What is the focus of a social semiotic multimodal framework and what makes it significant for the analysis of blogs?

Authors: Gunther Kress, Carey Jewitt, Myrrh Domingo and Elisabetta Adami

Social Semiotics is concerned with all aspects of meaning and meaning production. In this it focuses on those who are involved in the practices of making meaning – the social issues of agency, of identity and of power – and on the tools and resources available in this and in the processes of their constant re-shaping. Multimodality describes the multiplicity of resources (‘modes’) for making meaning visible or tangible,  well beyond speech and writing. This makes the approach attractive and maybe essential in media which draw on that multiplicity of resources: on video, on photos, on writing, on music-as-sound, on sound-as-sound track, on colour, and on the potentials of layout for making meaning.

Blogs, realized in a ‘social media’ platform, are genres aimed at constructing an audience. ‘Bloggers’ produce a wide range of meanings, in part to ‘personalize’ their blogs, in part to increase social reach. Researching a corpus of food blogs, we discern characteristics about their aesthetics and functions that make them a distinctive genre of online composition and communication. It is possible to trace continuous change: for instance, ‘early’ blogs resonated with the traditional genre of a diary. As bloggers-as-designers become more ‘expert’ social actors, they use that expertise to shape identity and audience, and transform an existing genre, the  (entirely) private ‘diary’, into a different genre, the ‘blog’, which erases the firm line of ‘private’ and ‘public’. This presents an ethical issue: as a social medium, the blog is a public form, which was never conceived to remain private, as it aims to construct a wider community. Yet it carries traces of ‘the private’ with it, at least for some.

With the introduction and popularity of other distinct social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook. LinkedIn, Pinterest, blogging can become closely linked to these other media sites. Blogs now often have (social networking) widgets that allow readers to subscribe to the blogger’s Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest profile. This integration of other social networking sites into the blog has an impact on the design of blogs and on their potential ‘reach’. Today they are used as company websites, as research repositories and professional portfolios. We aim to offer a preliminary research sketch, seeing blogs as a site of emergence of contemporary textual production, which can allow us to develop a generally useable resource for studying online communication.

Note: this work is carried out in the context of a ‘Collaborative project’ between MODE and NOVELLA, two nodes of (the ESRC funded) NCRM: “Using multimodal and narrative approaches to study food blogs: stories about food, mothering and fathering”

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