Blog Post

Blog Diss: LTP Situation Within Fields (DH/New Media)

Here's the final (for draft one) version of my DH/New Media field.

Revision history, thus far: Minor stylistic and mechanical shifts


Though joined through the ways I have elected to curate and title this field, it is first important to note that there are distinctions between the fields of digital humanities (hereafter DH) and new media studies. In “Where is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?” (2012), Alan Liu describes the latter as a group of “provocateur artists, net critics, tactical media theorists, [and] hacktivists”, whose approaches tend to “blend post-1960s media theory, poststructuralist theory and political critique into “net critique” and other kinds of digital cultural criticism” (n.p.). The field of digital humanities, formerly humanities computing, meanwhile, has traditionally concentrated upon the creation of “tools, data, and metadata” (n.p.). Liu’s paper, originally delivered at a panel during the 2011 MLA titled “The History and Future of the Digital Humanities”, goes on to make a polemic claim that the historical division between the two fields has led to a severe lack of sustained cultural critique within DH. “It is as if,” he writes, “digital humanists just concentrate on pushing the “execute” button on projects that amass the most data for the greatest number…all without pausing to reflect on the relation of the whole digital juggernaut to the new world order” (n.p.).

Liu’s critique is well taken, and the so-called ‘hack/yack binary’[1] is by no means a non-presence in contemporary DH and new media scholarship. However, there have been several recent efforts on the part of DH-identified scholars to move the field toward a more sustained engagement with cultural critique.[2]. To ignore these interventions and situate my project exclusively within the boundaries of new media studies would not only neglect the influence many of these thinkers have had on my work to this point, but would further entrench divisions between DH and new media and erase what have been important and productive efforts to render DH a more critically conscious and engaged field. Furthermore, in a project which posits as central the labour involved in the production and dissemination of digital work, it would be unproductive, even ethically questionable, to imply that these labours are necessarily separate from procedures such as coding, even while the latter are not my primary site of emphasis.

The selection and range of texts I employ from both fields, then, is intended to allow for a dialectical focus and movement between particular digital platforms and activities and the labouring subjects involved in their creation.  Henry Jenkins, whose (1992) Textual Poachers: Television Fans & Participatory Culture is a seminal work in media and communication scholarship, continues to write in these areas, and will be an influential voice in my project. His 2006 monograph Convergence Culture intervenes into contemporary discussions of convergence that understand it primarily as a technical phenomenon. “Convergence does not depend on any specific delivery mechanism,” he argues, but is rather a series of social, political and economic shifts, “a move from medium-specific content toward content that flows across media channels, toward the increased interdependence of communications systems…and toward ever more complex relations between top-down corporate media and bottom-up participatory culture” (243). The text tracks convergence through the rapidly shifting dynamics that situate many of those engaging with media as both consumers and producers of content. A second text released the same year, Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers, further considers this tendency through a more sustained emphasis on particular practices (two of which are also a part of my project). Jenkins also publishes a blog, “Confessions of an Aca-Fan”, and thus is important for my project not only due to his formal scholarly contributions, but for the ways in which he attempts to use the forms of media he studies in order to disseminate his work.

Jenkins’ attention, however, has been dedicated primarily to “early adopters”, whom he notes tend to be “disproportionately white, male, middle class, and college educated” (23).[3] While informed by Jenkins’ analysis of convergence and the range of media practices he has attended to in his work, then, I also rely on studies attending to uses of digital media by marginalized subjects. Rhiannon Bury’s body of scholarship has covered many similar digital forms and domains as Jenkins, but with an emphasis on gender. Her (2005) ethnographic study, Cyberspaces of Their Own, tracks several female fandoms with particular attention to how belonging is negotiated and maintained within what she calls “interactive communit[ies]” (14). Lisa Nakamura and Peter Chow-White’s edited collection, Race After The Internet, similarly considers how race is inflected and shaped by the digital media context, in domains ranging from social media to surveillance and biotechnology. Its section titled “Digital Segregations” will be of particular importance for my dissertation, as the differential adoption of specific platforms and sites each author (boyd, Hargittai, Wilson and Costanza-Chock) discusses is, I will argue, also reflected in the types of labour undertaken (and rejected) by racialized bodies.

Recent considerations of new media through the lens of disability studies, including Disability and New Media (2011) have also considered the impact of different design and representational approaches on alternatively-abled persons.  While my thinking about the intersection of disability and new media is at an earlier stage than other areas of my project, I am interested in how even accounts like Disability and New Media tend to privilege the inclusion of those with physical rather than cognitive disabilities. At the same time as calling for a return to principles of “universal design and access” (146), the text is less attentive to how design and accessibility are also imbedded in normative assumptions about cognitive function. This absence, I suggest, is particularly significant in the context of my project given the ways in which depictions of affective digital labour as ‘cognitive’ work performed by subjects who are more “intelligent, communicative, [and] affective” (Hardt and Negri 109) than their predecessors are fundamentally ableist, predicated on normalized understandings of intelligence and affective relationality.

Finally, my project will also turn to studies that have specifically taken up the role of affect in new media production. Central in this respect, and perhaps the strongest existing bridge between the fields of affect and new media studies, is Melissa Gregg’s recent (2011) monograph, Work’s Intimacy. The text, a continuation of Gregg’s interest in the affects of contemporary labour, emphasizes how digital media creates what she calls “presence bleed”, the phenomenon wherein “firm boundaries between personal and professional identities no longer apply” (n.p.) for an increasing number of workers. This tendency, and its rhetoric of convenience, has had a particularly strong influence on women, who “feel grateful for the so-called “flexible” work arrangements”, that have “allowed [them] to maintain traditional childcare and home maintenance expectations…in addition to paid work” (n.p.). Yet, many of the women featured in the study also speak about their struggles to “withstand the “temptation”” of their digitally mediated labour, which they view, long for, even, as a site of respite from the gendered demands of childcare and housework. The alienation of these two forms of gendered work, then, enter into a dynamic exchange in which each type of work is experienced as the answer to or relief from the other.

This notion of digitally mediated labour as a site of affective attachments, yielding not only expected forms such as anxiety, but also gratitude, love, and even erotic desire, form a compelling response to another study which considers the affective digital workplace: Alan Liu’s (2004) The Laws of Cool: Knowledge Work and the Culture of Information. Liu views ‘cool’ affects, or those associated somehow with irony and detachment (which Sianne Ngai might also call “ugly”) as the primary affects of knowledge work, and posits humanities-based cultural criticism as the “bug” or “virus” (7) needed for resistance. Liu’s work is a seminal text in the field, and while I draw heavily on it in many respects, I am also interested in considering how these ‘cool’ affects are less influential for specific types of digital labour, particularly those performed by gendered, racialized, and other minoritized workers.

[1] This term is typically used as a colloquial reference to the division between those who build digital tools and platforms and those who discuss them critically. However, Bethany Nowviskie’s recent blog post “On the Origin of “Hack” and “Yack”” notes that even this usage, which has often perpetuated and exacerbated divisions within DH, is inaccurate to the phrase’s origins; the saying “more hack less yack”, she says, originally occurred at a THATcamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp), and was intended as “a comment on the dominant structure of academic conferences, not as a condemnation of the character and value of discourse-based humanities scholarship” (n.p.)

[2] These have included Alexis Lothian and Amanda Phillips’ work under the heading of #transformDH, which the two describe in a recent (2013) article as an “attempt to turn the digital humanities toward…radical traditions [of critical theory and activism], as well as toward the bodies of critical work in new media studies…that unpack the politics inherent in the force of the digital” (3). Also essential to this turn within the field have been two efforts to engage with the racial and colonial politics of digital media: Tara McPherson’s (2012) “Why Are the Digital Humanities So White?” posits a link between DH and the literal coding of racist ideologies into computing programs, and Post-Colonial Digital Humanities (#DHPoco), an initiative co-directed by Adeline Koh and Roopika Risam, has produced multiple conference papers, projects, and a summer reading and discussion program.

[3] This may change in Jenkins’ future work. He has recently published a White Paper titled “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century”, and is involved with Project New Media Literacies, both of which are devoted to bridging what he calls in Convergence Culture the “participation gap” (23).


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