Multimodality Talks Series: The Semiotics of Destruction of Election Posters

Day:  28 May 2021

Time: 12.00-13.30 (GMT)

Place: online


Anders Björkvall, Örebro University, Sweden

Orla Vigsø, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

Watch the recording of the talk, here


The election poster came into being as a medium as a result of a political need for a way to reach the larger electorate created by the extension of the right to vote, and the technological development making poster printing economically accessible. In spite of the development of broadcast and social media, the election poster still lives on and still plays a significant role in the election campaigns. It is the only medium which we cannot avoid, as it dominates public space for approximately a month; it is an invasive medium, and this might be one of the reasons behind the growing problems of posters being torn down, covered in paint or graffiti, or in other ways being destroyed.

While offering detailed accounts of overarching destruction types (e.g., partial destruction, adding words and symbols) and tools for destruction (e.g., muscle strength, marker pen) (cf. Philipps et al., 2016; Chafee, 1993; Michel and Pappert, 2018), previous research tends to neglect how these types and tools are part of motivated social actions and practices.

We will present a semiotic approach to the destruction of election posters. The main focus is on the traces that index acts of destruction as social practice and as a challenge of the dominating semiotic regime surrounding election posters. The data analyzed consists of photos of over 1000 election posters from Denmark and Sweden from the mid-1990s onwards, which also allows for a diachronic analysis of the resources of destruction.

Among other things, the analysis shows how expressionistic and transformation-driven destruction (Archer and Björkvall, 2021) are the main types. Especially the expressionistic destruction, with a number of sub-types, has been neglected by previous research. We will also discuss how the increasing uniformity of election posters – with photos of politicians gaining ground – can invite the destruction of election posters in urban environments.

Bio sketch

Anders Björkvall has a Ph.D. in Scandinavian Languages from Stockholm University and is Professor of Swedish at Örebro University, Sweden. His current research interests include organizational discourse, critical genre analysis, the semiotics of value, and semiotic change in urban landscapes. Recent publications are “The critical analysis of genre and social action” in The Cambridge Handbook of Discourse Studies; “Legitimation of value practices, value texts, and core values at public authorities” in Discourse & Communication (with C. Nyström Höög); and “Semiotics of destruction: Traces on the environment” in Visual Communication (with A. Archer). Anders is also editor of the new Sage journal Multimodality & Society.

Orla Vigsø wrote a thesis on The Notion of Interpretation in Semiotics and Hermeneutics in Denmark before moving to Uppsala, Sweden, where he wrote a thesis on the rhetoric of election posters. He has been professor of rhetoric and is now professor in media studies in Gothenburg, and writes about crisis communication and political communication. Recent publications are “Sweden: Lone Hero or Stubborn Outlier?” (with Bengt Johansson) in Political Communication and COVID-19 Governance and Rhetoric in Times of Crisis, edited by Lilleker, Coman, Gregor & Novelli, and “Crisis communication and the political scandal” (with Bengt Johansson) in Crisis Communication, eds. Finn Frandsen and Winni Johansen. Orla is also editor of Journal of Visual Political Communication (Intellect).

The Multimodality Talks Series is organised by the University of Leeds Multimodality@Leeds, The UCL Visual and Multimodal Research Forum, and Insulander/Svärdemo Åberg at the Department of Education, Stockholm University. It is conceived of working as a tandem with the Bremen-Groningen Online Workshops on Multimodality to make the best of the online format to offer multiple chances for sharing research and stimulating discussions on multimodality worldwide. See the full Multimodality Talk Series programme here:

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