A multimodal approach to academic literacy practices: problematising the visual/verbal divide

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Language and Education

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Taylor & Francis


University of Cape Town

There has tended to be an overemphasis on the teaching and analysis of the mode of writing in 'academic literacies' studies, even though changes in the communication landscape have engendered an increasing recognition of the different semiotic dimensions of representation. This paper tackles the logocentrism of academic literacies and argues for an approach which recognises the interconnection between different modes, in other words, a 'multimodal' approach to pedagogy and to theorising communication. It explores multimodal ways of addressing unequal discourse resources within the university with its economically and culturally diverse student body. Utilising a range of modes is a way of harnessing the resources that the students bring with them. However, this paper does not posit multimodality as an alternative way of inducting students into academic writing practices. Rather, it explores what happens when different kinds of 'cultural capital' (Bourdieu, 1991) encounter a range of generic forms, modes and ways of presenting information. It examines how certain functions are distributed across modes in students' texts in a first year engineering course in a South African university (specifically scientific discourse and student affect) and begins to problematise the visual/verbal distinction.

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Language and Education on 22 December 2008, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.2167/le677.0.