Argument as design: a multimodal approach to academic argument in a digital age

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This study posits that using a range of modes and genres to construct argument can engender different ways of thinking about argument in the academic context. It investigates the potentials and constraints of adopting a multimodal approach to constructing academic argument. The research is situated within a seminar, in a second year Media course. Within this context, the study identifies the semiotic resources that students draw on and examines how they are employed to construct academic argument in three digital domains, namely video, comics and PowerPoint. Grounded in a theory of multimodal social semiotics, this study posits that argument is a product of design, motivated by the rhetor's interest in communicating a particular message, in a particular environment, and shaped by the available resources in the given environment. It proposes that argument is a cultural text form for bringing about difference (Kress 1989). This view of argument recognises that argument occurs in relation to mode, genre, discourse and medium. The study illustrates how each of these social categories shapes argument through textual analysis. A framework based on Halliday's metafunctional principle is proposed to analyse argument in multimodal texts. The framework combines theories from rhetoric and social semiotics. It offers analysis of ideational content, the ways social relations are established, and how organising principles assist in establishing coherence in argument. The analysis of the data (video, comics and PowerPoint presentations) demonstrates that the framework can be applied across genres and media. The significance of the study is threefold. Theoretically, it contributes towards theorising a theory of argument from a multimodal perspective. Methodologically, it puts forward a framework for analysing multimodal arguments. Pedagogically, it contributes towards developing and interrogating a pedagogy of academic argument that is relevant to contemporary communication practices.

Includes bibliographical references