Multimodal representations of gender in young children's popular culture


  • Fredrik Lindstrand Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design
  • Eva Insulander Department of education, Stockholm University
  • Staffan Selander Department of computer and systems sciences, Stockholm University



apps, children, gender, learning, multimodality, popular culture, representation, social semiotics, television


This article poses questions regarding learning and representation in relation to young children's popular culture. Focusing on gender, the article builds on multimodal, social semiotic analyses of two different media texts related to a specific brand and shows how gender and gender differences are represented multimodally in separate media contexts and in the interplay between different media. The results show that most of the semiotic resources employed in the different texts contribute in congruent ways to the representation of girls as either different from or inferior to boys. At the same time, however, excerpts from an encounter with a young girl who engages with characters from the brand in her role play are used as an example of how children actively make meaning and find strategies that subvert the repressive ideologies manifested in their everyday popular culture.

Author Biographies

Fredrik Lindstrand, Konstfack University College of Arts, Crafts and Design

Senior lecturer, PhD

Eva Insulander, Department of education, Stockholm University

Senior lecturer, PhD

Staffan Selander, Department of computer and systems sciences, Stockholm University

Professor, PhD


Aarseth, E. (2006). The culture and business of cross-media productions. Popular Culture: The International Journal of Media and Culture, 4(3), 203-211.

Baldry, A. & Thibault, P. J. (2006). Multimodal Transcription and Text Analysis: A Multimedia Toolkit and Course Book. London: Equinox.

Bar, A. (2013). Meet Mike the knight! Opening sequence of television series. Retrieved April 14, 2015, from London, New York & Ontario: HiT Entertainment & Nelvana.

Barnkanalen [Swedish children's channel] (2015). Website. Retrieved April 14, 2015, from

Barthes, R. (1981). Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Hill and Wang.

Bazin, A. (2009). What Is Cinema? Montreal: Caboose.

Berger, J. (1972). Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin Books.

Björkvall, A. & Karlsson, A.-M. (2011). The materiality of discourses and the semiotics of materials: A social perspective on the meaning potentials of written texts and furniture. Semiotica, 187(1/4), 141-165.

Bolter, J. D. & Grusin, R. (2000). Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Bordwell, D. & Thompson, L. (2012). Film Art: An Introduction. Tenth edition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Buckingham, D. (2003). Media Education: Literacy, Learning and Contemporary Culture. London: Cambridge: Polity Press.

Buckingham, D. (2007). Beyond Technology: Children´s Learning in the Age of Digital Culture. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Buckingham, D. & Willett, R. (Eds.) (2013). Digital Generations: Children, Young People, and New Media. New York: Routledge.

Butler, J. (1988). Performative acts and gender constitution: An essay in phenomenology and feminist theory. Theatre Journal, 40(4), 519-531.

Butler, J. (1990). Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. London and New York: Routledge.

Collins, P. H. (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge.

Davies, B. (2003). Frogs, Snails and Feminist Tales: Preschool Children and Gender. Second edition. New York: Hampton Press.

De Lauretis, T. (1987). Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film and Fiction. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Diekman, A. B. & Murnen, S. K. (2004). Learning to be little women and little men: The inequitable gender equality of non-sexist children's literature. Sex Roles, 50(5- 6), 373-385.

DuCille, A. (1996). Skin Trade. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Du Gay, P. (Ed.) (1997). Production of Culture/Cultures of Production. London: SAGE/The Open University.

Dyer, R. (2000). The Matter of Images: Essays on Representation. London: Routledge.

Foucault, M. (1969/1972). The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Routledge.

Gee, J. P. & Hayes, E. R. (2011). Language and Learning in the Digital Age. New York: Routledge.

Global License (2014). Retrieved February 27, 2015, from keys=Mike%20the%20knight.

Grauerholz, L. & Pescosolido, B. A. (1989). Gender representation in children's literature: 1900-1984. Gender and Society, 3(1), 113-125.

Götz, M., Hofmann, O., Brosius, B. et al. (2008). Gender in children's television worldwide. Results from a media analysis in 24 countries. Televizion 21/2008/E, 4-9.

Hall, S. (Ed.) (1997). Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: SAGE/The Open University.

Hamilton, M. C., Anderson, D., Broaddus, M. et al. (2006). Gender stereotyping and under-representation of female characters in 200 popular children’s picture books: A twenty-first century update. Sex Roles, 55(11-12), 757-765.

Hodge, R. & Kress, G. (1988). Social Semiotics. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: NYU Press.

Jewitt, C. (ed.) (2011). The Routledge Handbook of Multimodal Analysis. London: Routledge.

Jones, A. (1992). Feminism, incorporated: Reading ‘postfeminism’ in an anti-feminist age. Afterimage, 20(5), 10-15.

Jones, A. (Ed.) (2006). The Feminist and Visual Culture Reader. New York: Routledge.

Koller, V. (2008). 'Not just a colour': Pink as a gender and sexuality marker in visual communication. Visual Communication, 7(4), 395-423.

Kress, G. (1993). Against arbitrariness: The social production of the sign as a foundational issue in critical discourse analysis. Discourse & Society, 4(2), 169-191.

Kress, G. (1997). Before Writing: Rethinking the Paths to Literacy. London: Routledge.

Kress, G. (2003). Literacy in the New Media Age. London: Routledge.

Kress, G. (2010). Multimodality: A Social Semiotic Approach to Contemporary Communication. London: Routledge.

Kress, G. & van Leeuwen, T. (2001). Multimodal Discourse. The Modes and Media of Contemporary Communication. London: Arnold.

Kress, G. & van Leeuwen, T. (2002). Colour as a semiotic mode: Notes for a grammar of colour. Visual Communication, 1(3), 343-368.

Kress, G. & van Leeuwen, T. (2006). Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. Second edition. London & New York: Routledge.

Lemke, J. (2004). Critical analysis across media: Games, franchises and the new cultural order. Paper presented at the First International Conference on CDA, Valencia, Spain. Retrieved March 14, 2014, from

Lemke, J. (2009). Multimodal genres and transmedia traversals: Social semiotics and the political economy of the sign. Semiotica, 173(1/4), 283–297.

Marsh, J., Brooks, G., Hughes, J. et al. (2005). Digital beginnings: Young children´s use of popular culture, media and new technology. Report of the 'Young children´s use of popular culture, media and new Technology' project. Literacy Research Centre, University of Sheffield.

Mike the Knight. Official website. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from

Mike the Knight Storybook Treasury (2014). Digital app for iPhone and iPad. London & New York: HiT Entertainment.

Nichols, B. (2010). Introduction to Documentary. Second edition. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Rogoff, I. (2002). Studying visual culture. In N. Mirzoeff (Ed.). The Visual Culture Reader (pp. 24-36). Second edition. London and New York: Routledge.

Selander, S., Insulander, E. & Lindstrand, F. (2014). Thematic and emblematic features of the Middle Ages: Theoretical tools for analysing multimodal texts. Paper presented at the 7th International Conference on Multimodality, 7ICOM, Hong Kong, June 11-13, 2014.

Selander, S. (2008). Designs for learning - A theoretical perspective. Designs for Learning, 1 (1), 10-22.

Selander, S. (2015). Conceptualization of multimodal and distributed designs for learning. In Gros, B., Kinshuk. & Maina, M. (Eds.) The Futures of Ubiquitous Learning:Learning Designs for Emerging Pedagogies, Heidelberg, New York, Dordrecht & London: Springer, 97-113.

Smith, S. L., Choueiti, M., Prescott, A. et al. (2013). Gender roles and occupations - A ook at character attributes and job-related aspirations in film and television. Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media. Retrieved December 20, 2014, from

Soila, T. (2008). Berättelse [Narrative]. In A. Koivunen (Ed.). Film och andra rörliga bilder - en introduktion [Film and Other Moving Images - An Introduction]. Stockholm: Raster Förlag, 105-126.

Statistics Sweden (2014). Online resource, retrieved April 1, 2014, from

Sturken, M. & Cartwright, L. (2009). Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tepper, C. W. & Cassidy, K. W. (1999). Gender differences in emotional expression in children's literature. Sex Roles, 40(3-4), 265-280.

van Leeuwen, T. (2010). The Language of Colour. An Introduction. London: Routledge.

van Leeuwen, T. (2005). Introducing Social Semiotics. London: SAGE.




How to Cite

Lindstrand, F., Insulander, E., & Selander, S. (2016). Multimodal representations of gender in young children’s popular culture. MedieKultur: Journal of Media and Communication Research, 32(61).



Articles: Theme section