Theory & Method

At the MRC our work comes from the assumption that communication, interactions, images or texts, are always multimodal. Multimodal (inter)action analysis is a theoretical/methodological framework that we make considerable use of, and which we continue to expand upon.

Multimodal (inter)action analysis builds upon mediated discourse analysis (Scollon, 1998, 2001), and was first comprehensively introduced by Norris (2004). Multimodal (inter)action analysis continues to develop and is applied by researchers worldwide.

Here we share a selection of theoretical and methodological terms. We provide the definition for each term, a full reference to where the term was first defined, and additional references where the term has been used.

The definition of mediated action that we use in the AUT Multimodal Research Centre was first published by Scollon (1998) and Wertsch (1998) and refers to a social actor acting with and through mediational means.

Building upon the notion of mediation developed by Vygotsky (1978) Wertsch (1988, 1991, 1998) and Scollon (1998, 2001) point to the mediated action as a holistic, non-reductionist unit of analysis for studying social interaction.

The mediated action always maintains a tension between the social actor and mediational means, and therefore does not reduce action to either the individual, nor the environment.

Basis of definition:

‘…the relationship between action and mediational means is so fundamental that it is more appropriate, when referring to the agent involved, to speak of "individual(s)-acting-with-mediational-means" than to speak simply of "individual(s)." Thus, the answer to the question of who is carrying out the action will invariably identify the individual(s) in the concrete situation and the mediational means employed.’ (Wertsch, 1991, p. 12)


Scollon, R. (1998). Mediated discourse as social interaction: a study of news discourse. London; New York: Longman.

Scollon, R. (2001). Mediated discourse : the nexus of practice. London; New York: Routledge.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Wertsch, J. V. (1988). Vygotsky and the Social Formation of Mind. Harvard University Press.

Wertsch, J. V. (1991). Voices of the Mind. Harvard University Press.

Wertsch, J. V. (1998). Mind as action. New York: Oxford University Press.

Norris (2004) delineates mediated action into higher and lower-level actions (and frozen actions) for the purposes of analysis. Therefore, higher and lower-level actions are methodological tools.

A lower-level action is first defined in Norris (2004) as ‘the smallest interactional meaning unit’ (Norris, 2004, p. 11).

A higher-level action is first defined in Norris (2004) as ‘bracketed by an opening/closing and made up of a multiplicity of chained lower-level actions.’ (Norris, 2004, p. 11).

Almost all work which applies multimodal (inter)action analysis utilises higher and lower-level actions.

Texts where multimodal (inter)action analysis is introduced

Norris, S. (2004). Analyzing multimodal interaction: a methodological framework. London: Routledge.

Norris, S. (2013). Multimodal (Inter)action Analysis: An Integrative Methodology. In C. Müller, E. Fricke, A. Cienki, & D. McNeill (Eds.), Body - Language - Communication. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Pirini, J. (2014). Introduction to multimodal (inter)action analysis. In S. Norris & C. Maier (Eds.), Interactions, Texts and Images: A Reader in Multimodality (1st ed., Vol. 1, pp. 77–92). New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

We can delineate mediated action into higher-level actions, lower-level actions and frozen actions. Frozen actions were first defined by Norris (2004) as ‘higher-level actions, which are entailed in material objects’ (p. 11).

Definitional reference

Norris, S. (2004). Analyzing multimodal interaction: a methodological framework. London: Routledge.

Publications applying this term

Norris, S. (2011). Identity in Interaction: Introducing Multimodal Interaction Analysis (Vol. 4). London: Mouton de Gruyter.

Norris, S., & Makboon, B. (2015). Objects, Frozen Actions, and Identity: A Multimodal (Inter) action Analysis. Multimodal Communication, 4(1), 43–59.

Mode is used in a particular way in multimodal (inter)action analysis, which is different from the definition of mode used in much of the work grounded in semiotics.

Norris (2013) first clarified the usage of mode in multimodal (inter)action analysis through defining mode as ‘a system of mediated action that comes about through concrete lower-level actions that social actors take in the world’ (p. 155).

Definitional reference

Norris, S. (2013). What is a mode? Smell, olfactory perception, and the notion of mode in multimodal mediated theory. Multimodal Communication, 2(2), 155–169.

Publications applying this term

Geenen, J. (2013). Kitesurfing: Action, (Inter)action and Mediation (PhD Thesis). AUT University, Auckland, NZ.