Multimodal Mondays: Cultural Ideologies and Visual Rhetoric

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Haimes-Korn_Pic.jpgToday’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn (see end of post for bio).

Americans in particular should study their popular arts the better to understand themselves. The media inform their environment, make suggestions about ways to view themselves, provide role models from infancy through old age, give information and news as it happens, provide education, influence their opinions, and open up opportunities for creative expression. Culture emanates from society, voices its hopes and aspirations, quells it fears and insecurities, and draws on the mythic consciousness of an entire civilization or race. It is an integral part of life and a permanent record of what we believe and are. While future historians will find the accumulated popular culture invaluable, the mirror is there for us to look into immediately.

--from Handbook of American Popular Culture, M. Thomas Inge, ed. (1989)

For this project students create their own knowledge through a collaborative learning project in which they research an ideology that influences thought and behavior in our culture through rhetoric and multimodal artifacts. The project draws on classical notions of the "commonplaces" and upon a more modern term, "ideology," which Sharon Crowley defines:

            Ideologies are bodies of beliefs, doctrines, familiar ways of thinking that are characteristic of a group or a culture. They can be economic, ethical, political, philosophical, or religious (76).

Group members work together to choose an ideology that is somehow reflected in images, words, things, and behaviors – the rhetoric – of our culture. Students examine culture in light of the "language, myths, rituals, life-styles, establishments which are all symbolic forms for the expression of the attitudes and values of society" (Inge xxv). One of the interesting concepts related to ideologies is that they are often assumed true even if they are not actually true in people’s lives. The project asks students to go beyond general assumptions and explore multiple layers of their ideology through rhetoric – including visual rhetoric – and create their own truths and observations.

In Class - Invention and Brainstorming: Understanding Ideologies

Defining:First I present definitions and examples of ideologies in our culture. For example, we might discuss the ideology of convenience and have students connect to all the artifacts that somehow manifest that ideology – ATMs, online education, fast food, online shopping, phones, computers, credit cards, etc. This helps students understand the differences between ideologies and artifacts and teaches them how to engage their analytic lenses.

2015-10-30_1519.pngLooking Back:Then, I present some advertisements and magazine samples from other eras as it is easier to find examples and to analyze past cultural moments without the close proximity of our current culture. For example, I often show this Camel ad (right) from Popular Screen Magazine (1954) in which an Olympic figure skater endorses smoking. The copy says, “she leaps, she glides, she spins, she smokes Camels.” Students immediately see the ways this ad conflicts with their own current ideologies that would never align athleticism and smoking. Upon close inspection of the copy, they also comment on the “30 day mildness taste test” that guarantees your money back if not satisfied. It is easy to recognize that consumers would be addicted by that time, a startling idea for students who grew up with the smoking kills ideology as part of their belief system. Students can also conduct online searches to find many more advertisements like this one that teach them how to recognize and analyze ideological artifacts.

Listing Modern Ideologies: Next I have students turn their gaze towards modern magazines and online artifacts. I ask them to list the dominant ideologies they recognize through their exploration. They come to class with their lists to present to their classmates to choose one that interests them as a group for the project. Check out some examples of their lists of ideologies.

The Assignment

As a team, I require students to submit the following assignments that make up the parts of this project:


1: Data Collection: Students explore definitions and origins of their subject by

  • Questionnaire: Create, administer and analyze a questionnaire in which students conduct primary research to gather ideas of how other people define and understand their ideology.

  • Multimodal Artifacts (visual and language):

2: Creation of a Meme: After they have analyzed the existing cultural artifacts, they complete an analysis of current memes related to their ideology and then create an original meme that speaks to and promotes the ideology and findings. In order to be effective, it must draw on an obvious (but not necessarily true or stated) major premise that reflects their ideology.  It must be supported with visual and textual communication (Stay tuned for a future post on memes).

3: Team Presentation: As a group, students present their findings to the class. This 30 minute presentation should not be a mere listing of their findings. Instead, it should somehow represent their findings in a more creative manner as interesting, informative, and perhaps even entertaining for both a live and internet audience. The presentation should include an analysis of the questionnaire and a discussion and display of the particular multimodalvisual and textualartifacts that speak to the ideologies.

4: Group Minutes and Online Discussions: I instruct students to keep professional, accurate minutes of their group meetings and decisions. Each team creates a space on Google Drive to organize and manage their team. This creates easy group access to the thinking processes, operations, and tasks of the group and allows them to use the space to participate in a collaborative revision of their presentation and documents.

Student Work

I share a great student presentation by a group that chose to investigate consumerism. They created their presentation in Prezi and designed it in the form of a front page of a newspaper. The presentation takes readers through an interesting journey that allows for interactivity through a variety of multimodal artifacts. 

A student in the consumerism group, Kendra, offers her thoughts on the project below.


When I think about consumerism, I think about spending lots of money on products that you can live without, images of overpriced products, credit card debt, brand name items and environmental depletion come to mind. My initial belief towards consumerism is that most people are probably aware that it’s not the best thing in the world, but still participate in the overconsumption of material goods anyway.

     After completing the project:

Based on the results of the survey, a majority of participants felt that consumerism is wasteful and poses problems to the environment. However, most also felt that consumerism provided necessary benefits to the economy. I thought it was extremely interesting that in multiple questions, there were several responses that stated that large companies who cater to consumers do not actually have the consumer’s best interests in mind, nor the interests of the environment.

     She concludes by recognizing the idea that although we share common ideas, we all have our individual      ways of interpreting them:

The project taught me a lot, not only about working with other people but about consumerism and ideologies in general. Through the use of our survey, I learned that you can’t trust the media to paint you an accurate picture of how people feel about certain ideologies. No one can really be put into a box; everybody has their own thoughts and experiences that affect how they feel about certain ideologies.


Crowley, Sharon and Debra Hawhee. Ancient Rhetoric for Contemporary Students, 5th edition.

             Longman, 2011.

Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at or visit her website Acts of Composition.

Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment or be a guest blogger? Send ideas to for possible inclusion in a future post.

About the Author
Andrea A. Lunsford is the former director of the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University and teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English. A past chair of CCCC, she has won the major publication awards in both the CCCC and MLA. For Bedford/St. Martin's, she is the author of The St. Martin's Handbook, The Everyday Writer and EasyWriter; The Presence of Others and Everything's an Argument with John Ruszkiewicz; and Everything's an Argument with Readings with John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. She has never met a student she didn’t like—and she is excited about the possibilities for writers in the “literacy revolution” brought about by today’s technology. In addition to Andrea’s regular blog posts inspired by her teaching, reading, and traveling, her “Multimodal Mondays” posts offer ideas for introducing low-stakes multimodal assignments to the composition classroom.