Exploring Multimodality

Takayoshi, P., and Selfe, C. “Thinking about Multimodality.” Multimodal Composition: Resources for Teachers Ed. by Cynthia Selfe. Hampton Press, 2007: Cresskill, NJ. Print.

“If composition instruction is to remain relevant, the definition of “composition” and “texts” needs to grow and change to reflect peoples’ literacy practices in new digital communication environments” (Takayoshi and Selfe 3).

Research, especially at this time of writing (2007), needed to begin accounting for the growing definition of composition to account for advances in new media, digital tools, and the way students were already using them to consume and produce texts.

In the workplace, this quote seems relevant because composition teachers should prepare writers for these vast technological changes and the rhetorical understandings necessary to work effectively with multiple modes, such alphabetic text, image, moving image, and sound.

The import of this quote to the classroom is clear; there simply needs to be a revolution in the work of composition. We simply cannot perpetuate the model of text production that has been sustained for over 150 years “just because” it maintains the same order.

I do have a little bit of an issue with the idea of “text” as an all-encompassing term for far-ranging things like videos, sound, images, and visual stories, and material objects. As alphabetic text is in itself colonizing –and has been used as a tool for colonization throughout history—I find it unusual that text gets to assume ownership of the same multimodal elements and materials that the indigenous have used for richly complex meaning making since time immemorial. “Literacy” and its ubiquitous use is related to the claim I’m attempting to make here. I do not believe that literacy is a term that can be used to describe all forms of knowing, all ways to demonstrate meaning-making. All multimodal meaning making is not writing.

There’s just so much that needs to happen in terms of how we talk about multimodal composing practices. I believe, as de Certeau claims in his Practice of Everyday Life, that reading is a form of making. It’s a silent form, but it’s meaning-making nonetheless. With the ways that we can directly interact with web pages now, it’s becoming more and more clear that reading and writing are becoming more integrated, and it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to make delineations between the two. This brings up questions about what’s consumption and what’s production? How do we define what’s consumption and what’s production in environments that are inherently multimodal? Why would we even make these sort of delineations, and are they even necessary?



Arola, Krisin L. “The Design of Web 2.0: The Rise of the Template, The Fall of Design.” Computers and Composition. 27 (2010). pp. 4-14.

“In an era when Web 2.0 technologies dominate our web experiences, and when the media by and large sings the praises of the personal empowerment afforded by Web 2.0 technologies, it is important for those of us teaching composition to bring a critical lens to the design of Web 2.0. Although there are many empowering and engaging features of user-driven content, we need to interrogate the form/content split embraced by Web 2.0” (Arola 13).

As teachers of composition, we need to encourage to think critically about how social networking sites, which appearing to be customizable, are restrictive in a number of ways. Profiles are merely templates for content, which narrow the way most of us think about design as a form of representation. I agree that Myspace wasn’t entirely customizable, but that was the first time when I began playing around with CSS to see what I could do with simple changes in html. Facebook, on the other hand, gives you nothing. Last year it was revolutionary even for people to switch their profile so that it was right-oriented. To me, it seems like we’re moving further and further away from the form/content working in concert, further and further from the design potential of social networking platforms.

In terms of research, this is imperative because we need to 1) stop talking about Web 2.0 as being a liberating movement and 2) need to work more closely with experience architects and web designers because rhetorical experts have much to offer user-centered design processes.

In the workplace, I find that this quote isn’t particularly relevant. Uniform templates for designing manuals, for instance, are common and expected for technical writers. The form is almost always predetermined by a company’s formatting guidelines, and writing is almost always a process that involves producing content. If the form or visual design is altered simply because of a writer’s keep eye for design, that change will not make it through the next process of reviewers because it strays from the acceptable design template. Others who are not technical writers, but who are experience architects, surely already understand the need to make platforms more customizable.