Digital Research Methods: Digital Defense for Artists, Scholars, & Activists

Digital Research Methods: Digital Defense for Artists, Scholars, & Activists
Thursday, June 1, 2017 - 12:00am

Please see an invitation below to participate in a working session on "Digital Defense for Artists, Scholars, & Activists" at the American Society for Theatre Researcher conference this year. The working session is convened by myself, Kalle Westerling (The Graduate Center, CUNY) and Sarah Bay-Cheng (Bowdoin College). We’d love to hear from you! Feel free to reach out to me at if you have any questions.



Digital Defense for Artists, Scholars, & Activists When we talk about bodies--extraordinary or otherwise--we tend to think about physical beings in the world. However, alongside our physical experiences, we are each compiling simultaneously a record of data, a "data body" that parallels the physical self. For most of human history, such data has been recorded, collected, and analyzed in material objects by other humans. These ranged from bank transactions recorded by corporations, to surveillance files compiled by governmental organizations such as the FBI or Stassi. Since the mid-20th century, such files have shifted from analogue to digital through electronic credit cards, satellites, and GPS. Now, with fitness trackers, smartphones, and social media adding to the vast array of digital personal data, these databodies have become desirable commodities that can now only be understood by machines. As a collection of various performances, these databodies and how they are understood by institutions have very real consequences for the bodies they represent. As artists, theatre and performance scholars, and teachers, these data are ubiquitous within our field, from maintaining our own data collection, to new methods of analysis and publication, to dissemination of academic material online and online scholarly profiles. It is, therefore, vital that as we engage these methods within our research and teaching, that we and our students can also understand the implications of digital methods in research. This session invites participants to share their tools and methods for doing and sharing their work, while also maintaining privacy in online environments.

This session invites participants both to share methods and practices from their use of digital methods in theatre and performance studies and to raise questions about the safety and security of digital databodies in our work, classrooms, and scholarship.

The goals for this session are three-fold:

  1. to share our respective practices for doing the work itself, i.e., how do scholars engage digital methods in the collection, analysis, and dissemination of performance scholarship;
  2. to draw attention to potential vulnerabilities in this work;
  3. to share and discuss strategies for addressing potential problems, particularly as they affect potentially already vulnerable populations of artists, scholars, and activists.

In an age of rampant social media and digital exchange, how does one protect one's own work, scholarship, and reputation online? For artist-activists, what digital strategies most useful for promoting community and access, while also protecting the vulnerability of one's databody within existing surveillance systems? When introducing social media and digital exercises into a curriculum, how can we ensure that our students are engaging fully while also protecting their rights to privacy? What are the ethical concerns of digital research and scholarship in performance? (Here, we might also think about the ethics of participatory performance that digitally tracks or records its audience.)

Participants in the working group will be invited to submit short position papers (3–5pp) outlining their potential questions or project to share. The potentially wide-ranging focus of this working group may require the formation of smaller focus groups within the working group based on these papers and these will be organized in an online session prior to the conference. The session conveners will arrange the various contributors into topical areas (for example, activism and security; digital ethics in performance; protecting your data online; etc.) Online group discussion will precede the conference with position papers shared among the group via the DRS blog site.

At the conference, the session will begin with project and methodology presentations, akin to a digital roundtable or electronic poster session. We will model this on the 2013 Digital Methods session in which several project and presentations are available simultaneously for sharing and review with participants' own technologies. These presentations will ideally be interactive to introduce scholars to new techniques in the participants' own practices and projects. The second part of the session will focus on group discussions of ethics and implications for these kinds of project. This discussion will also focus on teaching digital methods in a variety of environments. Much of the content will be lead by the individual proposals and the format of online sub-group discussion, simultaneous presentations at the conference, and larger group discussion and debate will allow a significant number of participants to contribute to the session, while also allowing for maximum engagement with the issues at hand.

For any specific questions, please contact the working group convenors at and

Please note that all submissions must be received formally through the ASTR website here. The form will allow you to indicate second and third choice working groups if you wish; if you do so, note that there is a space for you to indicate how your work will fit into those groups. The deadline for receipt of working group proposals is 1 June 2017 and we anticipate that participants will be notified of their acceptance no later than 30 June. Please contact the conference organizers at if you have any questions about the process.


No comments