Writing Changes: Alphabetic Text and Multimodal Composition (edited collection)

deadline for submissions: 
August 1, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
Pegeen Reichert Powell, Columbia College Chicago
contact email: 

This edited collection, in development with the MLA book publications program, takes as a starting point the multimodal turn in composition studies, and focuses on the changing role of writing in our field. Writing here refers to the semiotic resource of alphabetic text composed on a page or screen.

Jason Palmeri, in Remixing Composition, writes, “advocates of the ‘multimodal turn’ in composition have been telling a very persuasive and influential narrative . . . about how and why we must move beyond our historic focus on alphabetic literacy.” This “multimodal progress narrative” figures alphabetic literacy as the past, and the rich potential of other modes, such as video, image, sound as the future.  In fact, many composition studies scholars cite Gunther Kress, who writes the narrative as one of “revolution,” in which new media are overthrowing the traditions of print (Kress, “Gains and Losses: New Forms of Texts, Knowledge, and Learning”). 

It’s difficult to know how complete Kress’s “revolution” might turn out to be, and no one believes that we will no longer compose with written words at all. However, writing necessarily changes in a networked, multimodal environment, and our field has yet to examine seriously the nature of those changes: is this a difference in kind or degree?  

Authors are invited to submit abstracts for chapters that focus arguments on the role of alphabetic text in our field (as opposed to arguments that focus on other semiotic modes). The following list of questions is not exhaustive but illustrates the range of issues to be taken up:

  • What genres, styles, and conventions of writing should we abandon in our teaching in the context of multimodality, if any? What genres, styles, and conventions of writing—new, old, and evolving—are most relevant and useful for students in the 21st century?
  • Do the changes in the nature and role of alphabetic text depend on institutional and classroom context? For example, do we understand these changes differently in a 2- or 4-year institution, in a basic writing course or one for writing majors, in classrooms with varying technology resources?
  • In the context of multimodality, what should we expect instructors who teach writing courses to know about alphabetic text? Does the changing role of writing change the way we prepare teachers? 
  • How, why, and to what extent might writing programs, writing centers, and WAC and WID programs change in the context of multimodality? And how should they stay the same?
  • If we take multimodality as a starting point, what should we expect PhDs in our field to know about composing with alphabetic text as they prepare for tenure-track positions and/or roles as WPAs? Do graduate programs need to change in light of the changing role of writing in our field?
  • What don’t we know about composing with alphabetic text that we need to know in a multimodal environment? Are there forms of writing scholarship and research that become less urgent?
  • Other topics or explorations about whether, how, or to what extent writing is changing in light of the turn toward multimodality.

Abstracts of approximately 350 words should provide, in as much detail as possible, the focus and argument(s) for the proposed chapter. Abstracts are due August 1, 2016. Please send inquiries and/or abstracts to Pegeen Reichert Powell at pmrp@att.net.