A Multimodal Social Semiotic Analysis of a Museum Rock Art Display

By Medeé Rall.

Published by The Learner Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper will report on research on different design aspects of museum displays in a permanent and a mobile museum context. This research has been undertaken in order to understand how different aspects of museum displays contribute to meaning making. It looks at the interrelationship between different design elements and how these influence meaning making. Drawing on Kress and van Leeuwen’s (1996; 2001) theory of multimodal discourse and on recent research on communication in museums (Ravelli: 2006; Meng in O’Halloran: 2006), this study considers why it is apposite to consider museums as multimodal, co-deploying different modes to make meaning. The paper investigates the design elements employed in museum displays, which include: linguistic design (labels and captions); visual design (objects on display, photographs and drawings); audio design (video recordings) and spatial design (lay-out of the display). The paper discusses a multimodal analysis of the rock art and rock engraving displays, drawing on inter alia the work of Kress and van Leeuwen (1996; 2001), which is done with the intention of formulating a metalanguage. It is envisaged that this metalanguage will enable museum practitioners and educators to talk about and better understand meaning making in museum displays and contribute to current debates on communication and meaning making in museums.

Keywords: Social Semiotics, Multimodality, Rock Art, Museum

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 16, Issue 9, pp.323-330. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.186MB).

Medeé Rall

Director, Centre for Extra-Mural Studies, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

Medeé Rall holds a Bachelor of Arts, a Diploma for Educators of Adults, and a Masters Degree in Education (Applied Language and Literacy Studies) from the University of Cape Town, and is currently registered for a PhD, also at the University of Cape Town. She is currently the Director of the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies at the University of Cape Town. Previously she worked at Iziko Museums of Cape Town as Coordinator of Publications and at Progress College as an educator. She has also worked in as an adult educator, teaching English literacy. Her research interests are museums as spaces of literacy provision, museums and lifelong learning and multimodal communication in museums. Publications include Spirits of the ancestors, The students at the South African Museum speak, and Reinventing South African Museum. She received the Western Cape Provincial Award – Adult Learner’s Week in 2001 and 2002 for work done in a literacy class based at the South African Museum.


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