Barton, “Interpreting the Discourses of Technology”

Ellen L. "Interpreting the Discourses of Technology." Literacy
and Computers: The Complications of Teaching and Learning with Technology
Cynthia Selfe and Susan Hiligoss, eds. Research and Scholarship in Composition
Ser. New York: MLA, 1994. 56-75.

Barton is chiefly concerned with two discourses of technology: the first,
enthusiastic, euphoric, celebratory, and triumphalist, tends to correspond to
teaching (look what we can do!); the other, an antidominant discourse of
technology, corresponds to a "skeptical interpretation" most often
theorized and politicized. 

Dominant: "the substance is based on an unquestioned assumption that
progress in technology brings a variety of benefits to individuals and
society" (57).  Assumptions that go along with this are that technology is
here to stay and that the benefits are for everyone.  This stance or
discourse also contends that the educational system must prepare technology
users (58).
Antidominant:  "exists as a minority voice, critiquing the assumption that
technology always brings progress and pointing out some of its less desirable
consequences" (60). Baron attributes this stance–reading it through Rorty and
Pratt–to the "cultural Left." 

"Critics of the cultural Left, in contrast [to cultural literacy
orientations], present an antidominant discourse, arguing that the integration
of technology most often functions to maintain existing lines of power and
authority" (65).  This connects with the problem of literacy as either a.)
an indoctrination to status quo (which does little to destabilize power
structures) or b.) a critical project motivated by making explicit
inequities perpetuated (often unwittingly) by the dominant discourse of

"Slatin’s article ["Reading Hypertext"] reflects a common theme in the
dominant discourse of technology, that of the creation of new and potentially
significant products, products that may, in this case, assist theorists in
understanding the associative process of reading and help teachers in developing
mature student readers and writers" (67).

"In sum, even this brief review of the literature shows a clear association
between pedagogical research describing the use of computers in the teaching of
writing and the dominant discourse, which assumes the advantages of technology
in education" (69). Here, Barton leads up to the conclusion that much of the
scholarship in Computers and Writing enfolds the antidominant discourse into the
dominant discourse, blending (perhaps infelicitously) the two forces with the
edge going to enthusiasts–or those who, at the very least, grant that
techonology literacy is good.

"As I argued earlier, much of the research in computers and writing that
adopts the antidominant discourse actually merges into the dominant discourse in
its explicit or implicit focus on pedagogical goals. But research in computers
and writing more closely reflects the key ideas of the antidominant discourse
when it exposes the unequal distribution of resources across groups using
technology in literacy education" (74). This is a succinct statement of the
both-and bind facing C&W researchers in 1994.  What followed?  Is
technology still reducible to dominant and antidominant discourses? Is this more
than a killer dichotomy (the antidominant skepticism putting the brakes
on productive uses of technology, for better or worse)? 

Related sources
Lanham, Richard. "The Extraordinary Convergence: Democracy, Technology,
Theory, and the University Curriculum." Gless and Smith 27-50.
Slatin, John M. "Reading Hypertext: Order and Coherence in a New Medium."
College English 52 (1990): 870-83.
Rorty, Richard. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton:
Princeton UP, 1979.