On Multimodal Composing


New maps of writing ... will devote a layer to the where of writing—not just the places where writing occurs, but the sense of place and space that readers and writers bring with them to intellectual work of writing, to navigating, remembering, and composing. (Reynolds, 2007, p. 176)


Producing New Maps of Writing

The idea for this webtext emerged in a graduate seminar taught in the Department of English at the University of Louisville in fall 2015 (view the course syllabus). Dànielle Nicole DeVoss was serving as the Thomas R. Watson Scholar-in-Residence, teaching a multimodal composing seminar. In the first few weeks of the class, as we read scholarship on multimodality, we began to discuss the shape of contemporary composing and how, at times, certain activities seemed to become disconnected from what we saw as writing, but that writing was taking place all along.

The overall goals of the writing-, analysis-, and production-intensive course were to:

We decided at midterm that we would all create representations of our composing processes along with a brief written discussion. Here, we present the multimodal representations of our multimodal composing processes, along with the ways in which we situate and frame what's happening on the screen and with our bodies.

Further, in our first postscript, "On Our Composing Processes," we present the actual discussions, considerations, and processes of creating this webtext. In our second postscript, "On the Tools We Used," we introduce and link to the various tools we used to produce the contents of the webtext.

Scholarly Threads and Themes

Two scholarly threads frame the work we're doing in this webtext.

First, we are contributing to the larger conversation happening around what multimodal composition is and can be. This is certainly not a particularly new conversation. Scholars within and beyond rhetoric and composition have been exploring new media, intermedia, transmedia, multimodality, multimedia, and more. What we hope to offer here is a better vantage point into the processes of multimodal composing.

Two pieces particularly important to our focus in this webtext are from Cheryl E. Ball and Claire Lauer. Ball (2004) interrogated the ways in and by which we value composing, and compellingly argued that much new media scholarship is about or on new media—taking a primarily analytical approach and producing primarily text-oriented, alphabetic products. She argued that we need more work that does the showing, not just the telling—that is, we need more new media scholarship produced through/with/as new media.

Lauer's (2009) text is evidence we're still wrestling, in our scholarship and in our classrooms, with what we mean by the terms multimodal and multimedia. Lauer engaged in an expansive analysis of the ways in which both terms are used within academia and across industry/professional settings. She noted that different terms are "associated with certain stages of the continuum along which a text evolves from design/process to production/distribution" (p. 226). Rather than orienting toward the definitional, in presenting our composing processes here, we attempt to blur the lines between design/process and production/distribution.

A second frame for this webtext has to do with a material and cultural rhetorics approach to composing. We would argue that processes of composing—and, usually, products of composing—should not be separated from bodies. This includes the bodies of composers and it includes the bodies of consumers, readers, and viewers.

Anne Frances Wysocki's (2003) work has consistently and compellingly asked us to attend to the body in our approaches to composition. For instance, she stated that

Our belief that meaning can exist apart from the material embodiment of printed timetables, pages in bound books, or screens on computer monitors is woven into a belief that what we think has nothing to do with our messy, gendered, raced, aging, nationalized, digesting bodies. (p. 186)

More recently, in the introduction to Composing Media = Composing Embodiment, Kristin Arola (2012) articulated two key assumptions about embodiment. One is that media is equal to embodiment. That is, our bodies are a medium—mutable, changeable, changing in between and in the middle. And, second, that mediating bodies are mediated bodies. We are always constructed and operating at the tension between being our bodies and being in our bodies, with the press of culture and institutions against us.

In the Wysocki and Arola collection, Ben McCorkle (2012) interrogated interface design, arguing that this space is becoming less and less visible as technologies are further and more closely integrated with our bodies. Because of this, he continued, we must attend to the ways in which digital interfaces are designed—and the ways in which they attend (or not) to our bodily realities. McCorkle warned us of "idealized universal users" and described the ways in which "the machines are becoming smaller, more tactile and ergonomic, easier to synchronize data with one another, willing to listen to us and to look us over ever so closely" (p. 180). Here we want to capture a moment in the context of change: We want to capture and present our bodily composing processes while we still compose in ways that are relatively visible. That is, our fingers are still on keys or on touchpads; our bodies still sit in front of screens.

Navigating Our Compositions

In many ways, the representations of our multimodal composing were very different; however, in other ways—both surface-level and found deep—they were similar. In the section that follows, we share and briefly reflect upon our composing processes, places, and moments. Then we engage in an analysis across our processes, places, and moments to identify some threads and themes we see emerging when we set our processes side by side. We conclude by drawing from multimodal scholarship and suggesting directions and approaches that we can put into praxis to better attend to the multiple, embodied complexities of multimodal composing processes.

Next > Composing