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Posthuman texts: nonhuman actors, mediators and technologies of inscription

Gourlay, L; (2015) Posthuman texts: nonhuman actors, mediators and technologies of inscription. Social Semiotics , 25 (4) pp. 484-500. 10.1080/10350330.2015.1059578. Green open access

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Abstract

The study of academic reading and writing has moved away from a predominantly cognitive focus towards one which views academic meaning-making as a complex set of socially-situated practices, (in work associated with the research fields of new literacy studies and multimodality). These fields of study acknowledge that literacy practices enrol social actors in (reflexive) processes of meaning- making and constitution of subjectivities via a range of semiotic resources, also recognising that these practices take place in increasingly multimodal contexts, additionally involving (complex processes concerning communication across the digital and the analogue). However, the agentive role of nonhuman actors and artefacts in these processes has received less attention in the literature. In particular, little research has been conducted into the embodied and material practices of meaning-making in contexts characterised by the presence of complex combinations of digital and print texts and artefacts. This paper will argue that within the contemporary university, meaning-making and textual practices have become saturated by digital mediation; raising research questions around the resultant role of nonhuman actors in the form of objects such as laptops, notebooks, mobile phones and books in the formation of texts, and also in the construction of student subjectivities. Drawing on posthuman and actor-network theories, this paper will report on a funded project investigating the day-to-day embodied and textual practices of 12 adult postgraduate students over a six month period, using multimodal journalling and in-depth case study interviews. The analysis will focus specifically on the ways in which mobile devices, screens and print literacy artefacts were variously enrolled in a complex set of posthuman semiotic practices. I will argue for the utility of Hayle?s (1999) notion of the posthuman and Latour?s (2005) concept of nonhuman actor as mediator in the analysis. Particular attention will be paid to the agentive roles these nonhuman actors play in the constitution /reconstitution of texts in settings where semiotic practices are distributed across multiple domains of practice such as university, public transport and home, and also across multiple networked devices and technologies of inscription. Illustrating these points with textual data, images and drawings, it will explore in particular the transcontextual boundary of digital / print and how objects act not only to create new assemblages ? complex and evolving networks of human and nonhuman actors - but also to enable transitions across contextual boundaries, leading to blurring of binaries around authorship, presence and persistence of text.

Type: Article
Title: Posthuman texts: nonhuman actors, mediators and technologies of inscription
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1080/10350330.2015.1059578
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10350330.2015.1059578
Language: English
Additional information: Special Issue: Objects and language in trans-contextual communication. This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Social Semiotics on 01/09/2015, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/10350330.2015.1059578.
Keywords: Actor-network theory, posthumanism, new literacy studies, digital literacies, higher education, academic writing
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Education > UCL Institute of Education > IOE - Culture, Communication and Media
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1475538
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