Greetings from sunny… Denmark?

Photo of Odense, Denmark
The lively streets of Odense, Denmark

The 9th International Conference on Multimodality (9ICOM) proved to be as stimulating and challenging as usual. It was held in a surprisingly warm Odense at the University of Southern Denmark. Apart from conference goers being able to visit the childhood home of Hans Christian Andersen, the event also coincided with the viking and tutor-inspired town’s flower festival. Tranquil parks, old churches and friendly locals on bicycles further provided the perfect setting for some serious theorisation.

Photo of Ed, Akisha, Christine, Arlene, Robert and Zach at the flower festival in Odense, Denmark
Ed, Akisha, Christine, Arlene, Robert and Zach at the flower festival in Odense, Denmark

The conference panels, papers, symposium and posters provided fresh and often daring perspectives on concepts like mode, semiotic resource, affordance, recognition, agency, design and access. While most research projects were based in higher education, often focusing on academic writing and learning, some ventured into investigating school-based multimodal integrations, digital technology use, public spaces, architecture, finances, art initiatives, social upliftment and even subversive political movements. There was also a prominent and inspiring STEM stream.

This variety is typical of the field of multimodality – scholars from vastly differing research areas and disciplines can come together to speak a similar ‘language’. A particular sense of respect for each other’s interests was what set this conference apart from others.

Keynotes were given by prominent names in the field (see below). The abovementioned diversity in topics could also be seen in these. It is always important to keep up with what key researchers are doing:

  • Theo van Leeuwen is investigating networks, by looking at contemporary visualisations, which he argues evolved from a 1920 American approach, where the ‘social’ and ‘interpersonal’ are removed;
  • Giorgia Aiello problematises the ubiquitous use of textures by global corporations, pointing out how these textures are often highly political through their relationship with contemporary capitalism;
  • Robert Hodge asks important questions about how organisations could gain control over “relevant forms of serial multimodality”, possibly even reaching international success by exploiting dysfunctional strategies of communication;
  • Anna-Malin Karlsson traces multimodality back to its systemic-functional linguistics roots, explores the similarities and differences between various approaches, while hinting at a theoretically eclectic, ‘common sense’ multimodality;
  • Louise Ravelli reminds us about how social semiotics is underpinned by a metafunctional understanding of meaning, showing how the metafunctions have extended multimodal research, as she highlights the need for further extensions;
  • In the conference’s final keynote, Gunther Kress reflects back on the development of social semiotic multimodal theory, recognising the “stark social, semiotic and technological differences” over that period, yet pointing out important continuities.

Six SAME members were present at 9ICOM, enjoying Odense’s warmth, hospitality and beautiful scenery (see the article published on 9 August for details on their presentations). The conference organisers announced that 10ICOM (2020) will be held in Chile. We are certainly looking forward to it.

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