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Multimodality and composition studies, 1960–present

, The Ohio State University, United States

The Ohio State University . Awarded


Challenging composition's tendency to focus exclusively on alphabetic literacy, numerous composition scholars have called for a turn to teaching students to produce texts that explicitly blend words, images, and sounds. In calling for this multimodal turn, compositionists have argued that multimodal texts are becoming increasingly central in workplace and civic realms and that students are increasingly arriving in our classrooms with strong visual/multimodal literacies. In making these persuasive arguments for the need to move beyond alphabetic literacy in composition, scholars have understandably emphasized composition's historical lack of engagement with visual and multimodal textual production. I contend, however that if we look closely at expressivist, cognitivist, and social composition theories of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, we can uncover a rich heritage of compositionists engaging issues of multimodality. In looking at the ways in which past composition theories engaged issues of multimodality, I ultimately seek to elucidate the unique disciplinary perspective that compositionists bring to multimodality as well as to articulate ways in which teaching multimodal composing can contribute to the development of students' alphabetic writing skills.

In the conclusion of the dissertation, I offer five macro-principles (culled from a blend of past expressivist, cognitive, and social approaches) that can productively inform our contemporary attempts to integrate multimodal composing into our courses, our curricular/institutional structures, and our scholarly work: (1) Alphabetic writing entails a profoundly multimodal process. (2) Some rhetorical and composing process theories can transfer across modalities. (3) Multimodal composing need not necessarily be digital. (4) Disability offers insights into multimodal composing pedagogy. (5) Analysis and production are interconnected activities.


Palmeri, J. Multimodality and composition studies, 1960–present. Ph.D. thesis, The Ohio State University. Retrieved November 20, 2019 from .

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