Session “Transcending Visual Communication: The Internet as Multimodal Discourse” at the ICA 2013

Author: Elisabetta Adami

International Communication Association Annual Conference 2013 – London 17th-22nd July 2013

London hosted “Challenging Communication Research”, this year’s Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (17-22 July 2013). The programme (available at http://www.icahdq.org/conf/2013/INteractivePDF.pdf) was extremely dense, with numerous parallel strands and the largest number of papers ever presented at an ICA Conference.

While I have heard the word ‘multimodal(ity)’ often pronounced by presenters, in my impression it sounded more like the expression of the fact that texts are multimodal, rather than of the awareness that multimodal sign-making needs suitable analytical methodologies; indeed when it comes to analyse modes other than verbal language (usually visuals) content analysis is the preferred methodology, at least in the qualitative studies I’ve attended.

Within the Visual Communication strand of the conference, the session “Transcending Visual Communication: The Internet as Multimodal Discourse” has provided a rather different take.

I opened the session with a paper by Gunther Kress and myself on a framework for the analysis of aesthetics in food blogs (Using multimodal analysis in investigating digital texts: The case of food blogs). Presenting the very early results of MODE-NOVELLA collaborative project (http://mode.ioe.ac.uk/2012/09/16/multimodal-analysis-of-food-blogs/) the paper addressed the above-mentioned gap in qualitative approaches: while all extant analysis of blogs focuses on their “content”, i.e. posted writing and images (or videos), a great deal of the meaning made when accessing a blog comes from its layout, colour palette, fonts, and the overall intertwining of modes on the page. These shape the blog’s identity, positioning its author and its intended audience, assigning them specific social roles and identity features.

Hans-Juergen Bucher’s paper From Multimodality to Hypermodality: user navigation as semiotic process of meaning making (Trier University, Germany) compared readers’ perception of two institutional websites presenting different layout and overall modal intertwining; Philipp Niemann’s Multimodal online campaigning: The relevance of the modal orchestration for the potential political impact of party website features (Trier University, Germany) used eye-tracking techniques to focus on the relevance of the modal orchestration to the potential impact of political parties’ websites.

Finally, Christian Pentzold’s paper The Structures and Practices of Multimodal Online Discourse (Chemnitz University of Technology, Germany) combined ethnographic and multimodal methodologies to the analysis of the (re-)production of online content.

I believe the session worked extremely well thanks to the papers’ different perspectives. After the presentation of a methodological framework (Adami and Kress), multimodal analysis was applied to readers’ perspective (Bucher and Niemann) and to producers’ perspective (Pentzold).

Not only did the session provide insights onto meaning that is made beside and beyond content (analysis); it gave also an example of how multimodal analysis can be combined with other methodologies, i.e., eye movements, thinking aloud protocols, click and navigation tracking in Bucher’s study; eye-tracking in Niemann’s; ethnographic research in Pentzold’s.

I must thank Hans-Juenger Bucher for launching the idea and putting the session together and my co-presenters for offering such a multifaceted view of the potentials of multimodal

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