Blog Post

Blog Diss: Public Works 2014 Talk (1/2)

Alright, so I'm playing a bit of catch-up with my daily blogging goal. I blame my birthday for the fact that I'm behind, and I'm sticking to that!

This post and the following one are a text version of the talk that I gave yesterday at the University of Alberta English and Film Studies Symposium "Public Works". There, I spoke about how the experience of blogging has gone so far, and had some great conversations during the question period about everything from how blogging might impact the future publication of this work to how blogging has shaped both my productivity and self-care thus far. I'm happy to continue any of these conversations in any forums!



So what have I been doing lately? Well, finding a lot of Game of Thrones gifs and catching up on Academic Coach Taylor, but foolishly, I didn’t apply to talk about either of those things. Yes, I am re-evaluating many of my life choices. But for now, I’ll stick to what I did come here to talk about: the blogging of my academic work, which I’ve been doing all year at HASTAC.

The decision to do this was influenced by a number of people and conversations. I work, as some of you know and some of you may not, in the fields of new media and digital humanities scholarship. And one of the central political and academic projects of much of this work has been to consider how digital media can be used to make our scholarship public and accessible in new ways. In his 2010 article/polemic/love letter “What is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?”, Matt Kirschenbaum describes DH as a “scholarship (and a pedagogy) that is publicly visible…bound up with infrastructure in ways that are deeper and more explicit than we generally accustomed to”. Others, including Kirschenbaum, have also emphasized the foregrounding and ease of collaborative work online. The general force of the argument, then, is that producing and disseminating work via digital media allows us to reach new and different audiences, and that the scale and immediacy of the network as a form can allow us to be more easily held accountable by both our colleagues and our communities.

There are, of course, critiques we can and should level at this argument, and I’m actually going to close out this talk about how wonderful it’s been to blog by raising a couple of them. Apparently I’m capable of only so much optimism. But in beginning work on my LTP and dissertation, which centre upon questions of affect, materiality and labour online, I wanted to engage in some meaningful way with the spirit of these arguments, to embody them as part of the process of my work rather than only in the content of its discussion.

So in January, I met with my co-supervisors to ask what they thought about blogging all of my dissertation-related writing. They were both really receptive, as they tend to be when I wander in and begin with something vague and ominous like “So, I was thinking about a thing, but it’s probably a horrible idea.” Even months later, though, we’re still working through some of the practical, personal, and, yes, affective complications of working this way, and I want to use the time I’ve been given here today to dwell on some of them.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the biggest questions we’ve dealt with throughout have had to do with audience. It’s one thing to decide that probably some people out there in the universe might care about what you’re doing, it’s quite another to try to figure out how to use your writing to facilitate that kind of relationship while also still staying within the department guidelines for particular documents. I’ve tried to address this in a number of ways. For the Statement of Research Plan, I pretty much posted exactly what I was going to submit; the only real alteration I made to accommodate the blog format was to break the text into sections so that it wasn’t the dreaded wall of text blog.

With my LTP, because I have the luxury of taking a little bit more time with document, I’ve tried for a more dynamic approach. Some days are still just little hunks of the LTP; there’s really no way around the fact that at some point I need to write the actual thing, and get feedback from my supervisors on it. But I’ve also tried out several genres that are new or less familiar to me, both as a means of approaching my project in a more informal and experimental way, and as an attempt to make the writing more accessible and enjoyable to read for a general audience. This has included what I’ve called extended reading notes, which are reflections on the texts I’m reading which I try to connect to my research using examples that are going to be familiar to many of the folks who tend to frequent HASTAC. I’ve also written brief case studies, some in areas I’m working directly with in my dissertation, and others that I’m not planning on taking up explicitly in my research, but which raise similar questions. One of my favourite ones to write, for example, considered the controversy surrounding Oculus Rift, a crowdfunded gaming platform recently sold to Facebook. I’m still not planning on discussing gaming within the context of my dissertation-proper, but it was a really refreshing and fun way to come at the questions I’m already asking about what is at stake in crowdfunding and how affect is mobilized in that context.

That post was also interesting because of the ways in which it also got me thinking about political and ethical accountability in different ways. At other points, the blog has acted for me as a space for advancing ideas that feel really exciting and polemical, so much so that I would probably stop short of putting them in my actual dissertation or long thesis proposal. My call for Wages for Fanfic, for instance, was lovely to write and is something I do feel is generally right and important, but would also require a lot more thought and qualification before I put it in any formal academic work. But when writing the Oculus Rift stuff, it felt really important to make explicit the fact that, unlike spaces like fandom and piracy, I have a limited personal implication and investment in gaming directly. This is largely because new media is a field where there’s so much ‘touristy’ work, or general claims made about what the Internet does because of this one time the author used Facebook for two days. So I typically attempt to refrain entirely from speaking about areas I don’t have fairly extensive knowledge or involvement in. For that post, then, the blog became a space where it felt both natural and necessary to provide information about my own self-location in relation to the topic, which included openly noting the number of people I’ve learned from over the past few years who know way more about gaming than me. This practice of self-location has been done and continues to be used in academic work, so I’m not making any kind of claim to novelty here. But what felt interesting about it to me here was the ability to provide that kind of information on a literal case-by-case basis, whenever it felt relevant. And I have provided this kind of information several times since that post, and have several times toyed with the idea of beginning most or all posts that way.


On to part two here


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