Multimodal Analysis


Multimodal analysis refers to the process of interpreting and making sense of qualitative data in projects that mix verbal and nonverbal forms of information. It is a broad area of methodological work that covers analysis of human gesture and other nonverbal communication, as well as images, video, sound, and 3-D materials. Three main theoretical influences on the development of multimodal analysis are social semiotics, interactional sociology, and sensory anthropology. Each has resulted in bodies of work that, whilst far from being sharply delineated, have produced distinctive ontologies of the object of study, specific conceptions of key analytic phenomena such as “reflexivity,” “context,” and “meaning,” and different vocabularies of analysis. There are also practical differences in how “data” are defined, transcribed, and analysed; how cameras are used; and how the researcher “sees” the field of study. These different traditions share a common concern: Investigating “how” meanings are made in social life rather than simply “what.” For them all, the communicative power of utterances stems in part from the modal resources they employ—where voice, for instance, offers qualities, or “affordances,” of meaning that writing or images lack. Given that language is not a singular phenomenon but encompasses multiple “modes” of communication, including human modes such as gesture, gaze, voice, prosody, bodily movements, and nonhuman material/virtual modes (e.g., the materiality of objects, the visuality of images, the aurality of soundscapes), how modes offer distinctive symbolic repertoires for a wide range of communication in both human and nonhuman material forms warrants study.

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