Embracing “Situated Knowledges”: How to Do Feminist DH

Donna Haraway’s notion of situated knowledges as feminist objectivity seems to me a perfect defining concept for Digital Humanities as well as all academic fields. Twenty-seven years after the publication of her essay on situated knowledges, her observations, criticisms, and suggestions still hold weight. We still see “automated academic battlefields, where blips of light called players disintegrate (what a metaphor!) each other in order to stay in the knowledge and power game” (577). To illustrate this observation, I could point to Stephen Ramsay’s notion of DH as building, or the fact that many institutions don’t count non-paginated publications toward productivity, or the fact that scholars working in DH fields have been denied tenure. Clearly, we can see a policing of what “counts” as knowledge in our field. While I see the need for Haraway’s proposition in all disciplines, I think DH has more potential to make her plan a reality than some other fields might.

By some definitions, DH should be a community (here I point once again to Jean Bauer’s recent blogpost). Certainly, the fact that there is so much debate of the field and what it is and what counts as DH demonstrates its potential to be multifarious—at least, if the white, male, tenured professors would quit policing it. Haraway argues that, “Feminists have to insist on a better account of the world; it is not enough to show radical historical contingency and modes of construction for everything” (579). DH gives us new and diverse ways of doing humanities work. We don’t have to just have show what we know through stodgy academic writing; we can go beyond that.

I’m looking at Aphra Behn Online: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830 (ABO) as an example. While ABO is still a journal producing academic writing, it takes a more feminist approach than many journals. For one, it’s online and open-access, and—as their readership map demonstrates—this allows people from around the world to read the journal. Also, instead of focusing solely on critical historical readings of texts, ABO includes articles on teaching texts and on digital humanities work thereby offering a more “situated knowledges” of the profession. Even their peer-review policy for submissions highlights their goals: “Because ABO is committed to community and interaction, the review process is partially open […] Our goal for every essay under review is to make it a stronger work through multiple readings, constructive criticism and collaborative feedback.” There’s no single voice of authority here, but rather a collaboration of voices working together towards knowledge.

For me, the interactivity and community that ABO emphasizes represents just some of the possibilities available when we take a feminist approach to DH. Subsequently, I see it as our responsibility as feminists and humanists to make Haraway’s vision a reality for Digital Humanities.

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One thought on “Embracing “Situated Knowledges”: How to Do Feminist DH

  1. Cayla, thanks for this post! I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of our very real “responsibility as feminists and humanists” to bring gender back into DH scholarship. Your post gets at the heart of Haraway’s work and highlights the dangers (and inherent complicity) of inaction and apathy. Perhaps we as a class will be able to follow up with Lori about the potential “feminist collective” we discussed, finding ways to mix our doing/making ethic with a feminist/post-colonial paradigm.

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