The power of semiotic software: A critical multimodal perspective

Emilia Djonov*, Theo van Leeuwen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearchpeer-review


In a paper that played an important role in setting the agenda for critical discourse analysis, Norman Fairclough drew attention to what he called the “marketization of discourse”, the “colonization of discourse by promotion” (1993: 142) in diverse social institutions and practices. Powered by neoliberal ideas blurring the boundaries between public and private life, shared and individual responsibility, forms of discourse associated with advertising have infiltrated professional, political and public service institutions, and gradually become the common sense of their everyday world, mixing fact and opinion, information and persuasion, and steering clear of anything that might be regarded as negative or critical. This process, as Fairclough (1993) argued, is reflected in and continues to advance three defining aspects of contemporary communication: (1) “technologization” – the building and imposition, typically top-down, of knowledge and norms about what constitutes effective discourse within a given institution; (2) “conversationalization”, or “synthetic personalization”, the appropriation of communication principles such as those used in informal, personal conversations, for the marketing goals of formerly self-effacing and impersonal official and professional discourse and (3) increased reliance on the promotional power of semiotic modes other than language (e.g., visual, aural and kinetic resources) and their multimodal interaction, and an associated “significant shift from what one might call signification-with-reference to signification-without-reference” (1993: 142), witnessed in the rise of “discourse aesthetics” (van Leeuwen 2015).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Critical Discourse Studies
EditorsJohn Flowerdew, John E. Richardson
Place of PublicationLondon
Publication date2018
ISBN (Print)9781138826403
ISBN (Electronic)9781315739342
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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