Writing. Design. Social Change.

Posts tagged ‘meaning making’

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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Kress, Gunther. Literacy in the New Media Age. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Kress writes in the preface that we have come to a moment in the long history of writing when four momentous changes are taking place simultaneously: social, economic, communicational, and technological. The combined effects of these are so profound that it is justifiable to speak of a revolution in the landscape of communication” (Kress, 2003, 9). He foretells that “the combined effects on writing of the dominance of the mode of image and of the medium of the screen will produce deep changed in the forms and functions of cultural and bodily engagement with the world, and on the forms and shapes of knowledge (1).  He goes so far as to state that: “It is possible to see writing becoming subordinated to the logic of the visual in many or all of its uses. Kress claims that new spaces and new strategies will be needed. “There is a consequence for notions of meaning: if the meaning of a message is realised, ‘spread across,’ several modes, we need to know on what basis this spreading is happens, what principles are at work. Equally, in reading, we need to gather meaning from all the modes which are co-present in a text, and new principles of reading will be at work. Making meaning in writing and making meaning in reading both have to be newly though about” (35). He further explains: “The means of dealing with meaning are different; we need to understand how meanings are made as signs in distinct ways in specific modes, as the result of the interest of the maker of the sign, and we have to find ways of understanding and describing the integration of such meanings across modes, into coherent wholes, into texts” (37).

Kress delves deeply into the changing nature of word and image–in order to show that human engagement with the world is changing.  I believe this is where a useful theory of aesthetic experience can fit. Aesthetic experience does not favor the visual over anything else. Does not favor print over anything else. It is more or less an unhierarchical model of experience. Toward the end of this book Kress explains what is needed is a requisite theory of meaning: “The major task is to imagine the characteristics of a theory which can account for the processes of making meaning in the environments of multimodal representation in multi-mediated communication, of cultural plurality and of social and economic instability.” This theory will look different from ones of the past. It will not assume language as its foundation. Instead, the centrality of language  “will be replaced with an understanding that modes of representation are used in relation to a multiplicity of factors, such as the sign-maker’s sense of what are the apt modes of representing, given a certain audience and therefore specific relations between sign-maker and audience. Out of this awareness of the always rhetorical task of communication arises the arrangement of modes which are in play in a message/text.” (169).

Also, he comments on the shift to design: “The notion of competence will give way to that of interested design: …Design, by contrast, starts from the interest and the intent of the Designer to act in a specific way in a specific environment, to act with a set of available resources  and to act with an understanding of what the task at hand is, in relation to a specific audience. Design is prospective,future-oriented,: in this environment, with these (multiple) resources, and out of my interests now to act newly I will shape a message. In design, resources are transformed in any number of ways–whether in new combinations of modes or in the constant transformative action by signmakers in producing newly made signs” (169).

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