The Social Practice of Multimodal Reading

A New Literacy Studies—Multimodal Perspective on Reading

Authored by: Jennifer Rowsell , Gunther Kress , Kate Pahl , Brian Street

Theoretical Models and Processes of Literacy

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  October  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138087262
eBook ISBN: 9781315110592
Adobe ISBN:


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The aim of this chapter is to situate reading within two complementary approaches: New Literacy Studies (NLS) and a social semiotic approach to multimodality (SSMM). We use the term reading both as a fairly neutral description of an activity (as in, “what are you reading now?”) and as a topic for theoretical attention (as in, “how can we understand reading in contemporary environments?”). In the latter sense, we argue that reading appears differently when it is viewed in the frame of social practices and environments and in the perspective of modally complex compositions than it does in other approaches. As concepts, reading and writing—making meaning in and with texts—name practices and processes today that differ in many respects from those some 30 or 40 years ago. At the same time, there are constants about reading and about writing as composition that provide a strong enough reason for us to look at reading from these two fields of research and theory, both of which focus on meaning making as located in social environments. Whereas the emphasis of NLS leans more toward an attention to understanding and describing social environments (where meaning is made and by whom), that of SSMM leans more toward semiotic factors (how meaning is made, by what agents, with what principles of and resources for making meaning), or in other words, toward the (material) realization of meanings.

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