, which leads to the conclusion that in advertising the
focus is on presenting eco-friendly credentials rather than persuasion.
Additionally, this chapter provides advice for practitioners engaged in
producing marketing discourse regarding the discrepancies between what such
discourse is thought to be aiming to convey and what it communicates through
multimodal resources.

In Chapter 10 (“The Implications of Multimodality for Media Literacy”), Sun Sun
Lim, Elmie Nekmat and Siti Nurharnani Nahar identify the need for a multimodally
literate media consumer. The chapter discusses the need to reassess media
literacy in the light of an increasingly multimodal mediascape and with
reference to trends associated with multimodal representation, i.e.,
manipulability of media, genre-hybridisation, and proliferation of
user-generated content. They propose that policy interventions and training in
multimodality are required to help media users to adapt to the ever-changing
media trends.

Carey Jewitt in Chapter 11 (“The Changing Pedagogic Landscape of Subject English
in UK Classrooms”) focuses on the consequences of the use of interactive
whiteboard for pedagogic practice in UK schools. She adopts a diachronic
perspective in a discussion about the changing landscape of typical classrooms
since year 2000. Several questions regarding the types of modes available, the
changing positions of teachers and students as well as the types of texts that
are used and produced in the classroom are also raised. Jewitt shows that the
meaning, uses, and significance of the changes in technologies and modalities
are not immanent, but constructed within a wider context of social practices and

Peter Wignell’s interest in Chapter 12 (“Picture Books for Young Children of
Different Ages: The Changing Relationship between Images and Words”) is the
relation of images and text in children’s picture books depending on the age of
the target group of users. He identifies systematic patterns in this
relationship and considers the implications of these patterns for introducing
young children to reading written texts. He concludes that the changing
image-to-text relationship in children’s books is not necessarily beneficial for
understanding multisemiotic texts as, with age, texts become more monomodal.

In Chapter 13 (“Semiotisation Process of Space: From Drawing Our Homes to
Styling Them”), Eija Ventola foregrounds different approaches to the
semiotisation of home living space on the example of her own home before and
after a professional home makeover. She discusses the different ways in which
professionals and inhabitants interpret and design the same living spaces and
identifies the need for focusing on discourses of contexts influenced by such

Michael O’Toole’s Chapter 14 (“Art vs. Computer Animation: Integrity and
Technology in South Park”) contains a diachronic study of the cartoon television
series “South Park”. In his analysis, O’Toole shows what changes have taken
place in the multimodal discourse and ideology of the series between its
pre-digital and digital phases of production. Acknowledging the difficulties
related to presenting the micro-analysis of the grammar of the language, visual
images, and sound-track, he identifies the need for a narrative theory and a
rhetoric for the complex multimodal texts (TV and cinema).

Multimodality is an emerging area of study, without clearly established
boundaries or theories to delimit it. The volume presents a range of works by a
group of leading researchers in the field. Chapters are devoted to both
theoretical concepts and practical applications of multimodality. Through the
wide range of theoretical approaches and the choice of data sets for analysis,
the chapters successfully illustrate the extensive reach of multimodal studies
and establish the need for a distinct discipline.

While the chapters make valuable contributions, the introductory chapter alone
does not convey what a full reading of the data and theory chapters actually
achieve. It includes information both about the field and about the volume.
However, a reader with little familiarity with the field is likely to find the
introductory chapter unhelpful as, although the editors explain the aim of the
volume and rationale behind it, they assume that readers would have prior
knowledge of the field and fails to clearly define it. Some of the information
included in the chapter is also repetitive and the chapter itself would benefit
from being divided into more specific sections. Given that this book is aimed at
a broad audience, having numbered subsections in the chapters, rather than
subsection titles demarcated by font, would help the reader to follow some

In the Authors Index, page numbers are missing next to the names of some
authors, e.g., Machill, M., Neuberger, C., and Wirth, W. The Subject Index seems
incomplete and the choice of phrases listed in it renders it unintuitive. For
example, should a reader wish to locate a reference to “urban planning and
architectural design”, they would find it under “U”, but there is no reference
under “D” (for design) or “P” (for planning). Also noticeable are copyediting
errors involving comma placement (see line 2, para 2, p. 17) and spelling (e.g.,
“planning” misspelt as “plannig”, p. 269).

Compared with earlier volumes concerned with multimodality (e.g., Jewitt 2009 or
Levine & Scollon 2004), the present volume seems less carefully thought through
and structured. It seems that the editorial work on the volume was rushed, hence
the multiple errors. Nevertheless, “Multimodal Studies: Exploring Issues and
Domains” presents new research that tackles a wide range of issues within the
domain of multimodal studies and will constitute a valuable resource for
scholars already involved in research into multimodality.

Jewitt, C., ed. (2009) Handbook of Multimodal Analysis, London: Routledge.

Kress, G. & T. Van Leeuwen (2001) Multimodal Discourse: The Modes and Media of
Contemporary Communication. London: Arnold.

Lakoff, G. & M. Johnson (1980) Methaphors We Live By, Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.

Levine, P. & R. Scollon, eds (2004) Discourse & Technology: Multimodal discourse
analysis, Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

Agnieszka Knaś is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Linguistics, Queen Mary, University of London, United Kingdom. Her research interests include multimodality and embedded multimodality, computer-mediated communication, and co-presence in a joint communicative space. Her PhD research focuses on physical self-presentation and self-positioning in the discourse of text messages.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 0415888220
ISBN-13: 9780415888226
Pages: 270
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