Date on Master's Thesis/Doctoral Dissertation


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph. D.



Degree Program

English Rhetoric and Composition, PhD

Committee Chair

Horner, Bruce

Committee Co-Chair (if applicable)

Lu, Min-Zhan

Committee Member

Lu, Min-Zhan

Committee Member

Williams, Bronwyn

Committee Member

Anderson, David

Committee Member

Selfe, Cynthia


Literacy; Reading; Sociolinguistics; Multilingualism and literature


The issue of difference in writing, both in terms of language diversity and modalities, has received increasing attention in the context of new developments in technologies, increasing global migration, and intensified intersections of cultural and linguistic practices accompanying these changes. Theories of language and modality are trying separately to develop ways to best respond to the challenges and opportunities brought about by these changes. Responding to scholars’ recent calls for bridging the gap between studies of multilingualism and those of multimodality, this dissertation offers an approach that, instead of separating the study of modality and languages, questions such a tendency to not only create dichotomies between these two, but also to assume the stability and discrete character of various modes and languages. I argue that dominant, additive models of multimodality and multilingualism deemphasize understandings of languages, modalities, and technologies as material social practices in a complex communicative ecology, thereby implying what Brian Street calls “an autonomous” model of multimodality and multilingualism. Going beyond the abstract notions of language and modality as stable and discrete, this dissertation urges us to see the material-social practice of language as always already multimodal, while also being part of the ecology of multimodal semiotic practices. This dissertation has been divided into five chapters. Chapter One introduces issues of multilingualism and multimodality and provides a brief theoretical background to analyze dominant assumptions about language and modality. Chapter Two interrogates social theories of agency and mediation, both humanist and anti-humanist and develops an alternative understanding of mediation based on cultural materialist theories of practice and new materialism. I discuss how theories of Bourdieu, Giddens, and Pennycook help us see seemingly isolated acts as parts of a nexus of sedimented practices, whereas Latour’s call to pay attention to non-human agents and mediation as translation makes us see how durability and change in practices do not depend only on human agents and social structures, but equally on the “missing masses.” Chapter Three and Chapter Four take up the theoretical insights from the previous chapters, arguing that major theories of multilingualism and multimodality retain some residues of monolingualism and monomodality either in assuming the discrete and stable character of languages and modes or in assuming individual users as stable and free-floating agents. In an attempt to overcome these monolingualist and monomodalist tendencies, these two chapters call for paying attention to the full panoply of (f)actors affecting semiotic negotiations of our students rather than romanticizing the agency of users in an attempt to debunk monolinugualist/monomodalist ideology. Chapter Five develops an alternative, integrated way of viewing translingual and transmodal relations. This chapter ends with a demonstration of how shifting our theoretical orientation challenges not only the norm of existing pedagogical practices of segregating codes (linguistic or other semiotic), but also revises some of the multilingual and multimodal pedagogies advocated in recent studies.