TOYS AS TEXTS:
TOWARDS A MULTIMODAL FRAMEWORK TO VISUAL ANALYSES OF CHILDHOOD REPRESENTATIONS
Danielle Barbosa Lins de Almeida
Universidade Federal da Paraíba/CNPq
Toys, in their myriad versions, have been historically considered as objects of investigation insofar as their educational use, play and effects are concerned. Nevertheless, it must be said that academic research in the direction of toys’ multimodal configurations and meaning-making potential has been quite scant, despite a few relevant studies in the area (Caldas-Coulthard & van Leeuwen, 2001, 2002, 2003; Machin & Van Leeuwen, 2009; Almeida, 2006; 2008; 2009; 2014; 2017; 2018). This presentation offers an overview of the findings and methodological developments in toy semiotics research through the projects Toys on Focus (2015-2018) and Multimodality & Childhood (2018) aimed at expanding the agenda of academic investigation on children’s narratives in different discursive domains. Both projects have focused on the verbal and visual configurations of childhood representations such as toy packages, fashion and baby dolls, nursery rhymes, inclusive toys, birthday scenarios, Disney characters, etc., by combining a linguistic approach to toy semiotics with debates from interrelated fields , to account for a more accurate analysis of the contextual dimension of these visual semiotic structures. Methodologically, I will attempt at demonstrating how systems of signification derived from the Grammar of Visual Design (VG) by Kress & van Leeuwen (1996; 2006) – such as the subsystem of modality (reality value) – have been proved effective as a theoretical tool to toy semiotics by allowing to go beyond the investigation of the two-dimensional perspective of their advertisements to check on material configurations such as texture, smell, kinetic possibilities and the degree of realism of these three-dimensional childhood representations. By means of primarily linguistic lens, I believe to contribute to social semiotic research through the articulation of the analysis of linguistic aspects of data with the discussion of social issues such as gender roles, diversity, representation and inclusion. All in all, my main intention is to propose an innovative, exploratory look into toys as texts as well as ideologically-loaded cultural artefacts.
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 (1) Sociology of Childhood & Children Studies (Pinto & Sarmento, 1997); (2) Cultural and Media Studies (Heljakka, 2013; Peers, 2004; Fleming, 1996; Seiter, 1993; Kline, 1993); (3) Anthropology and Education (Brougère, 2014); (4) Toy semiotics (Brian Sutton-Smith, 1984; Caldas-Coulthard & Van Leeuwen, 2001, 2002, 2003; Machin & Van Leeuwen, 2009; Thibault 2016).