Bodies of Information: Feminist Debates in Digital Humanities

Bodies of Information

This fabulous edited collection is part of the Debates in Digital Humanities series through the University of Minnesota Press. With our thanks to series editors Matt Gold and Lauren Klein and our many wonderful contributors, below is an excerpt from the introduction that Elizabeth Losh and I wrote for the volume.

from our introduction

The manuscript for Bodies of Information came into being in the liminal space between the final days in office for the first black president of the United States of America and the simultaneous concussion waves of nationalism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and racism that appeared to set the stage for hostility to academic institutions, scientific inquiry, journalistic investigation, political inclusion, public investment, digital rights, and network neutrality.1 Within weeks of the 2017 White House inauguration, an important federal endowment that had supported the work of many of the practitioners represented in this volume was threatened with defunding. Innovative academic scholarship in and about digital environments was also disparaged by a president who relished expressing his disdain for projects that he singled out like “a wolf video game” or scholarly research on “Internet romance.”2 Increasingly global, digital humanities organizations struggled to come to terms with authoritarian governments ignoring human rights violations and the needs of hundreds of millions of migrants and displaced persons struggling to survive in a bleak biopolitical landscape.

This volume also emerges in an era when the tasks of intersectional feminisms, of coalition building, and of communal care and repair are recognized as increasingly important areas in the humanities. Yet as women and feminists who have been active in the digital humanities since it was called “humanities computing,” we are often astonished to see forms of intellectual engagement that confront structural misogyny and racism relegated to the status of fringe concerns. Even as leaders of digital humanities labs are finally being outed for sexual harassment or systemic discrimination, trivialization of feminist methodologies continues….

Despite an often grim environment for equity, diversity, inclusion, and participation in the humanities within increasingly constrained research universities and the political institutions hat support them, we are hopeful that the digital humanities is finally maturing from its critically naive beginnings. This volume reflects how feminist collectives and communities are making a difference in changing the digital humanities in particular and institutional cultures generally, from members of FemTechNet, to curators of the Ferguson syllabus effort, to participants in the #transformdh and #dhpoco hashtag campaigns.

Bodies of Information is organized with keywords that work as “boundary objects,” in the sense that they are shared resources that support systems of meaning that are used in different ways by different communities.16 First theorized by the late Science and Technology Studies cholar Susan Leigh Star and her collaborators, boundary objects are plastic—interpreted differently and adapted to express emergent thinking across communities and contexts while also maintaining sufficient conceptual integrity for common understanding. Recognizing that keywords like “materiality” or “embodiment” operate as boundary objects gives us a way of understanding the kinds of work such concepts do in creating identities, knitting communities, and suggesting relationships between seemingly disparate ideas. As Star and her collaborators so powerfully demonstrated, boundary objects play a pivotal role in the creation of reality. An array of boundary objects are possible.

In our work we use the acronym MEALS as shorthand for a feminist emphasis on the “material, embodied, affective, labor-intensive, and situated character of engagements with computation can operate experientially for users in shared spaces.”17 Because boundary objects are mediating technologies for people and communities, we have used them here to cluster our chapters. Like the weakly determined boundary objects theorized by Star, our chapter clusters should be read as multifaceted engagements with the concepts that we believe operate in a certain kind of community with one another. That said, one of the great joys of rich intersectional feminist work is that it attends to issues of embodiment, affect, labor, etc. as a regular part of practice. Indeed, while we open with a focus on materiality and close with the recognition that all work, all bodies, all actions are situated, readers will see that there are strong threads that weave across the chapter clusters as well. Readers will also note that here we have supplemented the MEALS framework with an additional boundary object, “Values,” in order to draw attention to the ways in which technologies promote particular ethical and ideological values (rather than acting as neutral tools).

Bodies of Information: Feminist Debates in Digital Humanities
Jacqueline Wernimont and Elizabeth Losh, Editors

  1. Introduction, Jacqueline Wernimont and Elizabeth Losh

Materiality

  1. “Danger, Jane Roe!” Wearable Data Visualization as Feminist Praxis, Kimberly Knight
  2. The Android Goddess Declaration: Hacking Our Own Algorithms, micha cárdenas
  3. What Passes for Human? : Undermining the Fictive Universal Subject in Digital Humanities Praxis, Roopika Risam
  4. Accounting & Accountability: Feminist Grant Administration and Coalitional Fair Finance, Danielle Cole, Izetta Autumn Mobley, Jacqueline Wernimont, Moya Bailey, T.L. Cowan, Veronica Paredes

Values

  1. Be More Than Binary, Deb Verhoeven
  2. Diversity in Digital Humanities Conferences, Nickoal Eichmann- Kalwara, Jeana Jorgensen, and Scott Weingart
  3. Counting the Costs of Scholarship: Funding Feminism in the Digital Humanities, Christina Boyles
  4. Toward a Queer Digital Humanities, Bonnie Ruberg, Jason Boyd, and James Howe

Embodiment

  1. Remaking History: Lesbian Feminist Historical Methods in the Digital Humanities, Michelle Schwartz and Constance Crompton
  2. Prototyping Personography for The Yellow Nineties Online: Queering and Querying History in the Digital Age, Alison Hedley and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra
  3. Is Twitter Any Place for a [Black Academic] Lady?, Marcia Chatelain
  4. Bringing up the Bodies: The Visceral, the Virtual, and the Visible, Padmini Ray Murray

Affect

  1. Ev-Ent-Anglement: Reflexively Extending Engagement By Way of Technology, Alexandra Juhasz, Brian Getnick, and Laila Shereen Sakr
  2. Building Pleasure and the Digital Archive, Dorothy Kim
  3. Delivery Service: Gender and the Political Unconscious of Digital Humanities, Susan Brown

Labor

  1. Building Otherwise, Julia Flanders
  2. Working Nine to Five: What a Way to Make an Academic Living?, Lisa Brundage, Karen Gregory, and Emily Sherwood
  3. Minority Report: The Myth of Equality in the Digital Humanities, Barbara Bordalejo
  4. Beyond the Principal Investigator: Complicating “Great Man” Narrative of Digital History, Sharon Leon

Situatedness

  1. Can We Trust the University?: Digital Humanities Collaborations with Historically Exploited Cultural Communities, Amy Earhart
  2. Domestic Disturbances: Precarity, Agency, Data, Beth Coleman
  3. Project | Process | Product: Feminist Digital Subjectivity in a Shifting Scholarly Field, Kathryn Holland and Susan Brown
  4. Decolonizing Digital Humanities: Africa in Perspective, Titilola Aiyegbusi
  5. A View From Somewhere: Designing The Oldest Game, A Newsgame to Speak Nearby, Sandra Gabriele
  6. Playing the Humanities: Feminist Game Studies and Public Discourse, Anastasia Salter and Bridget Blodgett

 

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