Visible and Hidden Transcripts: Word Domination and Paths to Resistance




Claire's story

Clippie and friends

Word dominance

The public transcript

Transcript traces

Ideology saturation

Through thick and thin

Paths of resistance

Assignment Possibilities





Word's pervasive presence instantiates Marcuse's work to describe how technology itself operates. Writing in 1941, Marcuse avoided the problematic waters of determinism, instead explaining technology “ thus at the same time a mode of organizing and perpetuating (or changing) social relationships, a manifestation of prevalent thought and behavior patterns, an instrument for control and domination” (p. 41). 

Certainly, technology’s ability to organize and perpetuate is not necessarily changed by simple recognition of how and why it can be used to dominate.  Still, naming the world around us, as Freire explains, is the first step towards critical consciousness. Citing Marcuse, Giroux argues : 

When the rationality that drives technology is instrumentalized and transformed into standardized efficiency,…liberty is confined to the selection of the most adequate means for reaching a goal which [the individual] did not set (p. 179).

In other words, what Word tells us we desire is more powerful as an invisible force. Thus, Word's emphasis on "standardized efficiency" constricts because Word’s goals have been an invisible force.  Although the interfaces of composition and technology continue to attract researchers’ attention, word processing itself has not.  Its study feels mundane. Moreover, students can turn off defaults when so instructed. Open source word processors provide instructors, who have technological knowledge and access, with more choices. But the consequences of Word's dominant ideology must be named and interrogated in order for students and instructors to understand the import of these choices.

According to Scott, dominated groups experience two types of false consciousness. They may believe in the worldview of the dominant elite (the thick theory of false consciousness) or they may believe that there are no other choices. In Scott's thin theory of false consciousness: ”...the dominant ideology achieves compliance by convincing subordinate groups that the social order in which they live is natural and inevitable” (p. 72).

This notion characterizes the naturalized Word world order. It promotes the following beliefs:

  • The goals of the market are our culture’s goals – interrogating them and the uses to which they insist we put technology is useless. 
  • Microsoft Word is the best word processor to use because it’s the most common one in the business world. 
  • The available clip art, the kind of grammar, the language choices are based on what’s best for the business world and, therefore, they are the best in the composition class.

However, students invited to define, historicize, contextualize, and contradict these claims have an opportunity to function as active, engaged citizens – to step beyond the thin theory of false consciousness.  It is important, however, to further complicate the notion of false consciousness.

The thick and thin theories of false consciousness connote a problematic binary in which oppressors dominate and the oppressed serve. Evidence to the contrary exists everywhere -- definable as soon as it is named.