Social media as semiotic technology and social practice

the case of ResearchGate’s design and its potential to transform social practice

Emilia Djonov*, Theo Van Leeuwen

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    9 Citations (Scopus)


    This article addresses the need for critical approaches to social media by bridging the focus on language and other semiotic resources that characterises discourse studies with the broader perspective on social media as social, cultural, economic and technological constructs that dominates media and cultural studies. Specifically, we propose a model for analysing how social media as semiotic technologies, that is, technologies designed to enable and constrain meaning-making, may transform social practices. By incorporating Van Leeuwen’s [2008. Discourse and Practice: New Tools for Critical Analysis. London: Oxford University Press] framework for the critical analysis of discourse and social practice, the model extends the social semiotic approach developed in recent critical multimodal studies of software such as PowerPoint to social media, which function primarily to provide platforms for and commodify social practices, rather than to offer rich arrays of semiotic resources for creating multimodal texts and artefacts. Using the academic social network site ResearchGate and the practice of research peer review, we illustrate the model’s capacity to account for the ways the design of social media platforms–through the semiotic resources they make available and the ways these are presented–enables and constrains their users’ ability to perform key social practices and has the potential to transform these practices.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)641-664
    Number of pages24
    JournalSocial Semiotics
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


    • social media
    • semiotic software technologies
    • academic social network sites
    • ResearchGate
    • social practice
    • critical multimodal approach

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