Blog Post

Why HASTAC?

HASTAC was founded on the idea that the humanities, the sciences(social and natural), the arts, and technology are all needed if we aregoing to think through the implications of a digital future. If thereare "Eight Ways to be a HASTAC leader," there are hundreds of ways tobe part of HASTAC's intellectual agenda. Philosopher Elizabeth Grosz writes in Time Travels "cultural studies can no longer afford to ignore the inputs of the natural sciences if they are to become self-aware. An orientation to questions of materiality and of life, the objects of physics, chemistry, and biology [and I would add mathematics, computational science, and engineering], is not outside the scope of cultural and technological analysis, but is their limit, their implicit underside, that which the cultural always carries along with it without adequate acknowledgement." Not only is this true, but so is its opposite. That cultural studies are the implicit underside of physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, computational science, and engineering. Although the "divisional" structuring of our universities far too often underscores and reinforces "division" (surprise!), these intellectual ruptures are recent, a product of the nineteenth-century German institution of graduate education and the research university, and a byproduct of modernity's tendencies towards fragmentation, specialization, binarization, and even polarization. The ascendancy of quantitative methods as "scientific" and even definitive of that which is scientific has further exacerbated a rift between intellectual areas and, perhaps more seriously, has discounted those elements of science which depend on speculation and creativity, the non-quantitative leaps that are the hallmark of great science. It is detrimental to scientific thinking--to all thinking--to reduce any intellectual process to its quantified results. Such thinking favors outcomes over inputs, leading quickly to entropy, more coming out of a system than going into it, more attention to product than process. Thus HASTAC. When we first began having conversations about a network of networks, our founding idea was, simply, that we live in too complex and interesting an intellectual era, with far too much flow among domains, for the divisional structure of the university. The university is a historical artifact; new historical pressures are at work and it is time for universities to change. Given all the investments in its current arrangements (not only by disciplines and by schools but also from one institution to another, with their competitive and cannabilizing practices of recruitment, financial aid, intercollegiate athletics, and on and on), the university can change only incrementally. So a different kind of non-institutional institution seemed necessary to leverage the thinking of those who desire to work together and think together. Not everyone experiences disciplinary and institutional structures as obstacles; affective attachment to departments, disciplines, and institutions is often very strong. But in places where there is tension between one's intellectual goals and one's institutional arrangements, HASTAC can offer support--as much as an individual wants (which, in the logic of networks, also means as much as an individual wants to give). Here's another HASTAC premise: The tremendous leaps in computational thinking, in technology, in peer-to-peer idea-making, in composite and collective and global knowledge-sharing make this an astonishing time. Far more astonishing than our departments. Far more astonishing than our disciplines. Far more astonishing than any one way of thinking. Far more astonishing than any one solitary thinker. Trying to come up with a name for our network of networks, we ended up with an unwieldy acronym because we didn't want to specify a hierarchy. A funny if non-intuitive pun ("haystack") that lent itself to a metaphor. And a crazy idea that, if you didn't have one fixed structure but offered flexibility and adaptability, that change could happen through consultation, advocacy, conversation, and dialogue. Change could happen in a way that supports the vision of new teachers, scholars, and practitioners--and could support conduits between people in those different realms. And such voluntary dedication to change could also, we believed, provide support to, inspiration for, and collaboration with the most innovative leaders in many fields, institutions, organizations, agencies, and foundations. That's not the whole answer, but it's a good part of an answer to the question: "Why HASTAC?"

 

And for a multimedia answer to "Why HASTAC?" I'll tip in some YouTube clips below, running the gamut from multimedia performance art, to tele-immersion, to video searching to emotional robots to live-action anime. These were all featured in HASTAC events between the SECT seminar of 2006 and the InFormation Year and the Digital Media and Learning Competition of 2007. The connections? Whatever you wish to make of them. Enjoy!

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1 comment

And here's an interesting article on innovation reblogged from the NY Times that upholds what we in HASTAC have been calling "collaboration by difference"--you put in the non-specialist in the basic, foundational, and creative questions are the ones you have to answer.
December 30, 2007
Bright Ideas

Innovative Minds Don

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