Designerly Engagement: Shifting Modes of Scholarship
The transition from text-based scholarly articles to multimodal platforms requires a shift in thinking about the forms scholarship can take. The challenges of working multimodally arise in large part because of scholarly assumptions that privilege writing as the medium best suited for academic work. While traditional forms of academic writing are perhaps ideal for articulating linear arguments, multimodal work appears to allow for multiple arguments and various reader experiences.
However, the shift from linear to non-linear argumentation and from a focus on a writer's (or designer's) intention to a reader’s experience remains problematic for many scholars, perhaps because it also implies perceived shifts in power dynamics. What happens to scholarship when readers feel they have more freedom to follow their own paths through the argument? What does it mean to have multiple paths through the same material? In multimodal forms, readers likely feel as if they are participants in the construction of the argument; indeed, the process of forming an argument feels less didactic (writer to reader) than dialogic (writer with reader). The implication is that scholars in the humanities may need to reconsider why and how we write scholarship, who we write for, and how to listen for the responses we could or may receive.
In considering how those of us taking English 507 used Scalar, Jody Shipka’s notion of the multimodal is helpful, partly because it is not limited to the digital. Importantly, it considers how “multiple modes operate together in a single rhetorical act and how extended chains of modal transformations may be linked in a rhetorical trajectory” (347). This definition can encompass ways of digitally formatting and organizing texts and objects but can also refer to off-screen modes of expression. As we are becoming increasingly aware of the materiality of digital objects, it is necessary to find ways of addressing this materiality in our models for multimodal construction.
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