Identifications through multimodal design: An analysis of the mediated performance of Christian lifestyle sports in online video

Saija Peuronen
University of Jyväskylä


Producing videos and posting them online are important activities for many young people who engage in lifestyle sports, such as snowboarding and skateboarding (see e.g. Jones 2011). As part of a sociolinguistic and ethnographic research project that investigates linguistic, semiotic and discursive practices by the members of Christian snowboarders in Finland, this paper focuses on online videos produced by the participants in this particular youth community. I analyze how the multimodal design of the videos contributes to the construction of various identifications with both religion and lifestyle sports. Specifically, the analysis illustrates how the Christian snowboarders’ online videos function as mediated and mediatized performances. By making use of multimodal resources (such as music, image, gesture as well as aspects of framing and shot), the community members are able to construct specific narratives of their Christian journey. Furthermore, the videos serve to achieve the goals of their community: the video-making practices enable the Christian boarders to emphasize their sense of a shared community, invite other people interested in (snow)boarding to participate in their activities, and spread the Gospel to outsiders of the community. In this way, digital media can be strategically used and adapted for identificational and communicative purposes in youth communities.

1. Introduction

This paper will explore identifications constructed within a youth cultural and religious community of Christian (snow)boarders in Finland. The analysis will focus on amateur online videos produced by members of the community and in particular, the multimodal means provided by contemporary digital technologies for creating a mediated and mediatized performance. Thus, this study draws primarily on the theoretical frameworks provided by the sociolinguistics of performance (Bauman & Briggs 1990, Bauman 2000, 2011, Bell & Gibson 2011) and the social semiotic approach to multimodality (Kress 2010, Jewitt 2009). Since the construction of meaning in new media environments is characteristically multimodal, it is worth paying attention to the ways in which semiotic resources, in addition to language, are employed in online contexts. For instance, various modes, such as (moving) image, gesture, appearance and sound, are essential for the multimodal design of online videos.

According to Kress (2010: 23), by engaging in design, social actors participate in social and communicational contexts in a way that allows them to project their interests onto, and thus make an impact on, their socio-cultural environments. In the semiotic entity of an online video, social actors are able to introduce and conjoin specific discourses of relevance for them, and thus build identifications across cultures, lifestyles, ideologies and communities (see also Jousmäki on the websites of Christian metal bands, this volume). Hence, besides the multimodal products, it is equally important to observe social actors who engage in multi-semiotic online activities as part of their daily lives. For instance, the designing of online videos may function as a means of active cultural participation and contribute to building self-identifications and a sense of commonality and connectedness (see Brubaker & Cooper 2000: 18–20).

The group of young Finnish Christians who relate to each other by sharing an interest in different boarding activities, such as longboarding and snowboarding, form a specific community of practice (CoP) (Wenger 1998, Eckert & McConnell-Ginet 1992: 464; Holmes & Meyerhoff 1999: 175–177). The members of the community have a joint enterprise of functioning as Christians in the field of lifestyle sports: as an official member of the Finnish Snowboard Association (FSA) the community organizes events and camps both in Finland and abroad throughout the year, thus engaging together in boarding, Bible study and prayer. They also have certain repertoires of shared linguistic, semiotic and discursive resources at their disposal, which they employ in both in offline and online contexts (Peuronen 2011: 160; Peuronen 2013: 300).

The community has a core group of active members (c. 10–15 people) who take the lead in organizing e.g. the camps, making the practical arrangements and circulating information on their upcoming events. In a typical snowboarding or extreme sports camp in Finland there are around 50 participants, both teenagers and young adults (aged broadly 13–35 years). The organization does not aim to make a profit and they therefore aspire to offer their sports activities at prices young people can afford so that as many people as possible can participate. Usually, there are participants from different parts of Finland and from abroad (the Finnish community forms a network with other similar Christian snowboarding communities in the Nordic Countries, Europe and the US). Creating and maintaining contacts through new media is therefore characteristic of the community (see e.g. Bergs 2006: 10–11 on the comparison of communities’ offline and online communication). Online contexts also provide suitable environments and tools for reifying the Christian snowboarders’ participation in their community’s practices (Leppänen et al. 2014: 118–119, Stommel 2008: 15). They actively employ different textual, visual and multimodal resources in their online activities: for instance, the videos they make can be linked to the community’s Facebook page when they advertise upcoming events. In this paper, to illustrate the processes of individual and communal identification with religion and lifestyle sports, I will focus on one individual who, as a member of the group, designs and produces online videos featuring the activities of e.g. longboarding and snowboarding. This individual boarder is one of the key figures in the community with regard to filming sports, producing videos and posting them online.

As regards young people’s social media practices in general, online video provides a fascinating object of study since, in addition to the purposes outlined above, it functions as an important means for self-staging and self-stylization (Peters & Seier 2009: 188). Furthermore, as will be illustrated in this paper, online video may bridge the gap between “everyday” and “staged performance” (Bell & Gibson 2011: 557) and is therefore an illustrative example of the converging popular and participatory media cultures of today (Burgess & Green 2009: 13).

2. Design and performance: The construction of identifications in online videos

In this section, I will discuss how to approach the strategic and reflexive employment of modes through which these Christian snowboarders’ online videos are designed and produced. Online video is both a focal cultural tool and a shared practice in the community of snowboarders, one through which they can relate to specific socio-cultural contexts and communicate their message to others. Designing online videos is thus a specific way for the community members to create “points of focus around which the negotiation of meanings becomes organized” (Wenger 1998: 58).

Furthermore, by focusing on design, it is possible to understand the skilful “control and deployment of communicative resources” that enables the social actors to engage in performance, which in turn can be seen as an important site for constructing identifications (Coupland 2003: 426). In the following, I will discuss the theoretical orientations of this study in more detail.

2.1 Designing semiotic entities

In order for the Christian snowboarders to represent their ideas and actions from a specific perspective, they can create semiotic entities, such as online videos, by deciding to use a particular mode or modes for communicating meanings. According to Kress (2010: 65), an individual’s interest guides the way in which a particular object or phenomenon is represented while at the same time revealing his or her position in the world. In this way, the snowboarders are able to produce a material realization of meaning (Iedema 2003: 40) which is here examined through the concept of design. Kress (2010: 132) defines the concept as follows: “Design is the process of translating the rhetor’s politically oriented assessment of the environment of communication into semiotically shaped material”.

Selecting a specific mode for communicating meaning also produces certain affordances and limitations (Burn & Parker 2003: 7). That is, social actors need to be familiar with the semiotic potential of modes, the social environments in which the modes may be used and also the affordances provided by the use of specific media to convey their message (Kress 2010: 137; Jones & Norris 2005: 5). For instance, through the medium of online video, the Christian snowboarders can get an audience for their performances, share their experiences with others, and promote their ideas and values. Indeed, in reference to the growing popularity of skateboarding and snowboarding, Jones (2011: 594) points out that these alternative sports are “culturally and structurally aligned to the postmodern mediascapes of today’s youth”. In other words, skateboarders actively engage in using digital technologies (digital cameras, video recorders and computers) as part of their sports activities. Stauff (2009: 247–248) observes that certain subcultural sports might benefit from the dynamics of video-sharing platforms, such as YouTube, since the practitioners of a certain sport could then easily share and compare their performances online.

The social semiotic approach to multimodality is useful for studying the various identifications the snowboarders convey through online video since it pays attention to social actors and the strategic choices that they make in reference to the semiotic resources available in their social and cultural environments. Indeed, within the social semiotic approach, “[t]he emphasis is on the sign-maker and their situated use of modal resources” (Jewitt 2009: 30). Signs and modes are therefore seen as open systems, continuously being remade in specific social contexts. To interpret the process of sign-making, it is necessary to make “detailed observational accounts” of the use of different modes (Jewitt 2009: 30). Since all modes have specific affordances for meaning-making, a semiotic entity can be arranged in a sequence in which the information that each mode carries is gradually unfolded (Kress 2010: 162). For example, in a short video, modes are strategically foregrounded through the process of design to fulfil the organizational function of the video, and in this way the message of the multimodal communication is intensified (Burn & Parker 2003: 6).

To be able to analyze the unfolding of meanings in the semiotic entity of an online video, I will draw on and apply the phasal analysis of Baldry and Thibault (2006). They emphasize that a film is not only “a sequence of alternating shots” but there are also “alternating turns between different voices” which may express different social positionings (Baldry & Thibault 2006: 184, also p. 211). Thus, the framework provides a practical analytical tool for unraveling the multimodal and filmic design of the videos and consequently, a tool for analyzing the acts of identification created at each phase of the Christian boarders’ online performances.

Finally, I will consider online video, including the multimodal performances of cultural activities, as an essential cultural tool through which social action is mediated in the community of Christian boarders. A cultural tool is a theoretical concept used in mediated discourse analysis to depict semiotic means which mediate between agents and their social worlds (Norris 2012, Norris & Jones 2005, Scollon 2001). The concept is useful because of its social relevance and multifunctional nature: a specific cultural tool may be embedded in the practices of a community and social actors can shape the use of cultural tools through creative engagement with them. Norris (2012: 115) observes that new media technologies are “[t]he most widely recognized cultural tools”. In skateboarding and snowboarding communities in general, the role of online video and the process of designing videos can be significant in terms of constructing identifications and belonging. Jones (2011: 593) describes how skateboarders may have a variety of functions in mind when filming and producing videos: they use video to “analyze tricks and techniques, to document the stages of their learning and socialization into the group, to set community standards” and “to build a sense of belonging with their ‘crews’”. These functions, among others, can serve as the basis for constructing a performance by the medium of online video.

2.2 Mediating performance

Designing online videos is a highly reflexive, even virtuosic activity. In order to address this reflexivity both during the process and in the product of the design, I will study the situated online events in the videos as performances through which specific identifications are expressed. As a theoretical concept in linguistic anthropology, performance has traditionally been applied to poetics and other creative ways of speaking or writing. Nevertheless, by way of putting specific expressive elements on display, amateur online videos can be seen as particular kinds of mediated performances (Bauman 2011: 717; Bauman & Briggs 1990: 73). Therefore, the concept of performance is well-suited also for the analysis of mediated action.

Bell and Gibson (2011: 557–558) distinguish between everyday performance and staged performance. According to their definition, media products are staged performances: they include planning and programming, they occur in a clearly delimited physical space and the form of the performance is likely to be evaluated by an audience. The design of the performance is therefore important. Despite being new media products and thus falling into the category of staged performances, amateur online videos also share characteristics with everyday performance. For example, although the social actors are performing in front of a camera, their performances might not be planned, scheduled or pre-announced. Indeed, with reference to language use, Bell and Gibson (2011: 559) point out that in mediatized societies today, performed and everyday language may have a very dynamic, circulating relationship. For example, Leppänen et al. (2014) show how individuals and groups in social media engage in processes of entextualizing and resemiotizing linguistic and semiotic material from one medium or context to another, and sometimes also attract their audiences to reflect the meanings produced by these circulations.

Performance in online videos is mediated by social actors, their appearance and embodied actions, the material objects that they use, the set and the individuals’ relations to other people in the shared socio-cultural space. At the same time, performance is also mediatized through technological aspects of design, such as the editing of the film footage, the choice of soundtrack, the display of different camera angles, and the embedding of narrative elements. Because of these strategic choices, the process is reflexive from beginning to end: it includes acquiring suitable camera equipment (especially suited for filming sports), the actual filming, the editing and finally, posting the completed products online.

The acts of making a video and posting it online may serve specific identificational purposes, and therefore I will here outline how the term identification can be understood and defined. In specifying the term, I follow Brubaker and Cooper (2000: 14), who describe identification as an active process by “the agents who do the identifying”. Moreover, contrary to static definitions of identity, identification is seen as inherently connected to the situational and dynamic contexts of our contemporary social life (Coupland 2003: 427). In this paper, this processual perspective to identification complements and intertwines with the social semiotic view of multimodality and design, which focuses on the social processes of sign-making. In particular, identification is a fruitful analytical concept as it enables examination of the diversity of ways in which social actors construct positions, define memberships and represent activities in specific socio-cultural contexts. Throughout the making of an online video, the Christian boarders are in a creative and dynamic interaction with their social environment. Creativeness in performance is illustrated especially “when social actors exhibit a particular attention to and skills in the delivery of a message” (Duranti 1997: 16). For instance, snowboarders may communicate identificational meanings with their bodies through speech, gestures, movement or their appearance (cf. Burn & Parker 2003: 4). Furthermore, different written, filmic or musical elements incorporated in the design of a video may reveal something of the social actors’ taste and affiliations.

Brubaker and Cooper (2000: 15) make an important distinction between relational and categorical identification: one’s position may be defined in terms of a web of different types of kinship and relations, or one may identify oneself through membership in a group “sharing some categorical attribute”. As regards relational identifications, the Christian snowboarders’ videos may be analyzed in terms of their different audiences and functions. A video may be aimed at people sharing an interest in boarding activities and being affiliated with the specific lifestyle cultures, whether they are Christians or not. Additionally, a video may convey meanings about the Christian message to non-believers, or consolidate ideological togetherness between members of the snowboarding community. Either way, the videos reveal the affiliative intentions of their producers, and so relational identifications position the Christian snowboarders vis-à-vis their fellow community members or others whom they wish to invite to join their group. With respect to categorical identification, the snowboarders may construct meanings of belonging to a specific category, e.g. by the activities that are represented in their mediated performances. As a whole, identification presents an intriguing focus for a study on multimodal, new media-related meaning-making practices, especially in terms of understanding how young people in a late-modern society seek to represent themselves and make an impact on their social environment through participation in activities of youth culture and religion.

3. Data and methods

As data, I will use short videos that members of a community of Christian (snow)boarders in Finland have produced by filming their snowboarding and other boarding activities and editing the video footage. Finally, they have posted the finished products online. I have collected a corpus of 26 online videos produced in 2011-2014. Typically, these videos are documentary narratives of the snowboarders’ trips abroad or to camps in Finland and they include the use of a range of different modes. Videos by individual community members are also included in the corpus: these videos mostly document the individual’s travels on roads or slopes. For a detailed analysis, I have chosen two representative videos, which feature the boarding activities of an individual longboarder and of a group of snowboarders. [1] In addition to the primary video corpus, I have collected a few videos produced by a separate group of Christian skateboarders in Finland. In these videos, the skateboarders mainly demonstrate their mastery of different skateboarding techniques.

In terms of the online video material analyzed in this paper, I have worked closely with the producer of the videos, and thus engaged in a dialogical research project in which ethnographic interlocutors can act as partners and make a significant contribution to the issues addressed in the project (Bauman & Briggs 1990: 66). I have been able to follow the making of the videos, and during the process the video producer has explained to me every step of what is going on. He has also explicated his views in interviews and informal conversations on the purposes of filming sports and other activities of the community.

4. Analysis

In this section, I will analyze two online videos produced by one Christian boarder. I will examine the co-occurrence and arrangement of different modes, such as music, spoken and written language, movement, gesture, set, appearance, shot and framing (see the modes in mediated performances outlined by Bell & Gibson 2011: 566–567; Burn & Parker 2003: 19–23) and consider how the meanings thus produced contribute to the construction of individual and communal identifications within this community of Christian snowboarders.

4.1 Example 1: “Jesus, I roll with Thee” – Individual identifications

The first semiotic event is illustrated in a video posted on both Vimeo and YouTube. [2] As indicated by the title (“First day with my new ContourHD 1080p”), the overall purpose of the video is to illustrate and document the testing of a new camera while longboarding. The total length of the video is 1 minute 47 seconds. The film starts with the opening credits: the producer’s artist name, the title of the film, the name of the song used for the soundtrack and the date of production (phase 1 in Figure 1). Thus, written language serves an introductory function in the video. After the opening credits, the film features different camera angles, which are used to record the longboarding. The video consists of one continuous shot: the longboarder is holding the camera in his hand and varying his positions on the board. In this way, the varying camera angles serve the purpose of testing the camera. In addition to the moving image of riding a board, there is electro music that is used as a soundtrack. Other socio-cultural meanings are further expressed by gestural, visual and linguistic means.

In the following illustration (Figure 1), the use of different semiotic resources has been described in different phases in the short film (see Baldry & Thibault 2006: 54). I have divided this particular film into 11 different analytical units, i.e. phases which “make use of a distinctive copatterning of meaning options in order to create the meanings of that phase” (Baldry & Thibault 2006: 50). Figure 1 gives an overview of the phases, their duration, examples of the visual framing in each phase, and a textual description of the actions and semiotic signs featured in the video. A description of the soundtrack is also included in the figure.

Phase Duration Visual Frame
(framing and shot)
Textual description of a phase:
movement, gesture, semiotic signs
1 00:00–00:08 Opening credits. A cut from a song (the song is not specified in the video, music style: drum and bass)
2 00:08–00:18 The video shows the bike/pedestrian lane along which the longboarder is riding. A cut from another song (‘Double Happiness’)

Bass and drums are played on the synthesizer.
3 00:18–00:23 As he rides, the longboarder turns the camera to his feet, his body and face. He smiles. Clothes and safety equipment (knee pads and a helmet) are visible. The song continues (uncut until the end of the video)

Bass and drums.
4 00:23–00:36 He turns the camera back to the road and rides from the pedestrian lane to the center of the road. Piano is added to the bass and drums.
5 00:36–00:40 He films his feet on the board while he zigzags the white road markings. Steady rhythm continues.
6 00:40–00:46 He turns the camera back to the horizon. Steady rhythm continues.

Piano sounds become intensified.
7 00:46–00:55 He bends down to shoot footage from the wheel level. Steady rhythm continues.

Piano sounds still foregrounded.
8 00:55–01:14 He stands up and after a while, the road turns right. Drums become more prominent.

Addition of another sound on the synthesizer.
9 01:14–01:26 After the bend he bends down again and directs the camera to his front foot and the nose of the board. The soundtrack continues as before.

Toward the end, high piano notes are heard.
10 01:26–01:33 He stands up and starts to slow down, and finally, he jumps off the board. The piano becomes more prominent as other sounds gradually diminish.
11 01:33–01:47 He turns the camera to face the board, and lifts its nose. He films the underside of his deck which has an image of Christ standing on a skateboard and the phrase
“Jesus, I roll with Thee” printed on it.
Toward the end, sporadic sounds of piano, bass, and drums.

Figure 1. Phases in the video.

The different phases outlined in Figure 1 can be distinguished by observing the transition points between them. In this video the transitions are realized by changing the camera angles during the one continuous shot of which the film is composed. The changing camera angles also coincide with changes in the longboarder’s movements. Thus, in this particular film, the design of the modes is used to construct a performance from the social actor’s subjective point of view: the film features his longboarding while he also acts as the cameraman and the editor of the video. In terms of constructing the performance, the most significant modes in this video are framing, shot, movement, image and written language. Additionally, other modes that support the meanings conveyed in the video include music, set, gesture and appearance. With the help of the table above (Figure 1), the co-occurrence of different modes within the phases can be examined.

The longboarder uses so-called “mobile framing” (the camera movement) and a “subjective shot” (first-person camera) (Bordwell & Thompson 1997: 243, 267) as he rides along the road with the camera attached to his hand. Movement is conveyed by providing changing camera angles within the shot and while longboarding. For the most part, the camera films the road, but at times the camera lens focuses on the board and the longboarder’s feet. In phase 3, the longboarder turns the camera from his feet to his face, thus showing the person behind the camera. He gives a wide smile and turns the camera back to the road. Capturing the moving image from a subjective point of view allows the viewer to get an idea of the speed and movement of the boarder. For instance, by paying attention to the passing scenery, one is able to see how the boarder slows down and jumps off the board (in phase 10). In the final phase, he lifts up the nose of the board and carefully films the image of Christ standing on a skateboard and the text “Jesus, I roll with Thee” printed on the underside of the board.

The transition point between phases 10 and 11 (the moment when the longboarder turns to show what is printed on the bottom of his board) establishes a dramatic moment within the film: the image and the text printed on the board together illustrate a material realization of a meaning (Iedema 2003: 42). Hence, the longboarder’s story is dramatized by revealing the semiotic signs on his board. The archaic use of language (‘Thee’) and the icon-like image of Christ which are here being recontextualized (see e.g. Silverstein & Urban 1996: 2) and combined with the late-modern activity culture of longboarding, contribute to the longboarder’s individual identifications with religion and youth culture. By including specific religious signs in the video in a culturally appropriate way, he represents himself as an ideologically conscious young person who is also a legitimate participant in the activities of longboarding. His action shows how semiotic objects may sometimes become the material representations of specific discourses with which social actors wish to associate themselves. How this operates is explained for example by Kress (2010: 113):

“Semiotic objects, whether as buildings, written texts, stories casually told, films, gardens and their layout, video games, the layouts and contents of museums and supermarkets are the material sites for the conjoining of discourses and their emergence in material and naturalized form.”

In this particular case, the discourse thus encountered is Christianity: capturing the Christian imagery and text on the board on the video help the longboarder to construct an “explicit discursive articulation” of himself as both an expert longboarder and a devoted Christian (Brubaker & Cooper 2000: 18). Moreover, since the board is used within a mediated performance, the act of turning the board in order to reveal its underside “opens up a reflexive space” (Bell & Gibson 2011: 562) in which the audience of the video are invited to observe the activities depicted in the video from a new and so far probably unexpected perspective. While constructing an affiliation with Christianity, the longboarder at the same time identifies himself as a messenger of the Gospel within boarding sports. This is achieved by deliberately making use of the semiotic resources of Christianity which are placed on the material object of a longboard to convey to others a specific ideological viewpoint. The reflexivity of the act is further illustrated by the mediatized aspects of the design and framing. The camera moves to capture a close shot of the print, after which the camera lens zooms in on the board from top to bottom, focusing on the text under the image of Christ, and then zooms out to include the entire board in the picture. A heightened awareness of the multiple meanings and representations of self is being raised and in this way, through the strategic choices made in terms of the design of the video, the film captures some of the characteristics of a mediated staged performance. In the remainder of this section, I will discuss how the interplay of different modes supports individual identifications with longboarding as a form of cultural and religious practice.

In addition to the text printed on the longboard, written language features in the opening credits, the title and the description of the video. Written language is used to communicate the purpose of the film and the description gives technical details about the testing of the camera, the specific location, the placement of the camera and the technology used for editing the video. The language used in all these instances is English, which targets the video for a global audience of longboarders (especially those interested in filming sports). Indeed, in an interview, the video producer explained his use of Finnish and English and how these languages target different audiences. However, he also remarked that he does not usually use written language for narrating the story in a video but he lets “the visual speak for itself”. He thus recognizes the symbolic and identificational value of the visual in representing oneself in digital environments (Jones 2011: 602–603).

Furthermore, the set “provides a context within the performance” (Bell & Gibson 2011: 566). The discourse of Christianity constructed by the image and words on the board has been placed in context in this short film. The video was filmed in the Finnish countryside: the longboarder rides along a road which is mainly surrounded by dense green trees. There are power lines at one side of the road, lamp posts, traffic signs, some bus stops, the occasional house, and a construction site. The long empty road in the middle of the Finnish countryside is not meaningful only in the context of longboarding, but it can also be interpreted as a more metaphorical symbol of a “Christian journey”. This interpretation is possible when the road is examined as a semiotic sign together with the Christian message on the board. The ending of the video sets the film’s narrative in a new interpretive frame: the longboarder’s actions can be retroactively seen from a specific ideological context. Hänninen (2004: 80) discusses how snowboarders may recycle elements from specific value systems to recontextualize meanings into their own local situations, and in particular, how visuality in stylistic expression can serve for reflections of ideology. Therefore, studying signs in each mode and in combination with each other helps to build the interpretation of a mediated performance in its entirety. Additionally, the reading of a Christian journey is supported by interviews with members of the community. Many of them mention in interviews that boarding activities are also a spiritual experience for them. For instance, while snowboarding, they can pray, contemplate personal issues and spend time alone with God. At the same time, they may give praise to God for the possibilities of enjoying the nature He has created.

Music also constitutes an important element in the multimodal, mediated performance and has a significant role in contributing to the meanings constructed in the video. Specific songs have been chosen at the editing stage as the soundtrack of the film. In an interview, the video-maker specified that he usually searches for free music online. In this case, there are two musical pieces in the soundtrack: one song has been cut together with the opening credits of the film and another song, called “Double Happiness” by Byond, has been used to provide a musical landscape for the activity of longboarding. The song is an instrumental electro tune that provides a rhythm for the different parts and actions performed in the video. It creates a musical background for the story, with a gradually growing use of sounds and instruments as the longboarder’s journey goes on. Toward the end of the video, the use of instruments falls back to what it was in the initial stage, with only monotonous sounds from the bass, drums and piano played at long intervals on a synthesizer. In this way, the similar musical landscape at the beginning and at the end of the video provides a structure for the physical activity of longboarding: the music is minimal when the movement is starting up or slowing down, and the music intensifies as the movement increases. In terms of meaning-making practices, Baldry and Thibault (2006: 215) point out that the “multimodal integration of different sources of rhythm” should be interpreted as one meaningful unit. Indeed, by creating this rhythmic entity, the longboarder is able to emphasize the identifications he constructs by symbolically representing an individual’s journeys through life. The different ways of representation in the film, the passing forest scenery together with a varying but unbroken musical background, and finally the revealing of the semiotic signs on the board, contribute to his identification with Christian lifestyle sports. Furthermore, at the same time, the song entitled “Double happiness” conveys an idea of enjoyment with his youth cultural and religious lifestyle.

Finally, the appearance of the longboarder also affects the interpretation of the cultures associated with the mediated performance. In the video, the longboarder wears sneakers, loose jeans, a casual shirt, a fish necklace, and the appropriate safety equipment (knee pads and a helmet). The wearing of a necklace symbolizing a fish (a Christian symbol for Jesus) can be interpreted together with the message written under the board. Both these signs, the necklace and the message under the board,  together with the mobile framing and subjective shot of his longboarding that animate the first-person phrase “Jesus, I roll with Thee”, illustrate the longboarder’s self-identification with active Christianity.

In sum, the identifications that are being constructed and performed in this video include representing oneself as a skilled boarder and a participant in boarding culture. The video-maker displays knowledge, skills and expertise in longboarding, in the camera equipment needed for filming lifestyle sports, and in editing film footage into a finished product. He also represents himself as a Christian believer for whom boarding can be seen as a form of religious practice. Longboarding is a way for him to symbolically embark on a Christian journey in which Jesus accompanies him.

4.2 Example 2: “My best friends beside me” – Communal identifications

In addition to constructing identifications with Christianity and (long)boarding from an individual perspective, the members of the Christian snowboarders use online videos to represent the affiliations and activities of their entire community. These representations serve both to establish the snowboarders’ relationship with each other as members of a community of practice (Wenger 1998: 184) and to invite others to join their activities. The analysis of the following example, focusing on a video made during a snowboarding camp that the community held in Finland, illustrates the ways in which specific relational identifications are constructed. The snowboarders filmed the material while they were on the slope, and later the filmed footage was edited and the finished products were posted on their website. [3] The material was put together and edited by the same individual who produced the video analyzed in the first example.

The film features several snowboarders and their embodied actions on the slope. Mediated performance is constructed through their movement (individually or as a group), gestures, facial expressions, appearance and handling of objects. Other modes that are drawn on in order to create meanings include music (Finnish hip hop), speech and the set. Hence, we can identify many of the same elements in this video that were already seen in the video discussed in the first example. However, whereas in the first example the longboard served as a semiotic object by which the Christian discourse and ideology were introduced, in this video the song lyrics play an essential role in conjoining the discourses of Christianity and snowboarding. For instance, in specific shots the moving image is carefully synchronized with the lyrics of the song to create meaningful connections between the different modes, and ultimately, identifications with the shared values and interests of the group.

In this example, the purpose of the video is to document the activities of the snowboarders and capture their sense of a shared community. Hence, the motive for producing the video differs from that in the first example and the modes are therefore organized and used somewhat differently. For example, instead of written opening credits, there is a visual introduction of the snowboarders, with a long shot of them waiting for the ski lift. That is, both human figures and the surroundings are visible in the framing (Bordwell & Thompson 1997: 238). This framing gives an overall idea of the participants, the location and the activity. Following this, the camera focuses on four snowboarders, showing consecutive close shots of their faces. Their expressions are either playful or smiling. Additionally, at the beginning of the video, one of the snowboarders asks the others a question: “Mikä fiilis?” (‘How are you feeling?’) to which the others reply: “Hyvä” and “Paras” (‘Good’ and ‘The best’). Therefore, during the first 17 seconds of the video, multiple modes (varying aspects of framing, the social actors and their facial expressions, speech) are used to introduce the video. By introducing themselves, the snowboarders create performer roles for themselves and thus align themselves toward an audience.

Figure 2 presents the different phases in the video. Clear transition points occur between shots since the shots are usually filmed by different people with different framings and camera angles. Transitions from one phase to another also occur when there are changes in the song that is used as a soundtrack.

Phase Duration Visual Frame Textual description Soundtrack
1 00:00–00:07 A long shot of the snowboarders A snowboarder (the one who is filming) asks the others how they are
2 00:07–00:17 Close head shots from four snowboarders A rhythmic whistle (synced to the back-and-forth movement of the camera)

Intro of the song begins
3 00:17–00:32 Mobile framing: a snowboarder rides down the hill, there are two snowboarding obstacles on the way Intro of the song, including a couple of lines in English.
4 00:32–00:44 Mobile framing continues: the snowboarder rides down the hill Lyrical part of the song begins
5 00:44–00:55 Three snowboarders ride a specific snowboarding obstacle Lyrics continue
6 00:55–01:07 Mobile framing: a snowboarder films himself riding down the hill Lyrics continue
7 01:07–01:19 Camera turns to the person riding next to him Lyrics: “Mul on niin kivaa / parhaat kaverit vierellä” (I’m having a good time / my best friends beside me).
8 01:19–01:44 Mobile framing: a snowboarder films himself riding down the hill Bridge of the song, including a couple of lines in English.

Finnish lyrics continue.
9 01:44–01:54 Five snowboarders ride a particular jump on the hill one after another Lyrics continue
10 01:54–02:09 A snowboarder attaches a camera on his board Lyrics continue
11 02:09–02:18 Mobile framing: shot from the camera on the board when the snowboarder jumps a particular obstacle Lyrics end

Outro of the song begins.
12 02:18–02:32 A snowboarder leaning against the board while on a ski lift Outro of the song, including a couple of lines in English.

Figure 2. Phases in the video.

The video highlights the snowboarders’ connectedness (Brubaker & Cooper 2000: 20) through its design as a multimodal entity. The snowboarders have used different techniques for filming their embodied actions: they employ a subjective shot and mobile framing to film their own riding and other community members on the slope. In addition to mobile framing, where the camera is on the move, there are two occasions where the camera is not moving but it focuses on a specific snowboarding obstacle which the snowboarders ride one after another (phases 5 and 9). This framing also reinforces the sense of belonging to a group: the people in the video engage in the same activity, e.g. jumping a hill one after another. They have shared knowledge of how to engage with each other and use the resources of the community to participate in the communal activity (Wenger 1998: 152–153). By constructing this collective representation through moving image, the snowboarders perform and display their relational ties to each other.

Furthermore, music and the song lyrics consolidate the communal position constructed in the video. The song used as a soundtrack is a Finnish rap/hip hop song in which discourses of friendship, God, and leading a Christian life have been verbalized. The song is representative of its genre since it incorporates different sonic and verbal elements, including a few lines in English which have been mixed together with the Finnish lyrics (see Pennycook 2007: 88–89 on sampling as a cultural practice in hip hop). The song, again, provides a musical background and rhythm for the activities performed in the video. There is one instance in particular (the beginning of phase 7 at 01:07) where the co-occurring modes of song lyrics and moving image form a meaningful unit. In this sequence, one of the snowboarders turns the camera from himself to the person riding next to him at exactly the same time as the line “parhaat kaverit vierellä” (‘my best friends beside me’) is articulated in the song lyrics.

Song lyrics

“Mul on niin kivaa / parhaat kaverit vierellä / kulkee samaa tietä / tiedetään et Jumala ei itseään kiellä / vaan on uskollinen / tahtoo meidän parasta / ei tarvi olla arkana”

“I’m having a good time / my best friends beside me / on the same road with me / we know that God doesn’t deny himself / but He is faithful / He wants the best for us / we don’t have to be afraid”

As the mediated, embodied action of snowboarding side by side with one’s friends and the song lyrics about walking together on the same road are carefully synchronized, identification with both the community of snowboarders and the Christian way of life is merged in the design of the video. New meanings are attached to the lyrics in this particular context and thus again, by way of creating a mediated performance with multimodal resources, the ideas about the Christian journey are made meaningful in this snowboarding community. Whereas in the first example one’s personal relationship to Christ was foregrounded, in this case the importance of friends who will share the journey is emphasized.

Although online videos can have a significant function in building a sense of belonging with one’s ‘crew’ (Jones 2011: 593), it can also serve to welcome new people into the group. The choice of language indicates that the video is intended for local Finnish audiences. In addition to the snowboarders’ comments in Finnish at the beginning of the film and the Finnish song used as a soundtrack, Finnish is also used in the description attached to the video. In this way, the video is first and foremost used as a source for local communal identification and a way of reaching Finnish audiences.

Many of the characteristics of a staged performance are also observable when the snowboarders do tricks and jumps on the hill. Judging from many of the shots, the snowboarders construct their performance to entertain their audience (Bell & Gibson 2011: 557). The snowy hill and the snowboarding obstacles function as their stage, and the snowboarders either direct their gaze at the audience (via the camera lens) or the audience is guided to direct their gaze at the snowboarders (as they focus on specific tricks, jumps, or ways of snowboarding). Additionally, by showing the handling of the camera equipment in the video, the audience is being familiarized with the “making of” the film.

Thus, reaching out to other snowboarders gives a specific, missionary purpose to the community’s online videos. By using the cultural tool of online video to represent the group’s identifications with youth cultural practices of hanging out, having fun with friends, listening to rap music and engaging in snowboarding, the community is able to portray itself as welcoming anyone who shares these interests. Indeed, when I interviewed the video-maker and one other community member during the camp and asked questions about the reasons for making videos, they said the videos function as a way to present the community’s activities to other people and in this way, invite them to join their group. In the following extract from the interview, the two community members make their views clear.

Interview extract
A: The video maker, B: Another community member, S: The researcher
A: sitä on mukava saada sitte julkastavaks matskua ku tietää että sitä kautta on helppo esimerkiksi houkutella porukkaa mukaanit
is nice to get material published when you know that it’s an easy way to attract people to come along
S: niin joo hmm
right yeah hmm
B: et kattokaa meillä on näin kivaa
like see how much fun we have
S: niinpä
A: niin sit ku näkee et ne ei oikeesti oo kaikki niitä Lennart [...] jotka heittää mitä tahansa mistä tahansa
yeah and when you see that they aren’t all these Lennart [...] who ride whatever wherever
B: niin
S: niin justiin (.) niin et kaikki mitä laittaa niihin videoihin ei tarvi olla just niitä parhaita [temppuja, lautailijoita]
yes right (.) so everything you include in the videos does not have to be the best [tricks, boarders]
A: niin siellä on nimenomaan niinku kerätty leiriläisistä laajasta otosta
yeah we have purposefully collected material from as many participants as possible
S: joo
B: et siel voi olla niitä pro pro lautailijoita kans ja niinku hienoi hyppyjä ja isoi ilmoi mut sitte on kans just...
so that you can have the pro the pro riders also there and like great jumps and big airs but then you also have the...
A: just sitä pienempää
the smaller

According to these views, the two community members see producing and posting videos online as serving the community’s aim to invite new people to participate in their activities. They want to emphasize that one does not have to be especially skilled to be able to join their group. In this way, they construct the community as a group of people who are united by their shared interest in snowboarding but also by other communal activities, such as having fun and spending time together. These views correspond to the aspects accentuated by the mediated, staged performance in the online video analyzed above.

Together the different semiotic resources help to build an image of the individual snowboarders forming a group and illustrate the ways in which they perform their connectedness. This point is supported by their behavior when they gathered together to watch the edited videos in the snowboarding camp. Instead of evaluating specific techniques, they focused on the feeling conveyed by the video. For example, at the end of the film, many of them paid attention to the extremely relaxed manner in which one of the snowboarders had positioned himself (leaning against the board) while riding on the ski lift. They expressed their appreciation of the casual feeling the shot conveys and their willingness to learn this particular “trick” too. Overall, video, as a specific kind of communal practice, functions to enhance the participants’ lived experiences in and belonging to the community.

In sum, the identifications expressed in this short video are first and foremost relational, constructing a sense of groupness between the snowboarders. In addition to the actual ties between the members of the local community of Christian snowboarders, the mediated performance of their communal activities (boarding, having fun, spending time together) conveys an idea of a community in which others could also join. Thus, they build translocal identifications with the community of practice of (Christian) snowboarders more broadly. Finally, the snowboarders identify themselves as missionaries for whom boarding and the representation of the activities of their community is a way of spreading the Gospel.

5. Conclusion

In this article, I have examined identifications that Christian (snow)boarders in Finland construct through strategically employed semiotics in the online videos that they themselves make. Through a detailed analysis of the multimodal design of two online videos, I have attempted to show how multiple individual and communal identifications are constructed as part of the snowboarders’ mediated and mediatized performances. In terms of the categorical attributes and their relational ties (Brubaker & Cooper 2000: 15), the Christian snowboarders draw on various modal resources to depict themselves as individuals with a religious, Christian worldview and as legitimate members of longboarding and snowboarding communities both locally and globally. Moreover, in addition to focusing on the video-making practices within this specific community, this study also contributes to the ongoing discussion about including analyses of multimodality and mediation in the sociolinguistic studies of performance (Bell & Gibson 2011, Bauman 2011, see also Thurlow & Jaworski 2011).

As far as lifestyle sports are concerned, physicality, materiality and visuality are important means for meaning-making in e.g. skateboarding and snowboarding communities (Jones 2011: 594, Wheaton 2004: 7–9; Hänninen 2004: 75). Video therefore seems an obvious choice for constructing identifications in such communities. As regards the social history, structure and ideology of online video as a cultural tool, Jones (2011: 597) observes that in alternative sports, and especially in skateboarding, online video continues the “long tradition of self-publication”, which gives the participants themselves control of their sport. As illustrated in this paper, members of the community of Christian boarders in Finland have certain recurrent, typical ways of using different modes and representing themselves through online videos. Often they draw on established video-making conventions, but at the same time modify them to suit their own communicative and identificational purposes in their local contexts. For instance, in terms of music, the videos analyzed in this paper are similar to other videos in the skateboarding or snowboarding video genre, since music has been given an important role in creating a rhythm for the actions performed in the video narratives (see Jones 2011: 598–599). Especially in the second example, music functions as a locally meaningful resource for meaning-making in the snowboarders’ community of practice. By synchronizing music lyrics with the modal resources of framing and shot, the community members are able to convey meanings about a Christian journey, i.e. their shared religious worldview. The analysis of the first video showed that framing and shot synchronized with gesture and image communicates similar meanings. At the same time, the unfolding of meanings through the design of the videos also invites others to identify themselves with the Christian way of life. Thus, the religious meanings conveyed by the multimodal representations of particular personal points of view and the community members’ social relations give these lifestyle sports videos a special character.

Similarly, Jousmäki (this volume) points out how Christian metal bands draw on traditional metal imagery on their websites but modify specific symbols in order to create meanings suitable for their Christian values and potential missionary agendas. Hence, when carrying out a sociolinguistic study on language use and meaning-making practices in the local context of a community of practice, to gain a more rounded picture of the expressive resources available to community members, it is worth paying attention to multimodal aspects of communication. In this case in particular, an attention to multimodality allowed me to discover meanings associated with lifestyle sports as a form of religious and spiritual practice.

Furthermore, Bell and Gibson (2011: 565) point out that “[e]ach performance confirms or develops the genre, often both in the same performance”. In terms of being narratives of their Christian journey, the videos by the Christian boarders in Finland have similarities to online videos of Christian lifestyle sports in general. Thus, they represent a specific “field of computer-mediated discourse” (Androutsopoulos 2008: 5) in which Christian imagery and language (either spoken, written or sung) are used to construct both individual conviction and identifications with one’s ‘crew’. However, communities might have different emphases in terms of their communicative goals. The community studied in this paper puts considerable emphasis on constructing their communality while, by way of comparison, another Finnish Christian skateboarding group whose videos I have also examined aims to highlight more their expertise in skateboarding skills and style. Hence, for the Christian snowboarders in Finland, online video functions as a cultural tool not only for the mediation of action, but also for achieving their goals as a community of practice. More specifically, these goals include constructing their sense of a shared community, inviting other snowboarders or people interested in snowboarding to participate in their activities, and spreading the Gospel to outsiders of the community. It is, therefore, possible to identify the global missionary discourse which is being constructed in the videos. Spreading the Gospel is one of the social reasons for the activities of the community, and with the affordances provided by the video format and the community members’ competence in engaging in the process of design, semiotic objects and the cultural activities of the group can be drawn on to deliver the message.

Finally, since digital media are often an integral part of the cultures of skateboarding and snowboarding, and filming one’s activities is everyday reality for many participants in lifestyle sports, the distinction between everyday and mediated staged performances becomes obscure. This convergence of media cultures allows the participants to reflect on how they “see themselves as they are and as they might be” (Bauman 2011: 715). In their mediated and mediatized performances, the Christian boarders are able to draw on the knowledge of their shared socio-cultural contexts to relate to their possibly divergent audiences and to each other in their local communities, and ultimately, to illustrate their relationship to God through the multimodal design of online video.


[1] The data examples analyzed in this paper are based on a larger study of a community of Christians interested in lifestyle sports in Finland. Sociolinguistic, discourse analytic and ethnographic perspectives are combined in the analysis of the linguistic, semiotic and discursive practices in the community. As an ethnographic observer and participant, I have moved from studying the community’s online interactions to participating in offline encounters, and then moved back to examining their online environments. In addition to the examination of their video-making practices, the study encompasses the analyses of multilingual writing practices in one of the community’s web discussion boards (Peuronen 2011), participant observation, recordings and interviews in offline settings (in snowboarding camps in which I have engaged in the activities of the community together with the other participants) (Peuronen 2013). At each stage, I have contacted and informed key actors in the community about my research and the ways in which I treat the data. In terms of the videos analyzed in this paper, the individuals who are most visible and thus potentially recognizable in the two videos have given their permission to include the videos in this research article.

[2] The video is available at and

[3] The video is available at


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