Giorgia Aiello

The Politics of Texture in Contemporary Capitalism 

As a semiotic resource, texture is widely used by global corporations and other institutions to infuse a variety of media and artifacts with connotations like authenticity, locality, intimacy, and diversity. However, little has been said on texture’s relationship with key semiotic demands of contemporary capitalism such as the need to communicate distinctive identities within generic formats and to foreground difference within homogeneity.  

Drawing from scholarship on the semiotics of texture (Djonov and Van Leeuwen, 2011), in this keynote I therefore address the politics of texture. I focus specifically on how different kinds of visual and material texture are mobilized in four contemporary sites of semiotic production. These are: the brand, the city, the photograph, and the visualization. With examples from original research on corporate branding, urban regeneration, stock photography, and data visualization conventions, I then go on to argue that texture is deployed across contexts in ways that promote concrete forms of attachment to a variety of media while also leaving substantial inequalities unchallenged. 

Finally, I introduce the concept of ‘texturization’, a process that works to add visual and material cues invoking the experiential qualities of media and other semiotic artifacts. In doing so, I link this concept with that of stylization, a process which often entails techniques aimed at subtracting ‘inappropriate’ traits from multimodal texts in the pursuit of normative identities (Cameron, 2000). 

These two concepts and processes may seem to be at odds with one another, with stylization being more readily recognizable as a power-laden way to achieve status in contemporary capitalism. However, I posit that texturization ought not only to be seen as an emergent development of stylization, but that it may also be a more insidious process due to its entanglement with vernacular, emplaced, and embodied semiotic practices. Ultimately, here I argue that both processes and their relationship have important implications for a social semiotic understanding of texture in its own right. As a whole, the keynote also aims to make a critical contribution to multimodal theory’s growing agenda in areas like materiality and the politics of semiotic production. 

 

References 

Cameron, D. (2000). Styling the worker: Gender and the commodification of language in the globalized service economy. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 4(3), 323–347. 

Djonov, E. and Van Leeuwen, T. (2011). The semiotics of texture: From tactile to visual. Visual Communication, 10(4), 541-564.