CfP: Third Bremen Conference on Multimodality

We are happy to announce that the 3rd BREMEN CONFERENCE ON MULTIMODALITY will be held at Bremen University from September 20th – 22nd, 2017.


BreMM17 is the third in a series of conferences dedicated to bringing together different disciplinary and methodological approaches to the study of multimodality in various academic contexts. More than ever, multimodality is one of the most influential semiotic theories for analyzing media artifacts, and it enjoys growing global popularity. However, this popularity does not imply universality: the conceptual anchoring of multimodality as well as its empirical applications often remain nationally and regionally grounded.

The Bremen team takes these differences in national and international perspectives as a starting point of discussion and analysis. We continuously initiate deeper inquiry into the specific theories and practices of multimodal research: BreMM14 was dedicated to building bridges between various multimodality-ready disciplines, and BreMM15 concerned itself with theoretical and methodological explorations. Both conferences resulted in edited volumes which present each event’s strongest contributions and serve as the basis for lasting academic exchange on the ever-new topic of multimodality in theory and practice.

The upcoming Third Bremen Conference, BreMM17, plans to lay the foundation for the formation of a standalone discipline to be dubbed ‘multimodality’ as opposed to the widespread interdisciplinary view. Its aim is, therefore, to push the envelope and start far-reaching discussions which cover description, terminology, and methodology, bringing a multitude of approaches to multimodal analysis into the fold and letting previously disparate directions in theory and practice converge. The end result will be a common basis upon which the monolithic view of multimodality as a concerted disciplinary field can be built.

The confirmed keynote speakers for BreMM17 are:

Kay O’Halloran (Curtin University, Australia)
David Machin (Orebro University, Sweden)
Ellen Fricke (Chemnitz University, Germany)

For a lively and multifaceted discussion, we encourage proposals that explore a vast range of issues, including but not limited to the sub-themes below. We welcome both theoretical and empirical takes on these general questions, and we particularly encourage proposals which unify several theoretical or methodological traditions in order to achieve integration and, thus, guide our discipline-building explorations.

  • What previously established disciplines should inform multimodality’s disciplinary delineation? What is the place of semiotics, SFL, discourse analysis, interaction analysis, and other popular methods in the process of defining multimodality as a standalone discipline?
  • Where can multimodality find its most inclusive and exhaustive theoretical basis? Can we rely on Peirce, de Saussure, and Halliday on their own? Do we need ways of combining their work to produce a new theoretical basis for the discipline? Do we start a new theory from scratch?
  • What goes in multimodality’s methodological toolbox? What existing empirical approaches define the field, how can we develop them further or combine them, and do we need new methods to capture multimodality’s vastness?
  • What are multimodal media and how do their various semiotic affordances shape multimodality within and across media formats? Are all media truly multimodal to begin with?
  • How can we define multimodal literacy and how can we best teach it in a systematic and reliable manner?
  • What is the role of technology in pushing the boundaries of multimodality and in assisting its empirical study?
  • How can multimodality as a research direction improve our understanding of social, cultural, and political issues around the globe?


This year we invite proposals for three different kinds of presentation:

Long paper. This will consist of a 25-minute presentation followed by 15 minutes of Q&A. This format is reserved for well-developed projects that present potentially controversial or conceptually complex ideas or empirical studies.

Short paper. This will consist of a 15-minute presentation followed by 10 minutes of Q&A. This format is suitable for work in progress or ideas and empirical studies that can be presented more succinctly.

Poster Presentation or Demo. This may be any form of research display or demonstration. Presenters will have the opportunity to present and discuss their work during a 90-minute drinks reception/poster presentation session.

Proposals will be selected according to the following criteria (please be sure to address each one):

  • the appropriateness of the topic to the studies of multimodality;
  • the conceptual clarity and intellectual rigor of the project;
  • the contribution the project makes to advancing current understanding;
  • the content should not have been presented elsewhere in identical form.

Your proposal (350-500 words in length) must include: (1) title of the presentation, (2) name of the author(s), affiliation, email address, (3) proposal format (long paper, short paper or poster), (4) bibliography of key sources (up to 5), (5) brief biographical statement for presenting author (25-100 words).


Please submit your proposal as an e-mail attachment (Word, PDF) by December 5th, 2016, to Notification of acceptance by end of December.

New Publication: Philipp Schmerheim – Skepticism Films

A member of the BITT, Philipp Schmerheim has published his book “Skepticism Films” with Bloomsbury in November 2015:

The book Skepticism Films. Knowing and Doubting the World in Contemporary Cinemaintroduces skepticism films as updated configurations of skepticist themes that exemplify the pervasion of philosophical ideas in popular culture. As will be shown, a detailed analysis of skepticism films and of the general relation between philosophical skepticism and cinema contributes to a better understanding of the dynamic interplay between film and philosophy.

The first part of the book defends a general, pluralistic film-philosophical position according to which films can be, but need not be, expressions of philosophical thought in their own right. The second part investigates the role of skepticist ideas in philosophical reflection on the medium of film by critically discussing the works of the film-philosophers Stanley Cavell, Gilles Deleuze, Josef Früchtl, Patricia Pisters, and D.N. Rodowick. The concluding parts of the book explore varieties of skepticism films as an integral phenomenon of contemporary cinema culture with the help of detailed case studies of films such as The Truman Show, Inception, Matrix, Vanilla Sky, The Thirteenth Floor, andShutter Island.

The book is available via the Bloomsbury website. A reading sample can be found here.

Talk: Daniela Maduro – Shapeshifting and multimodality

The talk by Daniela Maduro, research assistant at the Faculty of Linguistics and Literary Science at Bremen University, deals with the topic of “electronic literature”:

Daniela Maduro, Universität Bremen

Shapeshifting and multimodality:
describing electronic literature

10 December 2015, 16.15-17.45
GW2 A3570

Bremen Masterclasses on Multimodality



Electronic literature has been described as a set of digital born texts created and read on a computer (N. Katherine Hayles). While resorting to computer’s characteristics such as high-speed processing and vast storage capability, texts gain the ability to change their appearance at any moment. In Introducing Social Semiotics (2005), Theo van Leeuwen has defined multimodality as “the combination of different semiotic modes – for example, language and music – in a communicative artifact or event.” (Van Leeuwen, 2005: 281). The computer allows the production of texts which include different semiotic modes and that are able to shapeshift into a movie, a poem, a photo or a game. Shapeshifting is the ability of a being to take the form of an object or of another being. Digital texts can be considered as transmorphs that can change their shape, often undermining any prospect of stable and definitive meaning. Many of these texts thrive on a reader’s frustration and subverted expectations. Hybridity, transiency and fragmentation are often used to delay and problematize signification. In this masterclass, I will begin by adopting the term “shapeshifting” in order to describe electronic literature as an ever-expanding field. Subsequently, I will use this term to depict the behaviour of individual digital texts. These will be described as processes and events, or shapeshifters that are able to generate themselves and respond to the surrounding environment.

Talk: Tuomo Hiippala – Looking beneath the surface of multimodal documents – why and how?

During his visit to Bremen University,  Tuomo Hiippala from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland will give a talk in the series “Bremen Masterclasses on Multimodality“:

Tuomo Hiippala, University of Jyväskylä, Finnland

Looking beneath the surface of multimodal documents – why and how?

3 December 2015, 16.15-17.45
GW2 A3570
Bremen Masterclasses on Multimodality



Humanities and social sciences often draw on multimodal documents for data, examining one or more modes of communication from a variety of perspectives. Newspapers, advertisements, picture books and many other page-based multimodal documents are commonly studied from both qualitative and quantitative viewpoints.

Regardless of the field and viewpoint, understanding multimodality is becoming increasingly desirable and appears to hold the promise of opening up many new paths for research. However, treading carefully is crucial when entering this new territory, as common assumptions about the visual/verbal divide are often misleading, particularly when attempting to make sense of entire documents.

In this presentation, I argue for the need to generalise about multimodal documents before engaging in a closer examination of their content and structure. Using a multimodal corpus, I show how superficially dissimilar documents can have considerable similarities in their underlying discourse structure. Finally, I discuss the investment in corpus-based investigations, which demand extensive time and resources, and their relevance to multimodal research at large.

Talk: Sabine Wahl – Werbespots und Werbefilme als multimodale Kommunikate

A further talk in our series Bremen Masterclasses on Multimodality will consider advertisements and marketing films from a multimodal perspective. The talk will be held in German.

Sabine Wahl, Universität Bremen

Werbespots und Werbefilme als multimodale Kommunikate

12. November 2015, 16.15-17.45
GW2 A3570
Bremen Masterclasses on Multimodality


Abstract zum Vortrag:

Der Begriff Multimodalität wird einerseits verwendet, um die multimodale Gestaltung von Kommunikaten und damit das Zusammenwirken verschiedener Zeichen­modalitäten (z. B. Sprache, Bild, Musik und Geräusche) zu erfassen. Andererseits dient er in der Gesprächsforschung dazu, Formen der Face-to-Face-Interaktion zu beschreiben, bei denen nicht nur der verbale Teil, sondern auch der non-verbale Teil der Kommunikation – also Gestik, Mimik, Blickkontakt, Körperhaltung und Proxemik – berücksichtigt wird. Des Weiteren bezieht sich der Begriff in der medizinischen und psychologischen Forschung auf die Sinne und wird verwendet, wenn mehrere Sinne bei der Wahrnehmung eine Rolle spielen. Auf diese Form der Multimodalität wird in diesem Beitrag in Anlehnung an das sogenannte multisensorische Marketing mit dem Begriff multisensorisch referiert. In der Forschung zur Werbung stehen bisher die Beziehungen von Text und Bild im Mittelpunkt des Interesses. An ausgewählten Werbespots soll deshalb gezielt v. a. die Rolle der Musik und des gesungenen Textes beleuchtet werden.

Die beiden erstgenannten Formen der Multimodalität können in Werbespots auch zusammentreffen: In einem aus verschiedenen semiotischen Ressourcen zusammengesetzten Werbespot können dramatis personae agieren, deren multimodale Face-to-Face-Interaktionen analysiert werden können. An einem Korpus aus aktuellen deutschen, englischen und spanischen Werbespots wird untersucht, welche Formen von Multimodalität jeweils vorliegen, und ob sich zwischen verschiedenen Produktklassen und Ländern Unterschiede im Einsatz dieser Gestaltungsmittel feststellen lassen.

Außerdem hat sich die sprachwissenschaftliche und multimodal orientierte Werbeforschung bislang kaum mit Kinowerbung beschäftigt, obwohl das Kino und die Werbung seit der Entstehung der ersten Filmtheater in verschiedener Hinsicht auf das engste miteinander verknüpft sind. Aufgrund von technischen Neuerungen im Bereich des Films haben verschiedene Zeichen­modalitäten – wie beispielsweise die Sprache und die Musik – für die Gestaltung der Werbefilme im Laufe der Geschichte an Bedeutung gewonnen. Exemplarisch wird deshalb gezeigt, wie sich das Kino zum Ort für multimodale und multisensorische Markenerlebnisse entwickelt hat.