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Interest disrupts the idea that meanings are shared in communication – a common definition of communication as meaning-congruence, as shared understanding between participants, as the meeting of minds. This assumption frequently underlies theories of meaning that prioritize communication over representation and interpretation. However, as soon as representation and interpretation are brought into the picture, productive divergences in interest and conflicts of interest come into view.
Meanings sit in contexts, and contexts become part of meanings. This part of the book focuses on the ways in which context informs meaning.
Meanings are connected to context in the manner of their materialization; some are by likeness (for instance a spoken word that sounds like something, an image that looks like something), by directedness (for instance, a gesture that points to something, or the design of a space that directs wayfinders), or by abstraction (for instance, the arbitrary relation of written word to its referent, or a symbolic object).
Making Sense addressed three meaning functions – reference, agency, and structure – in terms roughly parallel to Halliday’s three “metafunctions,” ideational, interpersonal, and textual. This companion volume “adds sense” by exploring two additional functions that we call context and interest. It sets out to create a framework with which to account for meaning that crosses the disciplinary paradigms of semiotics, linguistics (mainly pragmatics), the sociology of action, cultural and media studies, philosophy (ontology) and computer science (ontology again, or data structures). In this way, the book aims to provide a shared framework by means of which a range of practitioners will be able to work together, in education, communications, media, architecture, the arts, design, computing, and more. These disciplines and their related work practices have their own distinctive but mostly separate frameworks for understanding their respective domains of action. But all deal in their daily practices with meanings in their profound multimodality.
In recent years, with the rise of new media, the phenomenon of 'multimodality' (communication via a number of modes simultaneously) has become central to our everyday interaction. This has given rise to a new kind of literacy that is rapidly gaining ground as an area of research. A companion to Making Sense, which explored the functions of reference, agency and structure in meaning, Adding Sense extends this analysis with two more surrounding functions. It addresses the ways in which 'context' and 'interest' add necessary sense to immediate objects of meaning, proposing a 'transpositional grammar' to account for movement across these different forms of meaning. Adding Sense weaves its way through philosophy, semiotics, social theory and the history of ideas. Its examples cross a range of social contexts, from the meaning universes of the First Peoples, to the new forms of meaning that have emerged in the era of digitally-mediated communication.
This section defines Meaning for the purposes of a multimodal grammar: the processes of making sense of the world using material media and their associated cognitive architectures; making sense of what we encounter in the natural and human-historical worlds; making sense to each other; our social and personal means of intending and acting; the patterns in these meanings and the traces they leave in the form of media artifacts; and the transpositions of meaning across different forms (text, image, space, body, sound, and speech) and function (reference, agency, structure, context, and interest).
If reference is that to which meaning “speaks” (metaphorically, because this is a multimodal grammar), agency is the patterning of action. Reference is the addressed; agency is the addressing. In this part, we focus on three prominent features of agency: event, role and conditionality. These are thoroughly named and analyzed in linguistics, though the complexities at times confound. They are not so thoroughly analyzed in the other forms of meaning that are also of concern to us. However, our focus is at a broader level of generality, one that crosses multiple forms. Agency is constituted in events (predication by means of which entity into action fold into each other; and transactivity or the relations of entities-in-action to each other). Agents assume roles (as self, other, or thing). Different nuances of conditionality are established in the relations of entities and action (assertion, requirement, and possibility).
Meaning directs our attention to things – in Part 1, we called this “reference.” Meaning tracks our activity as sensuous creatures – in Part 2, we called this “agency.” Meanings also hang together, with networks of interlinkage that create coherence, where every meaning is greater than the sum of its parts. In this part, we are going to name this coherence, “structure.” Analysis of the holding together in structures, we call “ontology,” or the philosophy of what things are, their being. We identifying two kinds of binding, two kins of ways in which things hold together in the work: in material structures (the meanings-in things themselves), and ideal structures (the meanings-for those things, the meanings we attribute to them). The process of interconnecting the material and the ideal, we call design. In forensics that analyze ontologies and their designs, we look for specific relations. This is to make our analysis more granular. However, heading the other way, towards ontologies with higher levels of generality, we find ontologies encompassed by more general ontologies, or metaontologies. Structures can nest with in structures.
Reference is a phenomenon both of experience and thinking. It happens when a focal point for meaning is selected by the meaning-maker from the infinities of the world. The meaning – taking form as a mental representation, an act or object of communication, or an interpretation – “stands for” something in the world. Reference involves the specification of particular instances and general concepts, their circumstances as entities or actions, and their properties as qualities or quantities. Things in the world might be identified as entities or actions, though, by transposition actions may be construed as entities, and entities as actions. Entities and actions can be particular – a single instance – or multiple, defined in their generality as concepts. By transposition, by way of conceptualization, instances can be connected to the general. This connection of the instance to the general is by means of generalizable properties, including qualities and quantities.