Making New Media: Book Review

Posted Wednesday January 19, 2011 by John Gunders in |

Burn, Andrew, Making New Media: Creative Production and Digital Literacies, Peter Lang, New York, 2009.

This book is a collection of essays previously published in education journals between 1999 and 2007 that consider the author’s involvement in teaching new media skills to UK school children at primary and secondary levels. It includes chapters on digital film editing, computer game design and production, and use of digital arts such as machinima in the classroom. But if you are looking for a book on new media theory or pedagogical theories on the teaching of new media, think again. This book amounts to a carefully worded call for the positioning of social semiotics as the natural accompanying theory for cultural studies. All the essays draw explicitly on the social semiotic theories of Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen (especially their influential 1996 Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design), and the examination of the classroom work is used mainly to provide examples for a social semiotic analysis of the work undertaken. The author goes so far as to propose a new term to describe the study of the moving image: kineikonic, a conjoining of the Greek words for ‘move’ and ‘image’ (60). Burn argues for a multimodal approach to the study of digital media, incorporating all semiotic aspects of the text into the analysis.

The opening chapter, written specifically for the book, is a dense examination of the study of digital media, from the cultural studies foundation of Raymond Williams, to the new media theories of Henry Jenkins, with a wild ride through Bourdieu, Walter Ong, and of course Kress and van Leeuwen and others in between. The case study chapters are more accessible, and draw on some interesting classroom work, but again the focus is on social semiotics to the exclusion of other media theories.

Chapters on using digital technology to create posters and trailers for existing films (Chapters 2 and 3) provide space for some interesting debates about teenagers’ understanding of filmic texts and their cultural positioning, as well as a justification of the importance of teaching these literacies in school. Chapter 4, ostensibly a discussion of a group of 11 year-old students creating a digitally animated short film based on Little Red Riding Hood, becomes an argument about a grammar of the moving image that moves beyond film or television theory.

Burns’ emphasis on the multimodal approach to media is best developed in Chapter 6, where he reports on interviews with 12- and 13-year-olds about the differences between book, film, and computer game versions of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. The argument is that social semiotics is the only framework that can adequately account for these differences without privileging one of the modes.

It is hard to be certain who this book addresses: lecturers and teachers interested in the theory and pedagogy of new media are likely to find the social semiotic focus a little too specific; semioticians will possibly find that the examples—coming as they do from primary and lower high school students—are a little too limited. Still, this makes an important contribution to debates around literacy and grammar in new media.

Review originally published in Media International Australia, No 137, November 2010

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