Jones Post 10: Lab Spaces

The various spaces of labs carry with them various implications and capabilities. In this regard, I’m mainly focusing on how “making” takes place based on the material and online infrastructures and interfaces of a DH lab. This train of thought was prompted by work like Jentery Sayers who articulates in his articles how the physical interactions in his labs lead to better material inquiries into older technologies. This made me think about the progression of our own class, along with the what we have been reading, and the implications or capacities of each lab space.

In the beginning of class, we spoke about humanities computing, and the digitizing of literature. I’ll preface that my interest in this online, or “non-physical” space of the “immaterial” lab is not to take away from the material assemblages that make computers, the internet and online communication possible. Instead I’m using the term “non-physical” superficially to think through the differences or similarities­ between computing as digitizing laboratory work versus makerspaces engaging with material technology objects. This is also not to ignore how these labs spaces can become hybrid spaces of material pursuit and online colloboration with members discussing projects in person or over platforms like Skype. Instead this is to acknowledge how some labs may have less physical interactions or material goals when digitizing, scanning, visualizing or representing data. This type of DH work can take place through non-physical collaborative spaces, and in some of the DH labs present today, still do. For the CATH lab, Professor Radcliffe explained that the CATH lab was a collective of collaborators, and not necessarily a space where people met. This type of non-physical lab can allow for various collaborations over the vast space of the internet (over cables and through servers!), while also taking place in non-lab spaces. Communication is digital, but it is not necessarily restricted by proximity. This space was expanded through the making of digital DH work and expanded through the use of technology. This expansion was not only about digital collection and interpretation, but also about creating digital work.

From this image of the lab space, we then learned about the makerspace and the media archaeology lab. In these “physical” spaces the material object of technology became a prime source of inquiry. These lab spaces allow for experiential learning as the material object becomes a new space for scholarly research. I was very fascinated by Sayer’s article “The Relevance of Remaking”, and all of the matters that Sayers attends to. I felt that Sayer gave more insight into the Parikka and Ernst readings from previous weeks. Those readings at first appeared to be about dissecting the material from the human in order to remove the material history from its cultural position. Sayer’s article shows that material research can be about “what isn’t at hand, or what we don’t know, or what we’re willing to conjecture. In this sense it borrows heavily from traditions in cultural criticism.” In this sense, research becomes imaginative, reconstructive, and somewhat immaterial. These questions raised by Sayers seemed to have very fascinating results. Here, Sayers details how processes or interfaces with “’dead’ or ‘obsolete’ technology in the MLab […] assert themselves.” In this example, Sayers and his team can “reframe normative histories of science, engineering, and technology that typically privilege the perspective of the lone white male inventor.” From Sayer’s article, I see how investigating material objects can situate technology in a wider historical narrative. In these examples, the makerspace appears to be a physical space for testing and handling cultural critiques and analysis in some very interesting avenues with critique informing material processes.

In Sayer’s work, this cultural handling is enacted through a community of collaborators who want to test both the technology and the user interfaces. This had echoes to Matt Ratto’s “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life”, because the makerspace seems to resist on some levels essentializing and removing the relationship of technology and culture. Instead, it is work that engages both the material and the community in order to dissect how the two interact in processes: “in its focus on the constructive process as the site for analysis.” In Professor Emerson’s interview with Wolfgang Ernst, Ernst appears to paint this also as a work of re-configuring or “re-assembl[ing]” in order to excavate: “Taking machinic elements apart in order to try to reanimate their function is a way of media analysis in the strict sense: not restricted to textual interpretation but to diagramatic reading of circuit plans and material hermeneutics (media-archaeological philology).” This requires a re-working or resisting of the perceived dualism between human and technology, and instead encourages a type of collaboration with materiality in order to try and rediscover functionality in a physical space.

With all of these considerations, it appears that many lab spaces are trying to resist dominant functions of technology as a hidden process of output and efficiency. Working with “obsolete” or “dead” technology is re-envisioning history and various interfaces. Working with technology is acquainting researchers with the material spaces where technology and humans collaborate towards various goals. In some ways, provides further ways to see how there really are no “non-physical” labs, but I make this tenuous distinction to explore the various facets of the different types of work. The lab that I’ll be focusing on for the class discussion is a lab that focuses on digitizing work. The lab, the Digital Innovation Lab at UNC at Chapel Hill works on mapping projects, visual tours, and recovering narratives in history. I hope that in tomorrow’s discussion we can use this lab, along with Sayers’s labs and all of the other labs we’ve delved into in order to discuss the capabilities, differences, similarities, and implications of the varying material and digital work in DH labs.

 

Works Cited:

Ernst, Wolfgang, interview by Lori Emerson. 2013. Archives, Materiality and the “Agency of the Machine”: An Interview with Wolfgang Ernst (February 8). Accessed November 28, 2015. http://blogs.loc.gov/digitalpreservation/2013/02/archives-materiality-and-agency-of-the-machine-an-interview-with-wolfgang-ernst/.

Hertz, Garnet and Jussi Parikka. “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method.” Leonardo 45.5 (2012): 424-30. Print.

Ratto, Matt. “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life.” The Information Society: An International Journal 27.4 (2011): 252-60. Print.

Sayers, Jentery. “The Relevance of Remaking.” Maker Lab in the Humanities UVic blog. (2014) Accessed November 28, 2015. http://maker.uvic.ca/remaking/.

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3 thoughts on “Jones Post 10: Lab Spaces

  1. Thanks for this post, Rebecca! Your attempt to discuss the “non-physical” without “tak[ing] away from the material assemblages that make computers, the internet and online communication possible” echoes my own struggles to meld the material and non-material this week. But I think your post deconstructs that binary in a productive way. I’m all for “resist[ing] dominant functions of technology as a hidden process of output and efficiency,” and I’m curious as to how this new understanding of the (im)material spectrum will alter the construction of laboratory space.

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  2. sfh123 says:

    This was a really interesting post. Your acknowledgement of “how some labs may have less physical interactions or material goals when digitizing, scanning, visualizing or representing data” is very thought-provoking for me as I have spent much of this semester attempting to think through the feasibility of my own DH archive project that I aspire to achieve. Very much along the lines of what you write about, the type of DH work I am attempting, so far, really does happen non-physical collaborative spaces, although I think I am realizing that DH labs evolve in stages, particularly when attempted in the framework of finding and curating materials for an archive. Curation / Digitization / Classification / Data Production / Analysis / Data Production … these necessary stages of creation, I believe, and in tandem with expanding the base of contributors/collaborators, eventually become cyclical and necessary to keep an archive and DH project alive. The relationship between technology and making DH work is fundamental to the dissemination and collaborative aspects of a DH project, but also I think that it facilitates the systems of structure that are necessary in any curation/archive project. The challenge with technology in the DH as I see it so far has to do with the fact that DH is an “alive”, new and abstract discipline — abstract both theoretically and methodologically. Technology is constantly evolving, as are digital tools, and often by the terms we learn a set of tools, its already outdated. So how can we synchronize the workflow and stages of a DH project? Technology certainly equips researchers and acquaints them with the parameters of a project, but constantly evolving technology can also deem the projects paramaters as fluid. As such your reference to Ratto’s “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life”, is interesting, as you write: “because the makerspace seems to resist on some levels essentializing and removing the relationship of technology and culture. Instead, it is work that engages both the material and the community in order to dissect how the two interact in processes: ‘in its focus on the constructive process as the site for analysis.'”

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  3. Trevor says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    I’m commenting from Darren Wershler’s class at Concordia University. Thanks for the post. I’m particularly grateful to you for leading me to read the Sayers post, which helped clarify the main question that’s been nagging me in relation to Ratto’s article—namely, the question of relevance. How is any of this relevant to someone like me, whose research focuses on literary works written before the invention of the telegraph?

    Coming from a blue-collar background, I can appreciate the value of engaging with the materiality of technologies—of building, using, and fixing stuff—as a means of deepening understanding, but I was confused by Ratto’s stated goal “to make concepts more apprehendable, to bring them in ways to the body, not only the brain . . . to make new connections between the lived space of the body and the conceptual space of scholarly knowledge.” I’m not sure how this would work in a practical sense. Obviously, these two kinds of knowledge are profoundly different; we can’t touch concepts, we can only designate symbols to represent them. I can applaud Ratto’s desire to bring the material and the conceptual closer together; the kind of analytical language scholars use tends to neglect the thingness of things. But Ratto’s article doesn’t make clear—to me at least—what this “scholarly knowledge” he speaks of would look like.

    Sayers makes this much more concrete, as does your reading of him. You make an interesting observation about Sayers’s claim that “remaking is most often about what isn’t at hand, or what we don’t know, or what we’re willing to conjecture”; you suggest that this sort of research can be “imaginative, reconstructive, and somewhat immaterial.” I can see how these imaginative, immaterial “matters of speculation” are potentially more generative of new scholarly approaches than the other matters Sayers discusses. Sayers’s own observation that his “remaking” work “has really underscored what [he] overlooked, underemphasized, or got wrong” in his earlier, more traditional research suggests that makerspaces like the MLab can serve a corrective function in the academy.

    I may never follow practices like those Ratto and Sayers describe, but they may nevertheless inspire an imaginative reorientation of how I think about the material circumstances of 19th century literary production.

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