Monthly Archives: March 2015

Does digital heritage curtail the multimodal ensemble?

Today I have been reading Jewitt (2013) and so learning about multimodality. Multimodal approaches are very relevant to my project because of the variety of ways in which we create meaning about heritage spaces. Multimodality refers to the many different modes we employ in the creation of meanings; e.g. spoken language, written text, image, gesture. Jewitt describes ‘multimodal ensembles’ which are the range of modes that an individual or group has access to. This is affected by their social context because this determines what modes are available or accessible.

The aim of my research project was to provide an environment in which the participants would feel comfortable using any mode they felt appropriate to express their understanding of the park. It is difficult to know if this was successful – perhaps something I can include as part of the next feedback sessions. Some visual media was offered and helped to determine the themes of Digital Towneley which is itself largely a visual media. However, various other modes may have been shortchanged. Visiting the park was an important aspect of this research because this involves many of the actions or performances which define the use of the park or the creation of its heritages. But does Digital Towneley do any of these modes justice?

Jewitt discusses the complex and intertwined nature of the modes within our ensembles and refers to Lemke, stating that it is the unique combination of these modes which can generate genuine creativity. Perhaps I am moving over old and tired ground here, but when I think about the multimodal ensembles of the participants in my research project I am anxious about their translation into a separate digital multimodal ensemble. The digitisation process, as we all know, can be very reductive. I think that this is something I am particularly aware of in the context of my research because I was individual who carried out the reduction.

However, the data created with the participants was initially reduced in what we might call a ‘traditional’ way through meaning condensation and thematic coding (among others). Effectively the same as digitisation. Fitting the data into the digital object, making it become Digital Towneley, was perhaps no different.

From a narrative point of view I am arguing in my thesis that the retelling of the participants’ stories in the context of Digital Towneley allows for the creation within the reader/consumer of their own perceptions and creations (Hawthorne 1997). I frequently return to Bourdieu’s habitus in this research. Our interactions with heritage spaces define our experiences while simultaneously being defined by them. Our multimodal ensembles seem to me very much related. It is their unique combination which allows for our unique perceptions, but the ensemble is transformed throughout. In this way the habitus, heritage and multimodal ensembles share a processual quality; there is no ultimate, just a lived experience of transformations and combinations (relativism alert!).

Jewitt’s article has allowed me to think about how I might gauge the impact of Digital Towneley (itself and the process of its creation) on the participants. Will their feedback during the final interviews indicate frustration at curtailment of their multimodal ensembles or might it indicate the discovery of new modes as new aspects of their ensembles?


Jewitt C. (2013) Multimodal methods for researching digital technologies in The SAGE Handbook of Digital Technology Research

Hawthorne J. (1997) Studying the Novel: an introduction (3rd Ed.)