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Is the Digital Humanities a hot, sellable commodity? Or a place for counter hegemonic critique?

Is the Digital Humanities a hot, sellable commodity? Or a place for counter hegemonic critique?

This past weekend was an amazing one, full of rich discussions of digital media at the UCLA Queer Studies Conference on the "Techno-Queer Self Fashioning: Digital Theory by Digital Praxis" panel with myself, Alexis Lothian, Amanda Phillips, Margarat Rhee. Then, following that I demonstrated my new wearable electronic project designed to create local wireless mesh networks to increase community autonony, Autonets, in the Queerture QUEER + COUTURE Fashion Show. 


Elle Mehrmand modeling Autonets - The Prototype Fashion Collection at Queerture QUEER + COUTURE


Additionally, the plenary talks by both Jack Halberstam and Karen Tongson were absolutely inspiring. As Alexis said, Halberstam's Gaga Feminism Manifesto, taking much inspiration from  was positively rousing! Tongson's talk resonated deeply with me though, effortlessly tying together her childhood memories of listening to the post-punk lyrics of Scritti Politti with her thoughts on disciplinary promiscuity. One comment that struck me though, was when Tongson was discussing how Queer Theory used to be seen as a "hip, trendy" field to be in, when people still thought it was ripe with possibility for disruption and that now it seemed more institutionally tamed. (It's hard to convey here the combination of sarcasm and actual sense of dissolusionment) Similarly, she said, with a bit of irony perhaps, that the Digital Humanities is the new hot, sellable commodity. (If so, then perhaps our panel was the most hipster thing around, Ha!)

I merely want to spark this fire and see if other people have thoughts on this subject without getting into a lot of analysis here, since I have to get back to a paper I'm working on! But one thing a couple of people told me they appreciated about our "Techno-Queer Self Fashioning" panel was that we were able to effectively bring together critical critiques of heteronormativity, racial production and sexual norms with a deep understanding of technologies including social media, gaming and wearable electronics. I actually signed on to post an announcement about the Critical Code Studies (CCS) event at USC tomorrow, which you can find below, but I wanted to comment on this weekend's excitement and the CCS event ties into this discusion well. At times I fear or I feel that CCS discussions, or Digital Humanities discussions, can run down a road that is very conservative, by trying to bring together technologists/coders with humanities people/critical theory people/artists, yet never really getting beyond the initial conflicts of interest. Perhaps my concern is that the lack of a shared commitment to feminist, anti-racist, queer critiques involved in such a broad grouping creates a situation in which a lot of ground work has to be laid, and all the time gets spent laying that ground work.

My questions are: Is queer new media really so rare? Or are queer/feminist/women of color analyses of new media really so rare? Do you think there is often something very conservative, even sellable, that is appealing to corporations or to university regents or investors, that is often present in discussions of the digital humanities? Do you think there is still some radical potential for queer theory or new media or the digital humanities to disturb hegemonic systems of power that facilitate violence against certain groups of people every day and protect the interests of others?

Yes, these ar big questions, but hopefully there's something here that is offensive enough or resonant enough for you to be interested in responding. Forgive me for being something of a troublemaker, it's something I strive for. To pull out a quote I used in my talk on the Techno-Queer panel, from Halberstam's The Queer Art of Failure, "we must be willing to turn away from the comfort zone of polite exchange in order to embrace a truly political negativity, one that promises this time, to fail, to make a mess, to fuck shit up... to breed resentment, to bash back."



CCS Lunch & Learn at the Annenberg Innovation Lab


The HaCCS Lab and the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences will be co-sponsoring an event hosted by the Annenberg Innovation Lab to discuss Critical Code Studies at USC.

Tue, October 18, 12:30pm – 2:00pm
West Wing ASC 104

Lunch & Learns are intimate lunches (usually no more than 15 people) during which industry players and academics working in a common field (e.g. Media Literacy, Mapping, Second Screen Participation etc) share questions, tools, research approaches and professional practices relating to a specific issue. Lunch & Learns can be initiated by AIL and/or sponsors. Today’s theme: Critical Coding.

Space is limited, so RSVP here if you are interested in attending.




Yes, what you said! These are the questions that I've been wrestling with ever since I started thinking about this digital humanities thing. I don't think queer/feminist/women of color analyses of new media are rare at all, but I do think that more of them happen outside the academy than within it; I feel like often within the digital humanities field, there can be something of a fetishization of methodology that doesn't let critical ideas go all the way to their conclusions, maybe.

I think that maybe a lot of queer/critical ethnic studies/similar scholars also lack access to the resources that make it easier to combine digital and humanities work, and that might include the time to add yet another interdisciplinary element to a project... It's self-perpetuating though, in that new scholars might not realize that it's possible to combine those elements if they don't have mentors or models.

Anyway, this is all the topic of the panel at ASA that Anna Everett, Amanda Phillips, Anne Cong-Huyen, Tanner Higgin, Marta S. Rivera Monclova, Melanie Kohnen and I are doing on Friday at 10am. This link may work, but if it doesn't I'm about to blog with information about it. :)


Thanks, Alexis, for jumping on the panel already and Micha for bringing up these great questions. Since Alexis already expressed my thoughts perfectly and pointed to our upcoming ASA panel, I'd like to just enter my name into the ring of people who will be actively monitoring this thread and hoping for some good conversation. These are tough questions that I don't think we engage nearly enough, so thanks again for bringing it up.


For some reason I accidentally set the post to private, so you could only see it if you logged in, but I think its fixed now. 

Thanks for commenting here, and I'm glad you share these concerns with me! I saw both of your awesome blog posts about the conference as well. I wonder if the formation that CTheory put forward, of Critical Digital Studies is useful here, or not. I really appreciate your point about CCS needing to have a more pedagogical aspect to it, Alexis and I totally agree. It seems to me to be one of the most useful things practitioners of code can do, is to create conditions for more people to be abel to understand and critique it, especially considering the gendered and racialized ways that technology and science have been encouraged among certain kinds of people and discouraged among others, namely women and people of color. 

Also, check out Fox Harrell's work in this area. Amanda, it seems very relavant to your work! Here's an article of Harell's in a collection that I'm also in, the Code Drift book. 


Toward a Theory of Critical Computing:

The Case of Social Identity Representation in Digital Media Applications

The full pdf of the book is here:

I agree, also, Alexis that we could compile a long bibliography of this kind of work. Maybe we should? I suppose we all are already, but maybe we should do one together?


I love the idea of putting together a shared, ongong bibliography! 


Thanks for the post! I, too, found the plenary talks at the Queer Studies Conference really inspiring (sorry I missed your panel--we spent half an hour looking for parking and by the time we got there, it was 5 minutes to the end of the panel)! Your post and the question about whether or not new media spaces or digital humanities still have the power to disrupt hegemonic structures is a really apt one, and reminds me of a discussion we had the other day in an English seminar, about the current state of English as a field, and what could be lost or gained if it ever becomes subsumed under another, larger field, such as the Humanities in general, or Cultural Studies. I think there is definitely something "hot" about digital humanities -- both because it brings in money, and also because it makes departments more relevant. I do believe that there are spaces in the digital humanities and new media where new possibilities can arise, and I think the key to this is collaboration and, as Halberstam said, "finding each other." I really like Halberstam's point about the myth of the unique human individual/snowflake (of course, I also love that she played Fleet Foxes' "Helplessness Blues" to illustrate this point, which I think is a great song for this!) -- the idea of going beyond individualism or disciplinarity to go toward some sort of collectivity/trans-disciplinarity that is still an unlabeled, creative space in which we can go "Gaga" is, I think, really transformative, and is what set the digital humanities apart from conservative fields and hegemonic structures, even if the digital humanities still has to function within the institution. 



Today is National Kiss a Nerd Day... 

If there is anything I like about being on panels, its hearing my fellow poet-scholar-artists disrupting, provoking, and “queer failing” (as you cite J.Jack Halberstam, Micha!) not being the “good” “girls” and “boys” we’re meant to be and that’s sexy. I was more than thankful + honored to present with all of you on our panel "Techno-Queer Self Fashioning: Digital Theory by Digital Praxis" because I continually learn from all of you, such inspiring queer feminist interlocutors! Alas, I can’t keep up, I’m already late to this party, but know there will be more to come! I was happy to see Micha and Alexis on Sunday at the RedCat for Jack’s talk, (wish Amanda could have stayed one more day!) But what struck me was Alexis’ kind goodbye, “I’ll see you online.” I loved that, because it illustrates the affective connections we can have via online, as we geek out and nerd out together. Is that hip?

I really love your post Micha, and the other blog entries that were posted by Amanda and Alexis. All such provocative and resonant points. But for now, I want to talk about nerds, being sexy, and hip. In light of Karen Tongson’s ironic comments about the hipness of queer theory in the 90’s, and now DH as the new hip thing, I want to express my absolute aversion to anything hip and what I see is problematic of hipsters in general particularly in terms of neoliberal consumer culture and frivolity + excess I don’t have much of, or patience for… My queer melancholia. Karen didn’t elaborate on hip queer theorists and issues of class and race. But at the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project, Kebo Drew would always say “QWOCMAP Filmmakers aren’t hip, we don’t want to be hip, but we work hard, and hard work is sexy.

So the gurls, bois, radical techno-queers I <3 are usually hella nerdy = hella sexy. I think it’s confirmed by the presentations, especially all of your prezis and powerpoints, Alexis’ viding, Amanda’s avatars, and Micha and Elle’s queer techno-sex, performance art--all provocative, subversive, and hard work, cause queer brain work is sexy.  Feminism is sexy. I feel Queer feminists bring a political commitment to science + technology studies, that embodies + hopes for a libratory vision of pedagogy, theory, and praxis that’s hella sexy. And this doesn’t mean hipster sunglasses to read Karen Barad, for example.

I don’t know if Im too queerly melancholic and realistic, but I think in our age of queer cyber bullying, technologies of the prison industrial complex, the illegality of Ethnic Studies in Arizona, queer feminist DH +technoscience isn’t hip, but its necessary. The panel at the Queer Studies conference and HASTAC are one of the few spaces for me to be able to think through these issues and theoretical frameworks, to work and learn with and from such amazing queer feminist scholars + artists. Thus, there is some academic space + support, which I am thankful for. Yet, in the larger institution of the academy, most of the Queer DH/techno-science discourse is ignored, marginalized, or under suspicion, ie I found spaces like HASTAC and Queer Studies conference really generative + much more of an intellectual home than other academic/institutional spaces. When I first came to Queer theory, it wasn’t because I wanted to find a way to be hip, I should’ve joined a queercore band for that, but I had questions about our world that was not answered in my undergraduate courses in English, trying to survive, ie queer wasn’t hip recourse to heternormative, patriarchal racist worlds. So I geuss Im with you on seeing it as a counter-hegemonic space, rather than something sellable and hip. But of course if hip brings people to feminism and queer radicalism + geekouts, than is it such a bad thing...Questions of capital + hip abound still... This is a short response, and incomplete. But just wanted to respond, and thank you for returning to, and bringing up these questions. As for today, please be sure to kiss a nerd and celebrate how sexy they (you) are. :) 



Margaret, I somehow didn't see this comment until just now, and I don't know when you'll see this response, but I just wanted to say YES. I feel like with the queer and the digital there's such an assumption from many of my colleagues that I am in some way 'hip' in the sense of having the capacity to navigate the shark infested waters of academic fashion (another kind of the neoliberal consumer culture you talk about, maybe). And maybe I have somehow ended up there, and if I can ride some kind of wave I certainly won't refuse it. But I think about the issues you raise more and more as I see the conversations in digital humanities rise and fall, the questions about theory and about alternative careers––but whenever we bring up the deep and necessary *politics* of our commitments to art, media, theory, the things that are about not just our careers but our hearts & souls & survival... well, those elements do seem to sink without a trace. 

I'm going to be attending the HASTAC conference in DEcember after all, anyway. I am looking forward to having more of these conversations with you there.


I watched this comment thread develop with much interest. Though I feel some reluctance about sharing my thoughts, as I did not attend the UCLA Queer Studies Conference or the ASA Annual Conference (though I would have loved to have been at both!), I hope they’ll find some relevance in the conversation.  

Being in an interdivisional/ interdisciplinary practice-based media arts program (shout out to micha with some iMAP love!) with my own interests in critical race and ethnic studies, I was heartened to follow this conversation as it continued with everyone’s #transformDH tweets from the ASA conference last week. I’ve anguished a bit over my post because so much comes to mind on this topic and I’m not sure where it all fits - e.g. questions like how to engage Tara McPherson’s notion of the “multimodal scholar” in these discussions, what does it look like to be committed to the plural modes of the digital humanities (as Kathleen Fitzpatrick suggests in her CHE article from this past summer), how to approach our diverse roles as educators, job-seekers, activists, artists, collaborators, etc. in relation to micha’s initial questions. 
I see that Amanda has posted a post titled #transformDH A Call to Action Following ASA 2011 on her blog, so maybe I’ll start there. Thank you all for your energy and posts! I look forward to exploring these questions more as the year goes on.