Towards a social semiotics of food: Packaging as discourse and social practice
Prof. Dr. Per Ledin
Södertörn University, Sweden
In this talk, Per Ledin will explore how food packaging relates to discourses and social practices. Food packages are obviously a three-dimensional semiotic material that on the one hand is functional. A package should protect the product, facilitate transportation, etc. On the other hand, food packages have become increasingly important in branding and marketing, and here a range of semiotic resources is deployed: different materials and textures, typography, iconography, colour, writing, etc. Packaging design draws on a variety of discourses that in contemporary branding often are related to health and ethics, for example suggesting that the actual food or content is unprocessed, that it comes directly from nature to your plate or glass. Of course, such discourses are formulated for specific consumer target groups in the interests of food producers to increase sales. Discourses are related to social practices, which means that food packages also house ideas, values, identities and templates for social interactions. Obviously, they are designed to stand out on the shelf and be shopped, as well as, in different ways, be part of eating and drinking practices. But they can also call for action, often to save the planet, or to help disadvantaged groups, such as the elderly or poor peasants in remote countries (sometimes called ‘commodity activism’). Within the general framework of Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis (e.g. Ledin & Machin, 2017), Professor Ledin will start by sketching the approach of social semiotics, pointing to how different codifications and contextualizations afford different meanings when we communicate through semiotic materials. He will then propose a model for analyzing packaging (Ledin & Machin, 2018) with examples of different food packages, mainly energy bars, snacks packaging and milk cartons (including alternative milk).
Prof. Dr. Per Ledin is based in the School of Culture and Education at Södertörn University in Stockholm. Locating his work in the borderland between applied linguistics and media and communication, he has published widely in different areas of discourse studies, including writing development, multimodality and critical linguistics. Recent books include Doing Visual Analysis: From Theory to Practice (SAGE, 2018). His current research is about the “new writing” that has emerged as a consequence of technologization and the increasing social codification of semiotic resources, often serving neoliberal interests.