In search of the social in social semiotics: a historical perspective

O'Hagan, Lauren Alex (2023). In search of the social in social semiotics: a historical perspective. Social Semiotics (Early access).



This paper reflects on the importance of the social to the analysis of historical multimodal texts and how some concepts and analytical tools from SFL can prevent researchers from getting the most from their data. Building on the work of Ledin and Machin (2018), it looks at three main areas of concern when dealing with historical multimodal texts—context, attention to micro, meso and macro levels, and historically-developed affordances—and uses examples of Edwardian book inscriptions to suggest ways that archival research can help overcome these problems. Overall, it argues how greater attention to the social brings to the fore how semiotic choices can be used strategically to foreground individual positions and/or subvert aesthetic norms. In doing so, it frames historical multimodal texts not as static representations of communication, but as dynamic, highly contextual and involved in a complex process of co-construction between producers, their imagined audiences and broader sociocultural meanings. It also suggests that a focus on historical context can also move multimodal studies beyond a predominant focus on the contemporary, as well as challenge the supposed novelty of certain communicative practices, thereby fostering more nuanced interpretations that recognise the broader lineage of patterned practices and uses.

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  • Item ORO ID
  • 86803
  • Item Type
  • Journal Item
  • ISSN
  • 1035-0330
  • Keywords
  • Multimodality; systemicfunctional linguistics; socialsemiotics; history; archives; book inscriptions
  • Academic Unit or School
  • Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS)
  • Copyright Holders
  • © 2023 Lauren Alex O'Hagan
  • Depositing User
  • Lauren Alex O'Hagan