Author Archives: ebcousins

Cousins Post 10: Creation-as-research-as-Pedagogy

Chapman and Sawchuck’s article, “Research-Creation: Intervention, Analysis and ‘Family  Resemblances’” defines research-creation projects as those which “integrate a creative process, experimental aesthetic component, or an artistic work as an integral part of a study” (5). As such, the focus of their article is “how this practice contributes to the research agenda of the digital humanities and social sciences” (5, emphasis mine). The role of creative practice as an intervention or as knowledge production in humanities scholarship has been on my mind for weeks now, but with a different orientation—what happens if we apply these same interventionist modes of scholarship to pedagogy?

The traditional “argumentative form(s) that have typified much academic scholarship,” the “firmly established protocols and practices for what constitutes valid scholarship” and the “normative frameworks for modes of presentation” are not exclusive to the research produced; those same values are reified in the pedagogical practices through which we demand that scholarship (from graduate students, but also from undergrads) (6). The same values that push traditional scholarship toward the monograph shift pedagogy in the humanities to act in service of the “regime of truth”;  even in the more creative-leaning academic disciplines (literature, art history, etc.) we often construct courses that value individual product over collaborative process and emphasize singular, standardized interpretation that has been solidified by experts on the canon. “Learning” as a messy, process-based and constructive process is often subordinated to “knowing” as a concrete, stable harmony with “formulaic representations of the academic genre” (6). When it comes to student learning (and perhaps to graduate research, as well), I think something crucial is lost in the consistent push to comply with “normative frameworks” – a sense of ownership over one’s learning. Apologies if this sounds like fluff; I hate to be vague, and there’s nothing less useful than undefined buzzwords. When I say “ownership”, I don’t mean confidence, or pride—those are things you can get from learning (knowing) the right answer as prescribed. Ownership, I think, comes only from making something when there is no single answer to be given or single standard with which to comply; as such, it requires creativity, and that creativity engenders a sense of power. Ownership is a position from which one can create truly original, innovative work, since the work is not oriented toward someone else’s norm.

I can certainly see how all four iterations of “research-creation” can destabilize traditional research agendas—can they also change how we teach that research?

I’m especially interested in creation-as-research, perhaps because it is “the most controversial” of the four categories; it also seems to be the most aligned with my own interest in creative project as a form of ownership. According to Champan and Sawchuck, Creation-as-research “involves the elaboration of projects where creation is required in order for research to emerge…while also seeking to extract knowledge from he process” (19). The end-game for such projects is research, but:

“It is about understanding the technologies/media/practices that we discuss as communication scholars (for instance) by actually deploying these phenomena, and pushing them into creative directions. It is a form of directed exploration through creative processes that includes experimentation, but also analysis, critique, and a profound engagement with theory and questions of method” (19).

The prolific use of the forward-slash points to the mutability of the phenomena that can be deployed and analyzed; the do-to-engage methodology of creation-as-research is applicable, perhaps, to all areas of learning. With some adjustment, it could be creation-as-research-as-pedagogy. Such a practice would involve the use of “projects where creation is required” as a pedagogical tool, making students into constructive producers as opposed to solely receptive interpreters (21). Ideally, following Chapman and Sawchuck’s reading of Heidegger, it would employ creation as a form of knowledge production as well as reflection on that creative process, bringing literature, art, etc. into “greater degrees of ‘unconcealment’ by being employed in ‘hands-on’ situations, in addition to being analyzed and interpreted” (21).

This semester, as part of the English department’s Teaching English: Uniting Pedagogies of Literature & Writing course, I tried experimenting with such a creation-as-research-as-pedagogy method…whether or not my attempt lines up with what a creation-as-research-as-pedagogy could be, or even with my own hopes or expectations, I’m not sure…but it was really interesting to try and see where my hopes for “interventionist” practice hit the brick walls of standard protocol, and where my own normative habits and values as a humanities scholar undermined the project.

The goal of the unit was to explore Graphic Literature (comics, graphic novels, graphic short stories) as literature, diving into the high-art / low-art distinctions and traditional standards for what “counts” as work worth analyzing. The final “paper” for the unit, then, was a collaborative attempt by the students to create their own piece of graphic literature. They were also asked to submit a reflective paper articulating the motivation behind their choices for the piece, drawing on examples from works we’d read during the semester and ideas discussed in the course re: method, medium, cultural value, etc.


The final product was one of the coolest pieces of scholarship (can I call it that?) that I’ve ever received from students: the choices were deliberate and informed, the process was collaborative (though not without its pitfalls), and the students were engaged – but all of these things are true only in a range. Even with a small number of students, the project impacted some more than others. The sense of “ownership” seemed directly proportional to the amount of work put in by each (which wasn’t necessarily equal); reflection became somewhat secondary since most effort was put into the creation of the work itself. Does that mean that less analysis was taking place, since I didn’t see it all on paper? Does that mean that less learning was taking place?

When it comes to research, especially after reading Champan and Sawchuck’s article, the answer seems to be no—following Chapman and Sawchuck’s reading of Garis, “one valuable way ‘to know’ is ‘to do’” (14). When it comes to pedagogy, which is so tied to assessment and the “deliverables” of proof of knowledge, the practicality of creation as scholarship becomes more suspect—can such practices actually intervene in a system that (in my opinion) overvalues assessment and proof of knowledge (8)? That might be a question for another post; for now, I’ll satisfy myself with its potential. As Chapman and Sawchuck state, “paradigms are mutable and have the potential to grow, shift, or even be overturned when alternative technologies, practices and anomalous discoveries accumulate to the point where new epistemological and ontological foundations present themselves in flashes of insight” (24). Perhaps, then, the “open-ended goal” presented for research in the digital humanities and social sciences could expand, acting as a destabilizing force for pedagogy and the humanities as a whole.

Cousins Post 9: The Place of National Literatures in a Posthuman Multi-versity

Braidotti does a nice job of weaving various interconnected strands of posthuman effects into a cohesive whole…my post will do no such thing. This week’s reading takes on so many of the most urgent, relevant pieces of discourse re: the humanities and now my head is a buzzin!

I’ll work my way backwards – Braidotti’s exploration of a “Posthuman Humanities” in Chapter 4 includes a shifting of the humanities crisis into a posthuman opportunity that feels hyper-relevant to my own department’s situation. After losing the PhD track, conversations between my peers generally had two themes – Comp lit is dead, and what do we do now? While most of us aren’t going on to get doctorate degrees, those who are (or are considering) are steering far away from national literature departments. Instead, people are looking at degrees in American Culture studies, Media studies, degree names that include terms like “Inter”, “Multi” and maybe the word “and”. Most of us came to Comparative Literature because we wanted an interdisciplinary approach to literature that seemed less acceptable in national literature departments (whether or not this is still true of English, I’m not sure, and I’m sure it depends on the institution). Ideas about a new type of PhD program that allowed for interdisciplinarity across multiple mediums (visual art, literature, film, etc.) were discussed—the end of complit sparked re-visions of what a Humanities department or a literature department can look like. In reality, though, any changes or reimaginings of departments will take place long after my class has moved on in or out of academia. It was interesting to read Braidotti’s concept of a multiversity after having experienced the disheartening notion that multi-national / multi-perspective literature studies weren’t really valued. This isn’t to say at all that a comparative literature program is in line with Braidotti’s views on a posthuman humanities – but it does make me wonder what the place of departmental structuring around national literatures is in a multiversity. Are there aspects of imperial / Eurocentric / androcentric ideologies built into the national literature system? I think the answer has to be yes, and Braidotti’s shifting towards a posthuman humanities might point to ways to subvert those build-in marginalizing tendencies.

Braidotti’s articulation of the asymmetrical ideologies hidden within the humanist ideal exposes the Eurocentrism at work within our university system as well, as “a structural element of our cultural practice, which is also embedded in both theory and institutional and pedagogical practices” (15). Eurocentrism certainly seems like a building block for the departmental system of national literatures; even within those national literatures studies of the literature of marginalized nations or marginalized peoples within that nation are often “Othered” in a hierarchy that places the colonizing nation in the default position (French Lit vs. Francophone African or Caribbean literature, the classic American canon vs. literature of Diaspora or African-American literature, etc.) Even in this paragraph I just relegated very diverse areas of study into a single parenthetical based entirely on otherness. Ah!

Braidotti, however, seems optimistic about the power of interdisciplinary “studies” and their ability to act as counter-discourses to the problematic universal narrative of humanism within the university: “Over the last thirty years, new critical epistemologies have offered alternative definitions of the ‘human’ by inventing interdisciplinary areas which call themselves ‘studies’, like: gender, feminism, ethnicity, cultural studies, post-colonial, media and new media and Human rights studies (Bart et al., 2003)” (144). Citing James Chandler, Braidotti mentions the emergence of a ‘critical disciplinarity’ that challenges the “traditional organization of the university in departmental structures” (144). Interdisciplinarity seems essential to the subversive power of these “studies”, and I wonder to what extent a posthuman humanities should abandon the national literature model…I wouldn’t advocate a transcendence of location, of course, but a recognition of the multiplicity of different locations from which to speak / study literature. A relational subjectivity, I think, demands a relational (though not completely relativist) approach to the study of literature as well. As Braidotti states, “Posthuman subjectivity reshapes the identity of humanistic practices, by stressing heteronomy and multi-faceted relationality, instead of autonomy and self-referential disciplinary purity” (145). I’m not entirely sure that disciplinary purity exists or can exist anymore, especially within English departments…and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

It does make me wonder, though, why we still use national literatures as headings for work that seems to exceed those boundaries. Braidotti says that “We need an active effort to reinvent the academic field of the Humanities in a new global context and to develop an ethical framework worthy of our posthuman times. Affirmation, not nostalgia, is the road to pursue: not the idealization of philosophical meta-discourse, but the more pragmatic task of self-transformation through humble experimentation (150). Is there nostalgia in play within structuring based on national literatures? If so, where does it come from? Is it tied at all to nationalism? Is there a benefit to organizing based off of national literatures? Do we lose something if we stop calling it “English Lit” or “Spanish Lit” or “German Lit”? I suppose one could argue that nationalism can serve as a means by which marginalized populations can re-assert their own power…but in general, departments organized around marginalized populations don’t seem to be the norm, at least within the study of literature.

If humanism in its most limiting, androcentric and Eurocentric forms is built into the way we organize the humanities, is the solution then to reform the system or scrap it altogether? Do we even need to take action to destabilize that system (if we want to), or are the trends of new technologies and the “crisis” in humanities already taking care of that? Is the way forward, as Braidotti says, an affirmative one? If so, what sort of actions should be taken?

Chandler, in his 2004 article “Critical Disciplinarity” from Critical Inquiry, cited earlier by Braidotti, says:

We need to rearticulate the disciplinary system after three decades of “add on” fields and programs. We need to do this not in order to cut costs or to rebind ourselves to a new regime of disciplinarity but, at least in part, to create new possibilities for interdisciplinary connection and exploration. The structure of the research university needs serious rethinking. Because the professionalized and marketdriven practices of the national disciplines are so deeply entrenched, this effort must be largescale and it will not be easy…Chandler 359

I went searching for examples of this restructuring, or more tangible examples of what Braidotti’s multiversity would look like. In an interview with a “cross-media” project called nY, Braidotti expanded on the reshaping of universities, calling for a meta-disciplinarity that calls the humanities into question:

For me this professionalization exercise also implies that we start teaching the humanities instead of the disciplines. That meta-disciplinary move will take some time since the attachment to the disciplines is enormous but the centers for the humanities that are popping up right now are interesting exercises. Leiden is opening one, the Amsterdam University is opening one. Those centers pose the question “what are the humanities?” (qtd. in Posman 1).

At the same time that Braidotti calls for this meta-disciplinarity, she recognizes the difficulty some may feel in letting go of the disciplinary model:

For somebody like me, who has abandoned her discipline a long time ago, it’s not a big issue, but for people who have been raised in their discipline it’s a very painful exercise. It’s almost like leaving home. (qtd. in Posman 1).

I think I feel similarly to Braidotti – having already, in a way, been somewhat displaced departmentally and having already come from a position wherein my technical “discipline” didn’t have a single home, I have few qualms about letting go of traditional structures – but I recognize that others might not feel the same. One could argue, ironically, that lack of “departmental purity” is what made it easier for the Comp. Lit PhD to fall through infrastructural cracks and get boot, so I can also see dangers in shifting away from classic models.

One strategy that Braidotti brings up in the interview is the idea of “centers for the humanities”, which I think ties into our discussions about humanities labs and the kinds of possibilities for collaborative, interdisciplinary work that those labs open up. “Centers” like the ones Braidotti mentions can cut across disciplinary and departmental boundaries, creating opportunities for, I think, the kind of posthuman humanities projects that Braidotti envisions.

The University of Amsterdam that Braidotti mentions houses the OSL or The Netherlands Research School for Literary Studies, a “national network for literary theory, comparative literature, Dutch literature, and the literatures of the major modern languages in the Netherlands” (“About OSL”). Though based at the University of Amsterdam, the “school” is open to participants from other universities, including those abroad. Their mission statement recognizes, like Braidotti, the potential of new forms of “studies” to reinvigoriate the study of literature:

The rise of network theories and digital humanities, new materialism and affect studies, new sociologies of (world) literature and various forms of cognitivist and neuro-criticism currently reinvigorates and transforms the study of literature in ways that ask for curious participation and critical reflection. At the same time, new educational and funding policies, questions concerning the role of the humanities in society at large and the alleged disappearance of ‘art’ and ‘culture’ as (semi)autonomous spheres of critique and emancipation change the socio-political contexts in which literary scholars work and define their research interests and projects. OSL strives to be the intellectual and academic forum for the discussion, advancement and reflection of the state(s) of the art of literary studies…(“About OSL”).

The center seems to foster interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, cross-university projects that are aimed at rethinking the humanities. Odlie Bodde’s media studies project “Studies on torture: the politics and aesthetics of brutality in war-on-terror films” (Studies on torture), for example, is part of the NWO-funded interdisciplinary programme What can the humanities contribute to our practical self-understanding? that takes place at Utrecht University, Erasmus University Rotterdam and Leiden University, while Anouk Zuurmond looks at “Transnational Literary Projects: Strategies and Effects in the Debate on a European Identity” (Zuurmond). Whether these types of projects align with Braidotti’s zoe-centered posthumanism, I’m not sure…but the structure in place certainly seems to open up space for thinking posthuman subjectivities and the way that they are reshaping the humanities. Can this type of work happen within traditional disciplinary structures as well, or are they too inundated with humanist ideology?

Also, I thought I was done, but this nY “cross-media” project from which I got the Braidotti interview is very cool and seems to align with Braidotti’s affirmative, generative ideas about creating alternatives:

nY came into being in 2009 as a result of the fusion of two Flemish literary journals—yang (founded in 1963) and freespace Nieuwzuid (founded in 1999). This fusion took place because the arrival of the Internet has definitively changed the way literary journals function. nY is no longer a literary-cultural journal, as we have known them for almost two centuries now, but a cross-media project, the core of which is the intersection of a paper journal and this website…

…Consequently, the new that is relevant to nY is that which does not concern itself with the consensus. For that reason, the nY project is often a critical one. But it also has a powerful, creative aspect—it generates alternatives that were never before considered possible. The categorical imperative to which nY adheres is this: show them that it can be done differently! This imperative is inherent in every creative act, and the heeding of this imperative calls up the same feelings—tension, uneasiness and sometimes even fear, but also, most of all, the pleasure of adventure and freedom regained.

In line with this, nY resolves to be a discursive machine, in other words a machine which brings unconventional concepts and ideas into circulation. At the root of this practice is the conviction that reality (the social, the historical) is a set of constructions founded in influential discourses. Engaging in these discourse results in the reinvention of our reality. And that, in addition to being a critical pursuit, is also an extremely pleasurable one.
(About nY)

Affirmative, cross-platform – a “discursive machine”!

Cousins Post 8: Archeologies of Power and Media Archaeology as “Countervisuality”

Quick preface to my post: I have a feeling that I’m about to fall into the trap of “telling media stories” that Ernst pushes against in “Media Archaeography” (56). I may indeed slip away from new materialism and materialism in general in thinking about how these can act as potential counters to something more abstract – “architectures of power” (Parikka 82). Partly in conversation with our discussion last week, in both of the media archaeology readings this week I was drawn to the idea of technology (or perhaps only our own narrative of technology) as a materialized and more importantly, naturalized power that has an unseen influence. We’ve talked about material agency, and but it hadn’t occurred to me before these readings that if we discuss material agency, the agency of technology or of media, we do have to take into account the power dynamics that agency implies, and the fact that often times (especially in contemporary times), the power dynamics that exist within technology or tech-based practices are invisible. This invisibility of agency and power cobined influence of Foucault on media archaeology made me think of another Foucault-influenced theory of power that (here’s where I might slip into media stories) is based in visual culture – Nicholas Mirzoeff’s concepts of “visuality” and “countervisuality”.


In his book The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality, Mirzoeff takes Thomas Carlye’s concept of visuality as “the visualization of history” (2) and reframes it as that which “sutures authority to power and renders this association natural” (6). Put another way, visuality is that aestheticization of power which makes it seem natural and, in contemporary times, invisible. Mirzoeff sees current technology as placing us in a post-panoptic moment in which power, as visuality, is unseen but still authorized and reified by narrative. I wonder if there are similar aestheticizations of power inherent in media specifically (not just media as tools for social power systems) – the idea that technology has not only a part in the architectures of cultural power but also its own power dynamics created by it own agency, and that placing media in a streamlined narrative often naturalizes power as “development” and makes paths of media history seem inevitable in the same way “fact” was posited as “out there”. If there is a “mainstream media history”, then, following Mirzoeff, there is also a media visuality, or a given narrative of media that hides seemingly natural systems of power. I’m wondering if media archaeology as a field, by focusing on the material (or in Ernst’s case, the calculating as opposed to narrative memory) might act as a form of “countervisuality” to that “visuality” – for Mirzoeff, countervisuality is a “claim for a different form of visualizing” (29), the “right to look” at the realities and counter histories that are ignored in creating a narrative that naturalizes power. I’m wondering what sort of power is naturalized by a mainstream media history, and if media archaeology could be one way to explore counter histories and claim a “right to look” through new materialism that might make that naturalization more visible. In this way, perhaps, media archaeology would be a sort of uncovering of the inherent but invisible power structures embedded in our media and the way we use those media. As Parikka says in Media Theory and New Materialism, “Emphasizing hardware matters in the midst of the increasing invisibility of consumer objects in digital culture is an important political task for media-archaeological research” (64). Though Kittler chooses to differentiate himself from Ernst, they both acknowledge the importance of a “non-linear media history” – non-linear, a “history outside narratives” (67). According to Parikka, Kittler also forwards the claim that “we do not speak language, but language speaks us, and we have to participate in such systems of language, which are not of our own making” (70). Parikka goes on to say:

     “…language in the age of technical media is not just natural language: it is the new technological and physical regimes introduced by media…they impose new regimes of sensation and use to which we have to accommodate ourselves in order to be functioning subjects. We are secondary to such systems. Besides agency, this has to do with power. Power is no longer circulated and reproduced solely through spatial places and institutions – such as the clinic or the prison, as Foucault analyzed – or practices of language, but takes place in the switches and relays, software and hardware, protocols and circuits of which our technical media systems are made” (70, emphasis mine). 


This is the post-panoptic power dynamic of which Mirzoeff speaks (though he does not take into account the agency of tech / media itself), and it seems especially entangled with media archaeology (at least Kittler) when discussing recent theories of “cognitive capitalism”, the “new regimes of capitalism in which our ways of thinking, communicating and socializing have become key motors for value creation, and hence under new forms of control” (Parikka 73). As Parikka states, “if Michel Foucault’s work afforded…extension of archaeological and genealogical methods into media contexts [as we see with Ernst] his writings on biopower and biopolitics have been extended into an analysis of politics of the contemporary media sphere” (73). Mirzoeff’s use of Foucault’s biopower led to a more human centered visuality, “psychotechnics” as a “crucial form of power” seems to take the agency of media more fully into account. If “media archaeology at its best establishes…a problematization and rethinking of such fundamental questions as what even counts as media” (79) it seems like it is denaturalizing the power systems inherent to media – counter visualizing the way that “machines themselves structure our everyday experiences” (79) by focusing on the material, the medium-specificity in order to analyze the “modalities of materiality in which we are embedded in cultures of abstraction” (87, emphasis mine). Parikka states that this “turn to materiality can be seen to correct the perceived immateriality brought by digital culture, and by what postmodern theories flagged as the abstraction and immaterialization of cultural reality” (84). Media archaeology, as “more than an interest in lost ideas” (86) and through its focus on the machine itself as agent, seems apt of making the invisible visible. Ernst’s rethinking of the archive is also a rethinking of “the place where statements and visibilities are controlled” (Parikka 87) – in other words, places of power. Though we’ve seen this orientation toward the material (with Kirschenbaum and others, as Parikka notes), the power dynamics weren’t something I considered until this week. Visuality was just a helpful way for me to understand it, since the naturalization or invisibility of power, the dematerialization of its origins, seems particularly applicable to technology / media. The way that “Media archaeology adds to the study of culture in an apparently paradoxical way by directing attention…to non-cultural dimensions of the technological regime” (Ernst 61) seems analogous to Mirzoeff’s concepts of countervisuality as a way of understanding those invisible power dynamics. Thinking of media archaeology through this counter visual framework also gives me a bunch of questions:

Are narrative, discourse, and memory / history inherently embroiled in power asymmetries?

Is a material or mathematical orientation a (the only?) way to counter that asymmetry?

Does a “calculating memory” have less ties to power than “narrative memory”?

Do the Humanities, which seem to me to be made of the building blocks of narrative, discourse, and memory. Ernst himself states that “Academic discourse in the humanities, we have to admit, is still primarily based not he narrative transfer of knowledge” (71). Are the humanities capable of countering naturalizations of power inherent in narrative through such material / mathematical foci?

Are humans in general capable of escaping narrative? Do we want to / need to? 

Can media archaeology act as one possible disruption to the narrative that aestheticizes invisible power? (that one is a mouthful). 

Mirzoeff, Nicholas. The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality. Durham, NC: Duke

UP, 2011. Print.

Cousins Post 7: The Other Is Our Own Machine

Though The Mangle of Practice and “Situated Knowledges” are written from very different positions and therefore have very different orientations and angles from which to produce their “situated knowledges”, it seems like they can also very easily be put in conversation with each other, especially with regard to the posthuman.
1. Both are cautious of binaries and seek to find if not a middle ground, at least a more complicated one:
Haraway feels that “it is not enough to show radical historical contingency and modes of construction for everything” (579). Unmasking objectivity as doctrine / historically contingent is not enough, because it leads to a pendulum swing too far in the other direction, wherein everything is relative and speaking about “reality” is impossible (577). While it is beneficial to problematize those “versions of objectivity…in the service of hierarchical and positivist orderings of what can count as knowledge” (580), Haraway would like to replace radical constructivism with feminist critical empiricism, more rooted in position and particular knowledge, a feminist, situated, and embodied objectivity rather than a denial of any objectivity whatsoever. Relativism, in positing everything as fully constructed, becomes the “mirror of totalization” in its smoothing over of the field of production.
Pickering seems similarly suspicious of binaries—while SSK has been successful in moving away from the “representational idiom”, it does so mainly on the basis of human agency at the expense of material agency. Pickering seems, like Haraway, not to want to fall into poles of “pure” objectivity and total relativism, the anti-human and the human-centered: “it is admitted that one can speak naively about nonhuman agency, but if one wants to do that…one has to speak in a possibly even more familiar and anti humanist idiom, that of scientists and engineers” (25). Instead of relying purely on human-centered or non-human centered visions of scientific culture and practice, Pickering wishes to develop a “post humanist space, a space in which the human actors are still there but now inextricably entangled with the nonhuman, no longer at the center of the action and calling the shots. The world makes us in one and the same process as we make the world” (26).
2. Both use agency to decenter the human subject:
Both Haraway and Pickering move toward decentered models through the concept of agency—Pickering pushes for the “decentering of the human subject” through the concept of the emergent “mangle” and a “dance of agency” between human and material agent. He starts from the “idea that the world is filled not, in the first instance, with facts and observations, but with agency” (6).
Haraway, too, pushes against the “analytic tradition” wherein “any status as agent in the productions of knowledge must be denied the object” (592). As Pickering reminds us that the world is a collaboration between human and material agents, Haraway reminds us that “…we are not in charge of the world” (594).
So while Haraway takes a more explicitly feminist standpoint, Pickering a more singularly posthuman one, there is obviously overlap between those two “categories” and their decentering objectives.
This overlap is what I’m interested in, especially considering our discussion last week about the role of women in labs / DH / as machines, and reading these two at the same time led me to the following questions:
  • Is the “posthuman” inherently feminist since humanism is inherently androcentric?
  • Haraway says that our “pictures of the world” should be “of elaborate specificity and difference and the loving care people might take to learn how to see faithfully from another’s point of view, even when the other is our own machine”. What value doe this seeing through the eyes of the machine have in DH practice?
  • Is this what Pickering is talking about with “the mangle”, or is Haraway’s vision more extreme (less collaboration, more decentralization)?
  • What does the reappropriation of vision look like in practice?
  • Are the digital, feminist, and posthuman already being intertwined in labs and centers?
I set out to try to answer at least that last question, and came upon two lab / centers that seem to work at the cross-section of the feminist, digital, and posthuman.


The Posthumanities Hub at Linköping University in Sweden “fosters transgressive feminist collaborations that explore the performativity and vulnerability of variously situated ‘nature cultures’…and the entanglement of materiality and meaning in the contemporary timespace of the ‘post humanities’ ( Just from the initial language (performativity, situated, entanglement, materiality, timespace), this rings to me of both Pickering and Haraway. Their project topics range from Alzheimer’s to feminist environmentalism, to humanoid robots, to pet therapy, to “re-territorializng the internet” (which I REALLY want to read). Not all of their projects are digital…so would it could as a Digital Humanities Hub? But almost all of them are rooted in the cross-section of the posthuman and the feminist – again…are those inherently tied together? Does the former naturally find a home in the latter, or vice versa?
The second group that seemed to work at this cross section between the posthuman, digital, and feminist was Deep Lab, a “collaborative group of cyberfeminist researchers, artists, writers, engineers, and cultural producers” ( While less explicitly post humanist than The Posthumanities Hub, Deep Lab seems critical of “contemporary digital culture” in ways that do emphasize those material aspects of the digital that we seem to ignore – the world that we perhaps made, but do not necessarily control. Their research emphasizes “themes of privacy, security, surveillance, anonymity, and large-scale data aggregation” ( Deep Lab participants created a public access book (downloadable here:
as well as this video:
and a series of online lectures:
in partnership with the STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnagie Mellon University – another “laboratory for atypical, anti-disciplinary, and inter institutional research at the intersections of arts, science, technology and culture” (
Even after looking at the wealth of information and projects out there with just these two groups…I’m not sure I’ve answered my own question yet about the relationship between feminism, DH, and posthumanism. Are either of the three a condition for the others? Are these separate fields that overlap, or shades of the same category? Can they be useful for one another, and if so, only theoretically, or also in practice? Is posthuman / feminist DH just “doing” with those theories in mind?

Cousins Post 6: LOGO, Lego, and Lifelong Kindergarten

Reading The Media Lab, I was pulled in two directions, both for my post, and for my general feelings about the lab: a mesmerizing discomfort with funding practices and the lab / corporate connection, and a giddy excitement about the cultivation of creativity in education. I feel like we will mostly talk about the former in class, but I was so drawn to what the media lab was doing in the Henningan school — my background before grad school was mostly in arts education, and that’s what I plan on pursuing afterward as well, so it was fascinating to me to see how tech (and the lab in general) might play a role in moving away from product/answer-oriented learning and towards a revaluing of process and possible failure.

Both the Logo program and the sheer availability of computers (especially in 1987) are fantastic resources in and of themselves, but I’m most interested in is the types of learning that the program and the tools open up. As Brand states:

“From the very start they are programming the computer rather than being programmed by it. Since the child is alone with the utterly nonjudgmental machine, activities like guessing, playing, imitating, inventing, all come easily—exactly the real-world learning behavior that is cramped or suppressed in most classroom settings.” (123)

This attempt to bring PLAY back into the classroom (free play, a type of play that is based in creativity and hopefully less directed by social convention / outside direction as we discussed in the M.A.L.) seems like a worthy endeavor to me. The emphasis placed in a traditional classroom on achieving the “correct answer” creates a simultaneous emphasis on “knowing” rather than on “learning”, on the final status rather than on the (possibly messy) process. What Stewart Papert said about programming could also be said about creative activities like the arts:

“Many children are held back in their learning because they have got a model of learning in which you have either “got it” or “got it wrong.” But when you program a computer you almost never get it right the first time…The question to ask about the program is not whether it is right or wrong, but if it is fixable. If this way of looking at intellectual products were generalized to how the larger culture thinks about knowledge and its acquisition, we all might be less intimidated by our fears about “being wrong.” (127)

While I’ve often thought about the arts as giving students the opportunity to both learn the benefits of failure / take ownership over their own learning in this productive way, I’ve never thought about the similar possibilities with tech. It makes sense, though – our previous discussions about DH have emphasized the “doing” and the “making” – somehow those terms are already imbued with experimentation, with trial and error, with process. I love the idea that programming can serve as a platform for that productive creativity in students.

I was curious to see what the Media Lab might be doing now that falls into the same vein. One such program that I found was “Lifelong Kindergarten” – a group within the MIT Media Lab that works under the premise that “people learn a great deal when they are actively engaged in designing, creating, and inventing things” and works to correct the fact that “most children don’t get the opportunity to engage in these types of creative activities” (“Mission”). Their project vary from creating creativity oriented programming languages like Scratch to after school programs for low-income schools, like Computer Clubhouse.

Whatever the project type, programs are focused on the same type of process-oriented learning that LOGO was. Like Papert, program head Mitchel Resnick recognizes that children “learn specific facts and skills, but rarely get the opportunity to design things” (“Mission”). “Lifelong Kindergarten” takes the premise that learning happens through creating beyond childhood and into adulthood as well:

Lifelong Kindergarten


Maybe I’m drinking some corporate kool-aid, but I don’t care one bit that the lab is funded by Apple and Lego if Apple and Lego are making this type of learning available. I want to take this Singing Fingers program and play with it in a kindergarten classroom!

Screenshot 2015-10-10 21.12.27I want to see how programming can shift students’ orientation from “knowing” to “learning” in all its messy, potential-failure goodness. Yes, Mitchel Resnick’s official title is the LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research. I do think it is weird and possible a little terrifying that LEGO can brand professors in the same way that Redbull can brand a Formula One car. And I do find it a little haunting that there are 107 mentions of cash flow in Brand’s book:

Screenshot 2015-10-06 18.17.22

But would programs like this be possible without corporate sponsors like Lego? Am I being naive in thinking that maybe there are some straight-up good things that can come out of deals with Big Capitalism? Is being a Lego Professor worth it if you get to pioneer projects that have a tangible impact? Why do I get the feeling I’m being seduced by a super villain?

Class Exercise for Presentation (attached as Worksheet DH)

Hi everyone!

I’d like to end my presentation tomorrow with a potentially fun and potentially frustrating exercise – creating our own “ideal” DH labs based off of scientific models. We’ll be looking at some contemporary labs in my presentation, as well as The Salk Institute, and I’m hoping we can think about which elements of these lab spaces we see as useful, and which parts of the “scientific model” are less so–what do we keep, and what do we take away?

Because this task – Constructing the Ideal DH Lab – is clearly an extreme, I’m interested in what problems we run into in trying to work out how to tailor a model to DH needs.

While I’d like to have us work in small groups for this, I’d love it if we could all think a little on the topic based on our reading for this week and the depiction of The Salk Institute given to us by Latour and Woolgar.

I’ve made a silly worksheet (because the task, to me, seems, well, idealistic to the point of being prescriptive? Not sure that’s the right wording:

Worksheet DH

But I’m interested in complicating the concept of models in general, so it seemed fun to create a oversimplified blueprint like strategy to match an oversimplified, blue-print like question. Anyway, no need to fill it out yet or anything, but if you have time maybe think about what elements would constitute the Ideal DH lab (do you have to choose an orientation first? A subject matter? Tool based, study object based? Research? Making)…

I’ve added some characteristics implied by the reading, and welcome all others that come to mind – I’m interested in both the material and social conditions that shape scientific / DH projects.

Thanks, and see you all tomorrow!


Cousins Post 5: Specificity, Hierarchy, and a Laboratory’s Public Face

My presentation this week is going to focus mainly on science labs as potential models for DH labs in future construction / further development of the field. For my post this week I’d like to focus on something that I won’t get to talk about in  my presentation: How do labs present themselves to the public?
Latour and Woolgar’s study was meant to “penetrate the mystique of science” (18). While their account of the Salk Institute does go into a lot of depth, this is just one lab, and I’m still interested in what feels like high fence around actual scientific practice. When we talked about labs on Monday, we described them as “sterile” and “uninviting”, or didn’t have a universal image (I’m going to go into this aspect of perception in more detail in my presentation). But why do we (and I do mean those of us who don’t have lab experience) have these certain assumptions / visions if we haven’t actually been inside the fence? What versions of labs are presented to the public – for both science and DH?
This interest is partially sparked by my own trip to the NCAR lab (National Center for Atmospheric Research), which was also an education in how big labs are packaged for the public. While actual access to workspaces was barred by the usuall “Authorized Personnel Only” signs (and I can certainly see reasons for this), the contrast between the sections for visitors (interactive, museum like spaces with guided tours and informational videos) and the spaces for scientists (hidden behind doors; I didn’t actually see a single person except for one security guard) made me think about how labs (DH and scientific) present themselves. Yet there was plenty of stuff to do as a visitor if I were only looking to learn about the lab’s research, not how it is actually carried out. What was presented was the lab’s use,  its value to society and the importance of its contributions, as well as museum-like activities that dealt (on a much less complicated level) with the lab’s research. It was interesting to see this museum-like, visitor-oriented section, followed by no entry signs and yellow chains across hallways. The “mystery” of the lab isn’t the same as that described by Latour and Woolgar; the lab has a public face.
Interested in public faces, I started looking at “About” pages on both CU science labs and several DH labs. I used “worlde” to look at frequent language used (recognizing that its an oversimplification of how these labs describe themselves) – just to see if there was any difference in the ways that different types of labs present themselves on a basic words-used-to-public level. Please note this was a very unscientific endeavor! I was just curious, really.
The wordles did show some contrast, though, in specificity. The scientific wordles were so specific to each lab’s research that some of them were completely out of my realm of knowledge (which, yeah…isn’t exactly broad when it comes to science). For these labs, there didn’t seem to be any need to explain what they do on a large scale (their scientists, they discover things about the real world, and this is a given) but instead go into detail about specific research areas. In our reading this week the member of the Salk Institute were adamant that “the observer” understand the specificity of their work, as well as the importance of its specific content: neuroendocrinology. Here are some of the wordles:
Salk Institute
Van Blerkom
Perhaps because the discursive construct that is DH seems to put a lot of emphasis on collaboration, descriptions can often be vague–the inclusion of DH tools or digital subject matter is sometimes emphasized, as Kirschenbaum noted, over specific content (work, projects)–DH labs also had less specific language to describe their work, were less explicit about exact research and more vocal about the potentials and possibilities of collaboration and digital research in general.
HUM lab
Innovation studio
This was the slight difference: specificity. The second was the difference in names – which led to my own assumptions about hierarchies.
When I first looked at CU labs, I was struck by the fact (which would probably seem completely normal to anyone who has had science lab experience) that all the labs were named after their director. Occasionally, the research done in that lab was even described as “his” or “her” research:

The Old laboratory develops and utilizes advanced methods in mass spectrometry to study signaling networks that regulate cell growth, communication and migration in multicellular organisms, and to better understand how these networks become dysregulated and drive cancer.  Specifically, he uses biological mass spectrometry to study complex biological systems, with an emphasis on the role of metabolic and signaling networks in human disease. His lab is developing methods to map and integrate multi-omic datasets rapidly determine the mechanism by which drugs and genetic perturbations affect cellular behavior.

Because of that, and because of my own preconceptions about science labs as being hierarchical (this is also partly because of the Latour and Woolgar reading), I expected every lab “About” to look like this one:
 Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 4.19.40 PM
or this one:
 Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 4.16.23 PM
or this:
Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 4.19.14 PM
Purely a focus on the main researcher, complete with their photo, but with little about anyone else OR a sectioned list from top (director) to bottom (technicians and undergrads). Most of the lab info did look like this.
But I also found some like this:
Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 4.17.24 PM
This is the web page for the Espinosa lab at CU boulder – even just visually, it is present less as a hierarchy and more as a team of “we”.
When it came to Digital humanities labs, most profiles were either written collectively (without designation of roles) or had “about” pages like the espinosa lab above–less hierarchical, more visually egalitarian, like the one from HUMlab:
Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 5.28.42 PM
There were also some like this (
Research in Computing for Humanities
While I realize these are purely presentations and not necessarily representative of how real labs operate, it was interesting to me to have my expectations subverted when it came to a separation in technique between “the two cultures”. Yes, they are just websites – but I wonder if there is an extent to which how a lab presents itself to the public is indicative of the way it runs? Are scientific labs inherently more specific and more hierarchical than DH ones? Or is it more complicated than that?
All this being said, not a single DH lab was named after their director. The one with a slightly more “hierarchical” representation above is called the Collaboratory for Research in Computing for Humanities –collaboration is already implied in the name. Is DH trading specificity for egalitarianism / possibility? Does hierarchy aid in production / orientation?

Diminishing Returns on Tactical Terms? Plus a Very Derivative and Reductive Quiz.

In “What is ‘Digital Humanities’ And Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things About It?” Matthew Kirschenbaum quotes Rita Raley’s articulation of “digital humanities” as a “discursive construction” (3). Later, he describes it as a “term of tactical convenience” (4) that is “unabashedly employed to get things done” (4). For Kirschenbaum, it seems, the construct is a limiting one: “To indulge digital humanities only ever as a construct and a site of contest is also thus to give in to a world view that seems to me precisely neoliberal, precisely zero sum and agonistic—disembodied, desocialized, and evacuated of materiality or material history” (7). This limitation is partly a symptom of the constructs discursive nature; its aim is to define and then include (or rather, exclude), set the boundaries (10), but because it is purely discursive, it also distracts from the fact that digital humanities is, above all else, “work, somebody’s work, somewhere, some thing, always” (16). He pushes us to “talk about this work, in action, this actually existing work” (16), to return a sense of materiality to the conversation and move beyond the purely discursive construct. Ramsay echoes this sentiment, a sort of elevated “Less talk, more action” in “Why I’m In It,” ending the piece with a self-admonition that he should perhaps “go make something new” rather than write a book, manifesto, or blog post (1).


I can certainly understand the frustration and the desire to root the conversation in tangibility—this is something I was thinking about in a previous post, since I had trouble during earlier readings in visualizing DH or concretizing what its practices could be without tangible examples—without seeking my definitions through real work. At the same time, though—are there moments in which constructs, even purely discursive ones, are useful for disciplines that are still in moments of self-definition? Even if they are useful only in the fact that they can serve as a gateway to or a means of obtaining material support for projects that might not yet have tailor made spaces and infrastructures?

I’m thinking specifically of Svensson’s article on humanistiscope. Svensson uses the “humanistiscope” as a “thought piece” (339), a “rhetorical device that can help us conceptualize” (348) and a “tool to help us think about and enact a humanities infrastructure” (348, emphasis mine). As a rhetorical device, Svensson sees the “humanististicope” as a means of articulating something that has not yet been articulated, that can’t adopt previous models because of its specific and unique goals: “For one thing, there is not necessarily a name for the kind of things under discussion here (existing or possible humanistic infrastructures), and the notion of the humanistiscope gives us a way of packaging and imagining humanities infrastructure without being locked into a current vocabulary and infrastructures” (339). That “way of imagining” is also a way to enact, a means of achieving necessary material structures tailored to DH needs.

This strikes me as the possible value (or at least past value) of a construct like the term “digital humanities”: even as a purely discursive stand-in, it is a means of achieving non-discursive results, be they financial, infrastructural, concerned with evaluation practices, etc.
In Svensson’s case, the use of a new term, a tactical term, is partially driven by the inability of previous infrastructural models to meet the specific needs of the digital humanities; the danger of imitating already existing models that are geared toward established disciplines (often scientific) is also articulated by Earhart. There is a danger, for both of them, in adopting rather than tailoring these models, largely because the humanities are much more multimodal, even commons-like, in their projects. As Svensson says, “a particularity of humanities infrastructure is that it is likely to be multiplex to accommodate different scholarly and educational needs. Major science infrastructure, in contrast, tends to be seen as more specific in terms of relating to certain projects, questions, or even certain problems” (351). A construct like humanistiscope is useful in that it allows for an imagining of an infrastructure not yet in place, tailored to humanities goals and free from the “clear risk…of adopting a science and engineering based model for humanities infrastructure in such a way that the model significantly constrains and shapes possible research enterprises and directions” (346). For Earhart, too, “It is crucial that we tailor the existing science laboratory model to meet best practices in the digital humanities.” (396).

The “work”, the projects that scholars produce does not happen in a vacuum; it is often produced through and catalyzed by conversation; tools are often developed because conversation and construct (imaginings) dictate the need. Structures, be they infrastructural, methodological, even spatial, also have an effect on the work that comes out of them, not just in how that work develops, but extending to what kinds of projects are conceived of in the first place. Do some constructs allow us to develop structures (labs, infrastructure, departments, centers, funding opportunities, etc.) that are particular to DH and don’t fall into the trap of purely mimicking scientific models? Has the “digital humanities” construct been useful in the past in allowing for the development of a discipline that is not wholly contained by either the purely scientific or the purely humanistic (if such categories even exist)? And even if the term has been useful in the past, has the constant rearticulation and reification of it outlived its value? Perhaps the large construct was useful in the past, but, as Kirschenbaum says, it is time to focus on the work. Earhart’s focus on labs and Svensson’s focus on infrastructure don’t focus on specific projects, but are certainly more rooted in materiality than the “Who’s in, Who’s out” conversations and “What is DH” conversations that have dominated in the past.

Perhaps one answer is that constructs can be useful, can expand our conceptions of what is possible and therefore move toward enacting specific, tailored systems that foster DH work instead of work based on previous models—as long as we renew them as the conversation develops. There is no final answer to “What is the Digital Humanities?” and, as Kirschenbaum says, this may be because “we don’t want to know nor is it useful for us to know” (11). But the answer, the “what” doesn’t seem to me to be the “end” for which such a construct is a useful means. Like a utopian imaginary, the construct “digital humanities” expands our notions of what can be done beyond current models. It allows us to detach from limiting connotations in the same way that humanistiscope frees DH infrastructure from science models. If we keep trying to use it as a means to a single answer, though, instead of following the new paths that are opened up by the discursive construction, the construct becomes limiting. If it is a tool, let it be a tool, and then move on.

Because this is the end of Part One, which seemed to be largely about defining, delineating, articulating, and categorizing, I created an example of a completely limiting, useless form of discussing DH – the Buzzfeed archetypal Personality quiz.

Buzzfeed Quiz

So click the link below to find out the single answer to the singular question, “What Kind of DHer Are You?”

Please note: descriptions and quiz elements do not reflect my actual opinions but are meant to be exaggerated versions of possible opinions within the DH community. It’s just for fun :).


You Say You Want a Revolution: Rebel DH

In the introduction to Debates in the Digital Humanities, Matthew K. Gold touches on a recurrent undertone in many discussions surrounding the digital humanities: DH’s inherent potential to transform, reform, or disrupt traditional humanities processes and values systems. As he points out, “the digital humanities, more than most fields, seems positioned to address many of those changes” (Gold 1). This “potential” is taken up directly or indirectly by authors in this volume with some range – for some, DH is simply another avenue for traditional scholarship, for others, it contains the same problems of hierarchy and homogeneity that the humanities in general contains, for still others it is a revolutionary force that should be harnessed not just within the academy but outside of it. Whether we consider DH to be a “Big Tent” or a meeting place, a category or a method, it’s clear that DH has the potential to transform. With that potential, I think, comes a certain amount of power. But – and yes, I’m going Spiderman on this one – does it also imply a certain amount of responsibility?


To put it another way: Does DH’s revolutionary potential within academia mean that DHers have a subsequent responsibility to practice the kind of projects that push directly against traditional peer-reviewed publishing, devaluation of collaboration, the monograph, etc.? Do the “fault lines” that Gold says have “emerged within the DH community between those who use new digital tools to aid relatively traditional scholarly projects and those who believe that DH is most powerful as a disruptive political force that has the potential to reshape fundamental aspects of academic practice” imply that some are taking up this revolutionary cause, and others are shirking their DH obligations toward creating a greater good?

If there is a responsibility tied to DH’s transformative potential, is it limited to transformation within the academy, to “practices (or “sacred cows”) such as tenure, publication, and peer review” (Kirschenbaum, “What is Digital Humanities” 1)? Is that responsibility toward the larger humanities community in general, to “assist humanities advocacy,” as Alan Liu and 4Humanities state (Liu, “Where is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities”)? Or, as Elizabeth Losh suggests, is it not only about “hacking the academy” but “hacking the world” – does the responsibility to reshape also extend outside humanities and the academy in general, into public forums and social justice (Losh, “Hacktivism and the Humanities: Programming Protest in the Era of the Digital University”)?

To me, it seems that the transformative potential should at least be taken advantage of with respect to academia’s traditional value systems, or “sacred cows” – and this internal transformation could perhaps lead to a renovation of the humanities in general, over time. But do we have time?

Charlie Edwards points out that “The analogy DH’s critics like to make is with Big Theory, and this is the implication: that one day we will look back on DH as just another wave that broke over the academy, eroded its formations perhaps in some small places, and then receded, leaving a few tranquil rock pools behind” (Edwards, “The Digital Humanities and Its Users”). William Pannapacker implies something similar, that the revolutionary potential of DH may have an expiration date as its recognition as a discipline grows:

There’s justice in this turn of events: well-earned success for a community that has long regarded itself as facing uncomprehending resistance. At the same time, the tendency to become like Big Theory may change the attractive ethics of the field, described by one panelist “as community, collaboration, and goodwill.” The grassroots days seem to be ending. (PannaPacker, “Digital Humanities Triumphant?”)

There may be a danger, it seems, as the once novel becomes the new normal, as we drop either the D or the H in service of the other letter, that DH will be subsumed into the traditional values systems of academia and leave “humanities education, in general…unchanged” (PannaPacker). Will DHers, feeling the pressure to stay afloat and reach success in a system that isn’t suited to evaluating their work, push to adapt to that system? Or alternatively, as the system does begin to see the value of DH, which seems to be happening more and more, will DH lose the edges that give it its initial revolutionary potential? How does DH keep from morphing, over time, into Big Theory?

Lastly, does transformation need to take place first within the digital humanities in order to have any outward effect? Do internal mirroring of larger issues in the humanities (hierarchies, elitism, a lack of attention to gender, race, class, and able-bodied biases, etc.) detract from DH’s transformative potential?

If DH is, as it is sometimes framed, a sort of new superpower subgenre of the humanities that can either remake the system or bolster it, be subsumed into it or shape the world outside it, how does the community decide that power’s orientation? Is DH a traditional, strong but silent superhero in service of the status-quo, a la Captain America? Or is it a socially conscious vigilante like the Green Arrow? Or maybe the messianic narrative is a little more than DH can handle at this point – perhaps DH (as a whole) is more analogous to an adolescent who finds themselves in a position of power and is torn between disrupting the system, doing the right thing, and just doing cool stuff?


One DH lab / center that has definitive stance on the transformative power of the digital is the Centre for Disruptive Media at Coventry University in the UK. The Centre focuses both on the study of “disruptive technologies” as an object as well as experimentation with disruptive technologies as a tool (“Our Take on Disruption”, Center for Disruptive Media). Their projects range from the creation of archives (see the digitization of British Telecom’s Archive) to collaborative, open access publications like Living Books About Life or Performative Publications that “align more closely the material form of a publication with its content). Their main interest with these projects, however, is:

“the future of university teaching, learning, research and publication in the age of disruptive media. We view the emergence of media technologies such as smart phones, tablets, p2p networks and the mobile web as providing us with an opportunity to rethink the university – fundamentally, yet also creatively and affirmatively. In other words, our concern is with how digital media technologies can help us to disrupt some of the university’s core foundational concepts, values, practices and genres, both theoretically and performatively. These include the idea of the subject as a static, stable, unitary identity, the indivisible and individualized proprietorial author, the linear argument and text, originality, the finished object, ‘fixity’, intellectual property, copyright and even the human.”

One project, Liquid Theory TV, looks at alternative methods of being an intellectual / communicating intellectual ideas through new technologies. This first episode, for example, focuses on “Liquid Books” by Gary Hall and Clare Birchall: (Is there a way to embed videos on here? Couldn’t figure it out!)
Their project not only seems oriented toward collaboration between scholars, but also broadening access to the public – and the decision to “demystify” is also something of a collapse of a typical informational hierarchy. “Open access” seems to be big at the Centre for Disruptive Media – I wonder how much of the transformation of academia – “Hacking the Academy” – is an opening of the academy to the outside world?

The Deterritorialization and Reterritorialization of Digital SPACE

This week, I’m interested in concepts of SPACE —specifically, the deterritorialization and reterritorialization[1] of digital space or the space of digital humanities. There seems to be a polarity set up between the virtual and the physical (tangible), that which is rooted in territorialized space and that which “takes place” in abstract space. This differentiation occurs most notably in Kirschenbaum’s Mechanisms but is also exemplified by the encounters in Svensson’s “The Landscape of Digital Humanities” – different labs lean toward the physical or the virtual, their goals (and modes of engagement) lean towards the expressive or the analytical: the philosophy of ACTlab in Austin, a “performance and production space,” cannot be separated from the studio space, and demands that its participants “make stuff” (Svensson 11). Its “spatial grounding” is seen as essential. The HASTAC meeting, though it contains a “distinct physical grounding,” is “based on the idea of a virtual organization” (13). Its goals are infrastructural and facilitative; they attempt to make institutional space for the digital humanities as a field.

Yet as both Mechanisms and Svensson’s encounters show, the digital humanities seem particularly adept at existing in both deterritorialized and reterritorialized spaces, in multiple spaces with simultaneous and varied purposes, though there is a tendency, as Kirschenbaum points out, to categorize the field as existing only in virtual form. His emphasis on “forensic materiality” is an antidote to our tendency toward “medial ideology”; it pushes against supposed ephemerality, fungility, and homogeneity and reterritorializes “storage space”—putting it back, conceptually (technically, it never left), into the physical machine.

This urge to reterritorialize or root the digital humanities is intriguing to me – not just in Kirschenbaum’s emphasis on the forensic materiality of digital objects, but as a form of concretizing other aspects of abstraction in the digital humanities field. If we expand the “material” side of the digital to include the material side of the digital humanities as a field, reterritorialization would encompass physical labs (as opposed to virtual cohorts), purpose or use driven projects as opposed to “purely” intellectual ones, projects that are “with” and “for” objects instead of just “about” them, as Steve Anderson and Tara McPherson state in “Thoughts on Evaluating Multimedia Scholarship,” part of “Evaluating Digital Scholarship” (Anderson and McPherson 149). To me, “reterritorialization” would even point to articulating the digital humanities field through concrete examples as opposed to hypothetical qualifications – one of the biggest challenges for me in understanding the digital humanities as a field has been connecting abstract concepts to real projects.

Incedentally, I’m hoping that this particular example will help to concretize my comments about deterritorialization and reterritorialization, which are completely abstract!

Vectors: The Roaring ‘Twenties by Emily Thompson
Emily Thompson’s project, The Roaring ‘Twenties, was published two years ago in Vectors and exemplifies this position of simultaneous territorialized and deterritorialized space. Described as “an interactive exploration of the historical soundscape of New York City”, the project is driven by and rooted in physical space, but uses the capacities of virtual digital space to occupy multiple temporalities and catalog a history of sound.

roaring twenties

In her Author’s Note, Thompson describes the book on which the project research is based as “a history of the intersection of the evanescent and the concrete. Throughout its narrative, the ephemeral vibrations of sound interact with a material world intended to control those vibrations” (Thompson 1). Responding to a contemporary tendency to “dissociate the sounds [we] hear from their places of origin” and “render [ourselves] oblivious to the space in which [we] are physically located while [we] listen,” Thompson chose to “deploy these technological tools in a different irection…reinvoke a sense of the very specific historical times and physical places in which the sounds of the past are embedded” (Thompson 1).

In creating this interactive archive, Thompson is reterritorializing and deterritorializing space at the same time. While this is only one example of such a project, I think that this use of digital space as both physical and virtual points to the unique space within digital humanities for creating such projects – because it is multimodal, collaborative, and often expands beyond insular academia, it is suited to existing as a sort of physical and virtual “commons”[2] space, with multiple uses, orientations, and participants.


Works Cited

Anderson, Steve, and Tara Mcpherson. “Engaging Digital Scholarship: Thoughts on Evaluating Multimedia Scholarship.”

          Profession 2011.1 (2011): 136-51. Web.

Joselit, David. After Art. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2013. Print.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2008. Print.

Svensson, Patrik. “The Landscape of Digital Humanities.” Digital Humanities Quarterly 4.1 (2010): 1-36. Web.

Thompson, Emily. “Author’s Statement.” The Roaring ‘Twenties. Vectors. 4.1 (2013). Web.

[1] When I say deterritorialization and reterritorialization I’m thinking of the slip into abstraction vs. the tangible, that which is rooted in a physical reality vs. that which is removed from physical reality, etc. For me, these terms also align with Kirschenbaum’s forensic materiality and medial ideology, forensic materiality being an instance of reterritorialization of the deterritorialized medial ideology.

[2] In using the word “commons” I’m thinking of a space analogous to David Joselit’s definition of a commons in after art as a space that “may host several actions, both actual and virtual” (Joselit 50).

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Cousins Post 1: Do You Speak Digital?

Apologies for the length – I’m not quite to the “effective synthesis” stage of this subject yet – still sort of splashing around and making a bit of a mess! 


C.P. Snow’s christening of the sciences and humanities as “two cultures” defines the gap between the two fields as one of communication and comprehension, a sort of language barrier that is both answered by and problematized by the development of the “digital humanities” concepts across the rest of the articles.

Snow comments on a “lack of understanding” between the two fields despite their proximity, “as though the scientists spoke nothing but Tibetan” (3). The mutual incomprehension is a sort of “tone-deafness”, an inability to bridge the gap predicated not just on disinterest, but also on lack of training (15).

The dual nature of the digital humanities field seems apt for cultivating that understanding ear. There is a “closing of the gap” in each of the articles—though the terms surrounding the field / practice change as we move from Selfe’s focus on computers (she says the word so much that it started to take on a sort of overly-magical quality; by repetition the importance of the object itself started to seem anachronistic) to Unsworth’s more technical “humanities computing” to Moretti’s “abstract models” (which I am seeing as one example of what digital humanities can do rather than an encompassing model of its technique). Still, each article repeats Snow’s emphasis on the social and his communication-oriented language. Selfe mentions the potential “social impact” of new technologies and looks toward English departments as “social collectives” and “intellectual discourse communities” while acknowledging the current “segmentation of information and communication” (63). Unsworth, too, emphasizes “the need for efficient computation on the one hand, and for human communication on the other” and considers “Knowledge representations…a medium of expression and communication”(1).

At the end of the readings, then, I had formed a picture in my mind of digital humanities as something like a new language or tool as opposed to a particular interest or form of content. The merging of computation and communication also defines the digital humanities as a language / tool that contains its own inherent problems of expression and that can be used for both cooperative and divisive purposes, depending on how one wields it.

In each article, the simultaneously quantitative-practical and interpretive-theoretical natures of ‘computers in English departments’, of humanities computing, and of ‘abstract models for literary history’ create internal questions about the results of digital humanities practices in the larger humanities milieu. For Selfe, it can bring out the best or worst of English scholarship, creating opportunity or reifying problematic hierarchies and power dynamics. For Moretti, “the asymmetry of a quantitative explanandum and a qualitative explanans leaves you often with a perfectly clear problem—and no idea of a solution” (86). Unsworth mentions the possibility that “any efficiency stands opposed in some way to the fullness of expression” (7). The differing natures of the science and humanities that cause cultural barriers in Snow’s article seem to be present in their amalgamation as well.

Discussions of efficiency, then, put a new emphasis on purpose. If digital humanities practices are tools, what are we using them for? Is it as simple as serving Humanities oriented purposes through scientific methods? Or do the purposes change with the adoption of the methods – it seems like the goals themselves are becoming larger in scale, more collaborative, less inwardly oriented (towards both the text and the scholar). Is this symptomatic of using new tools, or is it only that we are only now able to tackle these types of projects because of new resources? Does it matter?

For now, Kirschenbaum’s definition of the digital humanities as “more akin to a common methodological outlook than an investment in any one specific set of texts or even technologies” resonates with me the most—and each of the articles seems to emphasize his further statement that “digital humanities is also a social undertaking.” Because of this, in addition to speaking the language of Digital Humanities, it seems we are tasked with learning to speak about the language itself, write its rules and its uses as if binding it up in a grammar textbook. Is this possible? Useful? Is it only through full immersive practice that we can first become fluent, and then learn to re-articulate what we’ve created?