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Towards an embodied visual semiotic

Jones, R. ORCID: (2020) Towards an embodied visual semiotic. In: Thurlow, C., Dürscheid, C. and Diémoz, F. (eds.) Visualizing Digital Discourse: Interactional, Institutional and Ideological Perspectives. de Gruyter, Boston. ISBN 9781501510113

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1515/9781501510113


The aim of this chapter is to explore issues around the embodied nature of the visual in the age of the smartphone, in particular, the ways in which people use everyday practices of making images of themselves and others to negotiate both ‘being-in-the-world’ (Dasein) and ‘being-with’ (and for) other social actors (Mitsein) (Heidegger, 2008) within various networks of power, status and control. The rise of the world-wide web, digital imaging and graphic user interfaces in the late 1990s precipitated an intense interest in the fields of sociolinguistics and discourse analysis in multimodal communication, resulting in a range of approaches to the ways people make and construe meaning with visual signs (see for example Baldry & Thibault, 2006; Bateman, 2008; Forceville, 1996; Kress, 2009; Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996; O’Halloran, 2004), including some approaches that focused on the impact of image making on issues of power and social identity (Machin & Mayr, 2012; Machin & Van Leeuwen, 2007). The more recent rise of mobile digital communication, supported by digital video cameras and social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat, which invite users to constantly produce themselves and their experiences visually and construe meaning from the visual representations of other people’s experiences, however, presents significant challenges to the ‘semiotics’ and ‘grammars’ of visual communication developed at the turn of the century, forcing analysts to engage more fully with the ways multimodal meaning emerges not from ‘signs’ per se, but from techno-somatic entanglements in which the most important communicative resource is not what is visible but communicators' embodied experience of seeing it. ‘Seeing’ and ‘being seen’, in this regard, are never neutral, uninvolved acts: seeing is always entangled with the mediational means through which it is accomplished, with what is seen and what is happening to it, with what seeing does to the watcher and the watched, and with sets of rules and expectations associated with particular contexts and particular societies about who has the right to look and who has the right to be seen (Mirzoeff, 2011).

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Interdisciplinary Research Centres (IDRCs) > Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism (CeLM)
Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Literature and Languages > English Language and Applied Linguistics
ID Code:86061
Publisher:de Gruyter

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