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Making meaning from multimodality: embodied communication in a business pitch setting

Viney, RAE; Clarke, J; Cornelissen, J; (2017) Making meaning from multimodality: embodied communication in a business pitch setting. In: Cassell, C and Cunliffe, AL and Grandy, G, (eds.) The SAGE handbook of qualitative business and management research methods (volume 2). (pp. 298-312). SAGE Publishing: London, UK. (In press).

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Abstract

A multimodal research agenda is gaining traction in organisational research; multimodality is the theory and understanding that multiple modes of communication outside of speech and text have the potential to convey meaning (Iedema, 2007; Jones & LeBaron, 2002; Kress & van Leeuwen, 2001; Streeck et al., 2011). There is an increasing realisation that the visual, material and embodied modes of meaning-making pervade organisations and understanding these non-verbal modes of meaning creation could provide opportunities for new and interesting theoretical, empirical and methodological insights (Bell & Davison, 2013; Jancsary et al., 2015). Multimodality emphasises that ‘language’ is just one of many resources for making meaning and that: all such resources available in one social group and its cultures at a particular moment ought to be considered as constituting one coherent domain, an integral field of nevertheless distinct resources for making meaning; all equal, potentially, in their capacity to contribute meaning to a complex semiotic entity, a text or text-like entity. (Kress, 2011, p. 242). Within a multimodal perspective speech and text are not necessarily seen as the dominant mode of communication and are ideally not examined in isolation but as one mode of communication among many others (visual, spoken, gestural, written, three-dimensional, etc.) that also potentially interact and align to generate meaning (Philips et al., 2004). Despite this increasing interest in multimodality and its relationships to organisations and management, there remains a lack of work which empirically investigates multimodality in the context of organisations. This may be due to the significant challenges presented to researchers interested in investigating multimodality, namely the lack of multimodal ‘literacy’ among organisational researchers (Jancsary et al., 2015). We remain unskilled in terms of ‘reading’, understanding and analysing multimodal data. In particular, it is often necessary to transform multimodal data into easily accessible, text-based material so that it can be coded and reported on, which often leads to a loss of some of its original multimodal richness (Plowman & Stephen, 2008). It is often not fully possible to articulate through language a complete sense of the bodily and interactional richness and complexity of multimodal data and all that we find interesting about this data. Without proper multimodal analytical protocols these preverbal, visceral hunches can often ‘remain at the level of vague suspicion and intuitive response’ (Iedema, 2001, p. 201). There is, in other words, a need to develop the multimodal ‘literacy’ of researchers to ensure that multimodal data is represented and analysed in such a way that their contextual richness is being maintained whilst at the same time allowing for systematic analyses and theory development. Our aim in this chapter is to give an empirical example of how multimodality can be examined in the context of entrepreneurship. Within the domain of entrepreneurship, an emerging line of inquiry focuses on how through both verbal and non-verbal communication and behavioural displays entrepreneurs may be able to convince investors to provide resources and investment (Baron & Markman, 2003; Chen et  al., 2009; Clarke, 2011; Cornelissen & Clarke, 2010). In this chapter we focus specifically on entrepreneurs’ use of gesture when pitching for investment at organised pitch events. We focus on gesture as an element of multimodal meaning-making which forms a central mode of human communication alongside speech. As Kendon (1983, p. 27) for example suggests, ‘gesticulation arises as an integral part of an individual’s communicative effort and … has a direct role to play in this process’ (italics in the original). Gesticulations (spontaneous movements of hands and arms that co-occur with speech), are one type of body movement that are thought to play an integral role in the process of communication (Alibali et  al., 2001). Gestures convey information complementary to speech as the mimetic and analogue format of gestures (in the form of shapes, sizes, spatial relationships) can lead to different representations of ideas compared to the more discrete and categorical format underlying grammar and speech (cf. Cornelissen et  al., 2012). Thus, when gestures accompany speech, they may enable speakers to express thoughts that may otherwise not easily fit into the categorical system that their language offers (GoldinMeadow & McNeill, 1999). In demonstrating one way of examining multimodality in an entrepreneurship context, this chapter considers the utility of paying attention to non-verbal data by unpacking some of the embodied practices of competent entrepreneurs. The remainder of the chapter is structured as follows. We first introduce the setting of entrepreneurship. We then describe the role of gesture as part of multimodal analysis. We then discuss specific empirical work that features in our analysis. We conclude the chapter by discussing the insights afforded by gesture analysis and the contributions that this type of multimodal analysis makes to our understanding of entrepreneurship and more widely organisational and management research. We argue that directing attention to multimodal meaning-making complements and extends research that focuses on language alone and that the potential contribution of multimodal research in organisation and management research is substantial.

Type: Book chapter
Title: Making meaning from multimodality: embodied communication in a business pitch setting
Publisher version: https://uk.sagepub.com/en-gb/eur/the-sage-handbook...
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10049995
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