Multimodal Research Within/Across/Without Borders

Karen J. Lunsford, Special Issue Editor

Multimodal Research Within/Across/Without Borders


Welcome to this special issue on Multimodal Research Within/Across/Without Borders. The title is a nod to the issue's birthplace, the 2011 Writing Research Across Borders (WRAB) conference hosted by George Mason University (near Washington, DC). Like earlier iterations of the conference held at the University of California, Santa Barbara (2002, 2005, 2008), this meeting hummed with excitement as over 650 participants from 38 countries met new research colleagues. Conferences such as WRAB, SIGET (International Symposium on Genre Studies in Brazil) and EATAW (European Association for the Teaching of Academic Writing) may be seen as a tangible sign of the past decade's sharp uptick in international research on writing, with "writing" being broadly defined (Bazerman, et al., 2009). They have fostered initiatives to find common ground among the vastly different approaches to writing research employed today. Not only are writing researchers located in dispersed geographic regions, but also, historically, they have been divided by the languages they study and the academic departments or disciplines they inhabit. Now, however, Writing Studies as a discipline appears to be undergoing an "international turn" (Lunsford, 2012) as researchers exchange new methods, concepts, and approaches for analyzing writing practices. I was delighted, therefore, when over coffee at the 2011 WRAB conference, Cheryl Ball suggested that Kairos should likewise address the theme of "research and borders."

To this theme, I added the idea of "multimodal" research to serve as the special issue's common ground. First, this choice acknowledges Kairos's long history as a congenial host for multimodal webtexts that both celebrate and interrogate multimodality. In particular, as a guest editor, I was reminded of this journal's critical role in supporting academics as they experiment with multimodal publication formats. Such formats often still must be justified to promotion and tenure committees, and Kairos serves as an important model of peer-reviewed, web-based, and open-access research. Second, the "multimodal" theme acknowledges the transdisciplinary impact of Gunther Kress. Like John Swales's (1990) work on genre analysis, Kress's (e.g., 2001, 2003) theories of multimodal discourse and literacy have been referenced by researchers worldwide who employ very different research methods. Third, despite its prevalence, "multimodality" comprises a constellation of terms that have been and continue to be debated. As Claire Lauer (2012) has documented and analyzed, although researchers appear to be using shared terms ("multimodal", "multimodality", "mode", "medium", and so on), their definitions, connotations, and applications may vary widely and tacitly. In this issue, contributors have made a point of reflecting on and clarifying their own interpretations of the "multimodal" theme.

The webtexts also reflect upon and extend the initial theme of "research and borders". While considering which questions deserve research, contributors identified several borders that mark potential sites of conflict and thus make visible problems requiring our attention. In addition to addressing the geographic, disciplinary, and linguistic borders that were mentioned in the call for submissions, the webtexts address many more issues: questions about access; the blurring of virtual and physical realities; conflicts among differing political, social, and ideological agendas; and the question of how we might better interpret and remember multiple versions of history. Likewise, the webtexts focus on infrastructures that divide and connect people: those between academics and the public; between researchers and participants; between project organizers and service adopters; and between members of a specific academic program and the faculty at large. Throughout, these contributions consider how permeable borders may become, as we are collectively bidden to participate in negotiating solutions to the conflicts thus made visible. It is no accident that these webtexts directly invite you to contribute to these many research conversations – as do I.

In This Issue


Michael Neal, Katherine Bridgman, and Stephen J. McElroy's Making Meaning at the Intersections provides an account of the development of the Florida State University (FSU) Card Archive--a physical and digital archive consisting primarily of postcards spanning over a hundred years. It explores the archive's development through three recursive moments: its conception, construction, and production. Across these moments of development, the authors argue that the artifacts represented within the archive accrue meaning at the intersections of five sets of borders: 1) university and community, 2) geography and time, 3) modality and materiality, 4) print and screen, and 5) positionality and hierarchy. As they negotiate this webtext, readers are invited to participate in the very process of meaning formation that this piece seeks to explore. (Authors: Michael Neal, Katherine Bridgman, Stephen J. McElroy; Webtext Designer: Stephen J. McElroy)

In Bridges & Barriers to Development: Communication Modes, Media, & Devices, Rebecca Walton reports on data drawn from a four-month field study in India. This webtext focuses on a subset of findings about how communication modes, media, and devices affected the ability of seven projects to meet development goals, such as improving the livelihoods of subsistence farmers. This research identified (1) communication-related factors that contributed positively (i.e., bridges) and negatively (i.e., barriers) to meeting development goals and (2) interrelations among those bridges and barriers. (Author and Web Developer: Rebecca Walton; Graphic Designer: Tony Walton; Translators: Ashish Raj and H.M. Basavaraj)


Multimodal Writing Instruction in a Global World introduces readers to the University of Sydney Writing Hub, which was founded in 2009 as a hybrid writing center and writing program featuring rhetoric as the cornerstone for its curriculum. This theoretical framework represents a departure from how writing is generally taught in Australia, establishing the Writing Hub as a new model for writing instruction in the country. In this webtext, Angela Shetler, Susan Thomas, Frances Di Lauro, and Benjamin Miller discuss how multimodality informs their philosophy of writing instruction, with an emphasis on multiple pathways to understanding, applying, and communicating information to facilitate global, multimodal conversations about writing. (Designer & Co-Author: Ms. Angela Shetler; Co-Authors: Dr. Susan E. Thomas, Dr. Frances Di Lauro; Contributor: Dr. Benjamin Miller)

In Writing a Translingual Script, Amy Lueck and Shyam Sharma argue alongside Horner et al. (2011) that understanding and valuing multiple language resources and choices are valuable skills for students entering a global knowledge market. They build on this translingual theory by using closed captions in the writing classroom, and by considering the intersections between multilingual and multimodal pedagogies. The classroom activity described in this webtext thinks through the ways that the multimodal nature of closed captioning as a language practice could intersect productively with a translingual approach to language. This webtext reports on the classroom activity and also provides readers with the opportunity to engage with video and captions. (Author: Amy Lueck; Designer: Shyam Sharma)

Finally, a large research team presents Crossing Battle Lines: Teaching Multimodal Literacies through Alternate Reality Games. This webtext introduces a pedagogical alternate reality game developed over the course of two years in the Digital Writing & Research Lab of The University of Texas at Austin. Battle Lines offers a game experience that allows student-players to develop rhetorical, community-building, and digital literacies, crossing boundaries between academic and ludic practices. (Authors: Scott Nelson, Chris Ortiz y Prentice, M. Catherine Coleman, Eric Detweiler, Marjorie Foley, Kendall Gerdes, Cleve Wiese, R. Scott Garbacz, & Matt King)


No special issue can be produced without the cooperation and assistance of many people, and I have been grateful for the opportunity to work with old and new colleagues. Heartfelt thanks to the contributors for their expertise and cheerful participation in this project. Equally heartfelt thanks to the anonymous reviewers who produced such insightful and constructive commentary. Thank you, thank you, thank you to the graduate students and visiting scholars who participated in my graduate seminars on digital literacies, and particularly to Julie Antilla, James Austin, Natalia Ávila, Ryan Dippre, Lorna Gonzalez, Susannah McGowan, Andrew Ogilvie, Kara Otto, Lisa Tremain, and Charlyne Sarmiento for their assistance. Joshua Kuntzman, thank you for your gorgeous artwork! And, not least, a thousand thanks to the Kairos editorial team and to Cheryl Ball for her editorial leadership.


Bazerman, Charles; Krut, Robert; Lunsford, Karen J.; McLeod, Susan, H.; Null, Suzie; Rogers, Paul; & Stansell, Amanda. (Eds.). (2009). Traditions of writing research. New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis.

Kress, Gunther. (2003). Literacy in the new media age. London, England: Routledge/Taylor & Francis.

Kress, Gunther, & van Leeuwen, Theo. (2001). Multimodal discourse: The modes and media of contemporary communication. London, England: Oxford University Press.

Lauer, Claire. (Fall 2012). What's in a name? The anatomy of defining new/multi/modal/digital/media texts. Kairos, 17(1). Retrieved from

Lunsford, Karen J. (2012). Conducting writing research internationally. In Lee Nickoson and Mary P. Sheridan (Eds.), Writing studies research in practice: Methods and methodologies (pp. 220-230). Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Swales, John M. (1990). Genre analysis: English in academic and research settings. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.