Social distance and the multimodal construction of the Other in sectarian song

Simon McKerrell*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


This paper introduces the concept of “tonal gravity” through a multimodal analysis of a YouTube video to demonstrate how multimodality is key to the construction of “Rule Britannia” as a sectarian song. The analysis focuses upon the multimodal semiotics of social distance which has been a key concept in sociological and anthropological traditions in recent times. This concept offers a means to understand the social semiotic relationship between Self and Other in multimodal discourse. Following previous work in social semiotics and music studies which examine how visual composition, music and the voice have constructed social distance or expressions of intimacy, I introduce the concept of tonal gravity which extends the metaphors of semiotic space in previous work in the musical mode, to account for a fuller understanding of how music helps narrate the multimodal Self and Other. This is introduced via a close multimodal analysis of “Rule Britannia” as a Rangers Football fan video which is only transformed into a sectarian text through multimodal collocation where different semiotic resources in various modes act in combination to produce a dominant Self actively prejudiced against a low Other.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)614-632
Number of pages19
JournalSocial Semiotics
Issue number5
Early online date31 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2015


  • music
  • social distance
  • tonal gravity
  • sectarianism
  • multimodality
  • semiotics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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