Recently, I argued that scholars need Pinterest because it helps us with the problem of reach in academia by getting us out of academia a little bit. But that’s not the only reason I think scholars should use it. Pinterest affords ways of making meaning that academics have thus far underutilized and underscrutinized but which could provide us with a whole new arsenal of argumentative tools.
In particular, the basic features of a pin comprise a combination of words, image, and to a slightly lesser extent, a link. Multimodality has been a thing in rhetoric, composition, and writing studies for awhile now, so I don’t think I have to argue too hard for the unique ways that image and text combine to create new meaning that image or text alone could not produce. Though I might argue that currently, most focus on Pinterest is given to the visual image being pinned (which often includes text itself), with less focus on the caption below, the two still often work together, and, what’s more important, they can work together quite well.
Additionally, Pinterest adds a third layer of meaning into the mix: hyperlinks. This major feature of the pin allows pinners to link their multimodal image-text creation to an outside source. It’s part citation practice, part additional meaning-making. Here’s an example:
Full disclosure: this is one of my pins, but I pinned it in April 2013, long before I began considering the scholarly potentials of Pinterest. The image is of actor Gina Torres posing as Zoe, a character on the sci-fi show Firefly. The caption says, “Hey, Everyone–Stop Taking this Picture! (No, I Mean It).) | Tor.com. Female posing in marketing sci-fi marketing” (sic). The link takes you to a Tor.com article discussing the prevalence of female characters posing this way and the problems with the pose: it subtly sexualizes otherwise non-sexualized characters. The link contributes an entire wealth of meaning to the image that is not present in the juxtaposition of image and text.
Now, though Chad Wickman argued in a 2010 article in Written Communication that academic writing has long been multimodal,1 little academic writing has been attempted (to my knowledge–but I’d love to hear if you’ve got recommendations!) that focuses primarily on the integration of text and image, much less text, image, and hyperlink. The closest I think we have come so far is Losh, Alexander, Cannon, and Cannon’s 2014 textbook Understanding Rhetoric, which uses a comic book approach to illustrating (pun intended, haha) rhetorical concepts.
Comics are being taken up in the academy as worthy of study, but again, to my knowledge, there has been little uptake of comics as a medium for argumentation in academia. I have argued in class papers and presentations (though I have yet to seek formal publication outlets for this work) that comics can be a valuable medium of argumentation. Pinterest pins, similarly, can create meaning in ways that are not only novel but that can reach larger audiences in a much shorter amount of time than traditional scholarly media.
Wickman, C. (2010). Writing material in chemical physics research: The laboratory notebook as locus of technical and textual integration. Written Communication, 27, 259 – 292.