Jody Shipka. Toward a Composition Made Whole. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011. 

“But while the participant from the December workshop and I may have been looking at the same pair of shoes, what we were seeing, and so understanding, about this particular text and its communicative potentials differed considerably” (2).

In Toward a Composition Made Whole Jody Shipka works toward a richer, more comprehensive theory of multimodal composing, one that takes into account multiple ways of knowing, reading, writing, and doing.There are already (at least) four published reviews of Shipka’s manuscript – see:

I only wish to add what I find the most exciting and promising aspects of this work, specifically for the Computers and Writing folks.

“I am concerned that emphasis placed on “new” (meaning digital) technologies has led to a tendency to equate terms like multimodal, intertextual, multimedia, or still more broadly speaking, composition with the production and consumption of computer-based, digitized, screen-mediated texts. I am concerned as well that this conflation could limit (provided it has not already limited) the kinds of texts students produce in courses” (7-8).

We, as a field, are hyper-focused on screen-mediated texts. With this bias in mind, how are we limiting the kinds of texts students compose? I’m currently asking myself this question as I near the end of my Spring 2013 Digital Storytelling course. In this course students are creating Alternate Realty Games (ARGs) using a variety of texts, materials, mediums, and techniques. Inspired by last year’s Game of Thrones transmedia campaign, The Maester’s Path (The Maester’s Path campaign included food trucks and vials of perfume featuring the tastes and scents of Westeros) students wanted ways to incorporate all the senses, including taste and smell – into their game play. This is something impossible to do when limited to screen-based work.

Game of Thrones

When texts are solely composed onscreen, “we risk missing or undervaluing the meaning-making and learning potentials associated with the uptake and transformation of still other representational systems and technologies” (11). As I bear witness to my student’s transmedia, multimodal ARG projects – I realize (with my students) wholly new possibilites for meaning making and audience engagement when un-mediated by a screen.

Toward a Composition Made Whole stresses that there is no single way of meaning making – no single perspective on communicative practice. Shipka states that we need to work to “highlight semiotic remediation practices by examining the various ways that semiotic performances are re-presented or re-mediated through the combination and transformation of available resources” (131). We need to get better at rendering more visible the “taken-for-granted assumptions, technologies, and dimensions of composing processes that have become invisible, and so, seemingly natural over time.” (134).

Considering the ballet shoes pictured at the top of this post, there are a variety of ways rhetorical meaning can be made – and we should be considering them all. Shipka advocates for those of us who teach and research multimodal composition to “expand our disciplinary commitment to the theorizing, researching, and improvement of written discourse to include other representational systems and ways of meaning making” (131). Works like this, I hope, will spark more discussions regarding meaning making among students, teachers, scholars. The rhetorical role of meaning making can and should be part of the study of multimodal composition.

*Thank you to Jody Shipka for permission to use The Pink Ballet Shoe image.

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