In multimodal semiotics, the term ‘space’ can refer to either two or three-dimensional space.  Three-dimensional space includes both natural and built space — indoor and outdoor — as well as virtual space.

Multimodality provides one way to describe/ground the actualization of theoretical concepts of space, place and time. A multimodal approach focuses on the relationship between people and the space in which they are located and on people’s experience of space: what they do and with whom, what they feel and how they make sense of the physical and virtual world and the spaces between them. Multimodality focuses on social dimensions of space – with attention to the physical dimensions of space as a sign of the social, in this way space transcends the structural and geometric and is understood as a social embodied product as much as place. The ways in which people become attached to environments, how they evoke feelings, emotions and attachments is an interest within multimodality. Multimodality is concerned with how people re-arrange and modify spaces – physical and digital – and its elements. It understands space as fluid and dynamic (lived) and place as a lived instance of the environment, an embodied experience of space.

From a multimodal perspective both physical and virtual space and place, like talk, writing, unfold in time and space and multimodality provides tools to describe the resources of the space as a static, fixed and constructed entity, a snap shot or space at a particular moment in time, as well as the dynamic organization of space – that is the ways in which spaces – both physical and virtual and those in between spaces, unfold dynamically over time – as people move through and experience them, create pathways etc. To date, much of the multimodal research on space has focused on the: Spatial dimension of texts print and digital, spatial dimension of co-present bodily interaction and the built environment and experiences of these.

Scollon and Scollon in their book Discourses in Place (2003), coined the term ‘Place semiotics’ to explore the ways in which the meanings of language are activated by their em-placement in the world. Here they draw attention to the ways in which interaction, language and space intermingle to make meaning. Ravelli’s work on space focuses on museums and uses a communication framework of organizational, interactional and representational meanings to analyze: i) the language and design of museum texts (labels and panels); ii) the exhibition as a text; iii) the museum as institutional text. It also explores intersemiosis, that is, how language co-articulates with other semiotic modes to make meanings. Stenglin’s work on space includes built 3-dimensional spaces (museums, domestic spaces, restaurants, shops) as well as the natural environment. It explores how indoor and outdoor spaces are organized using a metafunctionally diversified framework with a strong focus on interpersonal meanings. It explores two key interpersonal resources: Binding and Bonding. Binding explores how spaces can be designed to evoke different feelings while Bonding is concerned with affiliation, and understanding how the social bonds of solidarity can (dis)connect occupants.

Editor: Carey Jewitt
Other contributor: Maree Stenglin

Key References
Ravelli, L. (2006)
Museum Texts: Communication Frameworks
London/New York: Routledge

Scollon, R. & Wong-Scollon, S. B. K. (2003)
Discourses in place: Language in the material world
London/New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group

Stenglin, M. K. (2004)
Packaging curiosities: Towards a Grammar of 3D Space
Sydney University: Unpublished thesis

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