Multimodality and the messy object: exploring how rhetoric and materiality engage

Elena Giovannoni, Christopher Napier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We respond to the call for more research into the entanglement between multiple (including non-visual and non-verbal) modes of communication within organizations by exploring the relationships between rhetoric and materiality. We draw on archival sources concerning the Founder’s Building at Royal Holloway College (1874-1897). We discuss the building as a multimodal material object, inherently multiple, fluid, and messy: the Founder’s Building is open to multiple encounters with sociality through multiple modes of communication. We find that such ‘messiness’ explains how the spatial, aural, sensual and visual modes embedded in a material object engage with each other, as well as with other visual, verbal and numerical modes, in the crafting of rhetoric: different modes sustain and oppose each other and evolve through absences and presences. We find that the messiness of material objects explains the engagement between rhetoric and materiality: materiality can limit or augment rhetoric, and materiality and rhetoric can co-evolve as the ‘rhetors’ (such as the founder and the governors of the College) and their audiences (such as students, visitors, and tax authorities) attempt to transform the object (the Founder’s Building) into always something else, even an absent object.
Original languageEnglish
JournalOrganization Studies
Early online date16 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 27 Apr 2022


  • Multiple objects, rhetoric, materiality, multimodality, messiness, encounters with sociality, absences, buildings, Royal Holloway College

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