Interest

This is a term coined by Gunther Kress (1997, 2010) to describe and explain what it is that prompts the making of signs. In focusing on a phenomenon, people do not represent the entirety of all that it is possible to represent, but rather select features that are ‘criterial’. This ‘criteriality’ is not detached or value-free. Always complex, ‘interest’ is shaped individually and socially, over time and in the immediacy of the moment. Framed by past experiences, it is a ‘condensation’ of an individual’s history, and, with ‘physiological, psychological, emotional, cultural and social origins’ (Kress, 1997: 11) that reflects who they are in the broadest sense. Yet it is also a response to the immediate representational need as it is framed by a particular social context. Salient features of the environment shape where ‘interest’ is directed and how it is realized semiotically. Directly linked with the theoretical principle of sign making (rather than sign use) and the motivated sign, the sign maker selects signifiers that are deemed apt to the communication of specific meaning. Interest is not fixed and can change from moment to moment. For example, an Ugly Duckling made by a preschool child became a robot and then Spiderman (Pahl, 1999: 24-25). This has profound implications for the analyst. All signs are meaningful, however they are made, and must be attended to with care. Choice of mode, how meaning is made modally and ow signs are brought together as a multimodal ensemble are based in and bear traces of an individual’s socially framed ‘interest’ at a particular moment in time.

Editor: Diane Mavers
Other contributor: Gunther Kress

Key References
Kress, G. (1997)
Before Writing: Rethinking the Paths to Literacy
London: Routledge

Kress, G. (2010)
Multimodality: A Social Semiotic Approach to Contemporary Communication
London: Routledge

Pahl, K. (1999)
Transformations: Children’s Meaning Making in a Nursery
Stoke on Trent: Trentham Books

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