“gains and losses”

Kress outlines his multimodal theory, tracing the differences between a web page and a book. For him, these two forms are representative of a modal shift, one informed by economic, ethical, and political positions. He points to two central assumptions:

  1. Communication is always multimodal
  2. Modes provide specific limitations for communication (see: Alexander and Rhodes)
  3. Mode: the culturally and socially produced resources for representation
  4. Medium: the culturally produced means for distribution

Difference in authorship:

  • Print author: knew his audience and knew his subject matter; “knew about the reader’s world and that enabled him to work on the reader’s behalf to assemble the materials that served to meet the second requirement; assembling and presenting the knowledge required for a specific need of the reader in that lifeworld”

o   Here, he emphasizes the way a print book structures a reading at the page-level and at the book-level

  • E author: creates multiple and different entry points based on the assumption that the life-world of potential visitors dictate a different kind of reading: one where information matters more than knowledge

He captures that here:


• Given order, order designed by author.

• Page and book with single entry point.

• Knowledge produced by author on behalf of the audience.

• Author knows the life-world of audience and its requirements.

• Reading path fixed (though “naturalized” and hence invisible).

• Author fixes reader’s “point of departure”.

• Writing dominates the organization of the page.

• Writing is the dominant mode for the presentation of material (image as illustration).

• Use of mode governed by long-established convention: canonical use of modes.


• Open order, order designed by reader.

• “Page” site with multiple entry points.

• Knowledge produced by visitor/reader in accord with the needs of their life-world.

• Page and/or message designers imagine the assumed characteristic of the life-world of

their audience.

• Reading path designed by reader and/or visitor.

• Reader designs/selects her/his point of departure.

• Image dominates the organization of the “page”.

• Image and writing potentially co-equal for the presentation of material.

• Use of mode governed by “aptness”, insecurity about or absence of canonical modes.

Affordances: Speech and writing tell the world; depiction shows the world.

Describe the logic of modes. For him, the distinguishing feature between alphabetic and visual affordances are sequence and space. The printed word makes meaning through a sequence, so a reader moves across the words in order to make meaning. A digital, multimodal text utilizes spaces, so all of the information in a text is available at once. Meaning if made by looking at different focal points.

Design: looks forward, focusing on social futures, grants agency to the individual – an individual with a social history, a present social location, who understands the potentials of the resources for communication, and acts transformationally on those resources

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