A multisemiotic discourse analysis of race in apartheid South Africa: The case of Sandra Laing
Ferris, Fiona Severiona
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In this thesis I investigate the reconstruction of the life history of Sandra Laing and the recreation of the apartheid context by analyzing two artefacts. These main artefact for investigation is the movie Skin, by Anthony Fabian which is based on the book "When She Was White: A Family Divided By Race" by Judith Stone, which is the second artefact for investigation. The latter artefact is based on the life of Sandra Laing. Sandra Laing was born to white parents in the apartheid era, but she did not ascribe to the physical description of a person who was classified 'white' in accordance with legal and social framing thereof in apartheid South Africa. This posed many legal, social and political difficulties for her family. I was particularly interested in the composition of information sources and how semiotic resources are re-enacted, reused and repurposed in the movie ‘Skin.’ The study is more theoretical than applied in that it seeks to answer the question posed by Prior and Grusin (2010: 1): "How do we understand semiotics/multimodality theoretically and investigate it methodologically?" In the study I develop Prior and Grusin’s (2010) thesis by working with notion of semiotic remediation as a focus on semioticity helps me to focus on the signs across modes, media, channels and genres. Therefore, the book on Sandra Laing and the movie are used as databases from which to extract semiotic resources in the exploration and extension of multimodality theory through multisemiotic analysis using semiotic remediation as 'repurposing' in particular. In the process, the notion of semiotic remediation becomes the tool for extending theory of multimodality, by demonstrating the repurposing of semiotic material from the book, such as apartheid artefacts, racialised discourses, dressing, racialised bodies and bible verses, for example, into the recreation of apartheid in the movie 'Skin.' I employed a multisemiotic discourse analysis to analyse the data, which is multimodal, and because I was interested in the complexity of the meaning making process involving multiple modes of representation. This framework was useful in analyzing the complex interaction between the various modes for meaning making. I used resemiotisation and remediation as conceptual tools to trace the translation of events across artefacts and how the material and generic traces are reframed and repurposed within its new contexts for new meanings in the movie 'Skin'. This study makes important contributions to research on the race debate in South Africa in particular. Although apartheid laws have been repealed and new democratic order is in place, the issue of race has flared in the media and South African society generally. The recurrent debates on lack of transformation in former whites only universities, the #FeeMustFall Movement and recent debates in parliament about revisiting the land redistribution issue all have racial undertones – the continued disempowerment of the non-white South Africans. The focus on the recapturing of the complexities surrounding the race debates and the implications of the racialised society, particularly how they are conceptualized and rematerialized within the semiotic limitations of book and a film contributes to a novel understanding of the making and lifestyles of inequality in apartheid South Africa. From a theoretical and analytical perspective, the study feeds on and extends the notion of multimodality to multisemioticity using the extension, semiotic remediation, not in the ordinary sense of mediating a new, but on the notion of the reframing and particularly repurposing of a particular social, political, cultural and historical semiotic material in new contexts in the recreated new worlds in the film and book. In this regard, the study provides interesting insights into the remediated reconstructions of race and racial inequalities, and the remodeling of artefacts and semiosis that are used in this reformation of the apartheid material cultures and contexts. In analysing the remaking of the apartheid culture in the film and the book, I theorefore make a unique contribution in identifying the semiotic materials that are indicative of the flawed nature of biological arguments for racial classification and race-based social structuring. I discuss the implications of this by analysing the remediation of the body as a racial scape, and the apartheid material culture as providing the semiotic landscape on which meanings are produced and consumed. The study thus contributes to research on recent developments in multimodality through its extension of semiotic remediation, which is designed to uncover the intricate interaction between semiotic resources in various media as well as their translation and repurposing across artefacts. In this regard, the study adds to extending the theoretical framing of multimodality thus: resemiotization accounts for the circulations of texts from mode to mode or one context to another, while semiotic remediation accounts for the repurposing of semiotic resources for different purposes and for their multiple meaning potentials.