BreMM19 | Virtanen

Mikko T. Virtanen
University of Helsinki | Helsinki Finland

Multimodality of Storytelling in Popular Science Books

Frequent and diverse uses of storytelling in public occasions are one aspect of the so-called conversationalisation of public discourse (Fairclough 1994). In addition to journalistic and political discourse, stories have become commonplace in popular science books. Stories in these books are often used for brief excursions to the private sphere of life, giving a human angle to a scientific topic. In relation to the body text of the books, stories vary along a continuum from embedded to detached. Some stories are tightly integrated to the body text, whereas others are separated and placed in their own layout unit (“subtext”). Among other things, this detachment allows for using graphic resources of storytelling (e.g. photographs) in combination with or instead of written language. Intermediate forms between embeddedness and detachment include stories which are partly distinguished from the body text by typographic emphasis or formatting.

My paper explores storytelling as a multimodal phenomenon in popular science books. I examine the interplay of different semiotic modes – from written language and images to typography and layout – as well as the functional-contextual motivations behind the varying deployments and combinations of these modes and their resources. I approach the popular science book as a multimodal macrogenre whose conventions reflect the affordances of the book as a medium. As a macrogenre, it combines more elemental genres such as story genres to fulfill its own goals (see Muntigl 2006).

My data consist of popular science books written by Finnish scholars in the 2010s. The data is analysed by adopting the methodology of Bateman’s (2008) Genre and Multimodality model (GeM) and the typology of story genres developed in the Systemic-Functional framework (e.g. Martin & Rose 2008).


BATEMAN, JOHN 2008: Multimodality and Genre. A Foundation for the Systematic Analysis of Multimodal Documents. London: Palgrave MacMillan.

FAIRCLOUGH, NORMAN 1994: Conversationalization of Public Discourse and the Authority of the Consumer. In Russell Keat, Nigel Whiteley & Nicholas Abercrombie (eds.), The Authority of the Consumer pp. 253–268. London: Routledge.

MARTIN, JAMES& ROSE, DAVID 2008: Genre Relations. Mapping Culture. London: Equinox.

MUNTIGL, PETER 2006: Macrogenre. A Multiperspectival and Multifunctional Approach to Social Interaction. – Linguistics and the Human Sciences 2(2) pp. 233–256.


Mikko T. Virtanen is a postdoctoral researcher in linguistics and non-fiction studies at the University of Helsinki. He is currently working on a two-year project on storytelling in popular science books.

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