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The ubiquity of multimodality in hypermedia environments is undeniable. Bezemer and Kress (2008) have argued that writing has been displaced by image as the central mode for representation. Given the current affordances of digital technology and user-friendly interfaces that facilitate multimodal design, the conspicuous absence of images in certain domains of cyberspace is deserving of critical analysis. In this presentation, I examine the politics of discourses implicit within hypertextual spaces, drawing textual examples from a higher education website. I critically examine the role of writing and other modes of production used in what Fairclough (1993) refers to as discourses of marketisation in higher education, tracing four pervasive discourses of teaching and learning in the current economy: i) materialization, ii) personalization, iii) technologisation, and iv) commodification (Fairclough, 1999). Each of these arguments is supported by the critical analysis of multimodal texts. The first is a podcast highlighting the new architectonic features of a university learning space. The second is a podcast and transcript of a university Open Day interview with prospective students. The third is a time-lapse video showing the construction of a new science and engineering precinct. These three multimodal texts are contrasted with a final web-based text that exhibits a predominance of writing and the powerful absence or silencing of the image. I contend that the weightiness of words, the function of monomodality in the commodification of discourses, and their resistance to the multimodal affordances of web-based technologies, are used to establish particular sets of subject positions and ideologies readers are constrained to occupy. Applying principles of critical language study by theorists that include Fairclough, Kress, Lemke, and others whose semiotic analysis of texts focuses on the connections between language, power, and ideology, I demonstrate how the denial of images and the privileging of written words in the multimodality of cyberspace has the ideological effect of accentuating the dominance of the institution.


Institute for Learning Sciences and Teacher Education

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Conference Paper

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