Gunther Kress

Stepping back to look ahead. Speculating on developments and uses of Social Semiotic Multimodal theory 

The framing paragraph that prefaces the announcement of this conference suggests that things in this corner of the academic world have developed with remarkable speed. It may be useful, maybe necessary  – still barely two decades into this form of work – to pause for a moment and to look at the social environments and the prompting occasions that have framed and continue to frame that still very brief history. It will reveal similarities as well as decisive differences even in that brief period, and these can be helpful in speculating about the short to medium term future of the field. Central in that will be serious reflection on a remarkable shift of “the social” in that period: from seeming stability to near overwhelming provisionality. That can help to explain the consequences for the semiotic landscape, bringing it starkly into focus. Equally essential will be reflections on the relation between the development of “the social” and the rapid transitions in technologies affecting this field. There, the essential question is: “Who is to be master in our field? “The social” or “the technologies”? ” 

 Recognizing stark social, semiotic and technological differences over that period, it remains essential nevertheless not only to notice “breaks” but also to point to continuities; to look beyond fragmentation to that which has remained and is likely to remain stable, even if at some level of generality. It may be that most of us who work in this field have left whatever had been “our” “mainstream” for good reasons. Such dissatisfactions are a major resource in shaping satisfactory approaches and tools. 

My talk will, in some part, be a quite personal reflection on that development. I hope that can be useful in raising the questions which are likely affect the thinking of all of us in this domain. In particular it may make it possible to focus on and work for continuities, and, in that, continue to work for integration – socially and semiotically – in our current work. As part of this reflection I will present a very brief outline of an integrated approach to some of the questions I have raised.