Week 2: #GuerillaDH, or where is Activism in #DHPoco?
  • The topic of activism has come up a lot in our discussions of what postcolonial digital humanities is and should be. Ben Doyle (@dhscratch on Twitter) has asked if activism is an ethical imperative for #DHPoco; Michelle Moravec (@professmoravec) and Lee Bessette (@readywriting) note that activism for many might be a privileged position, requiring tenure, and resources. Last week, Alex Gil argued for a #guerrillaDH; to do small-scale work that helps local/global communities but to do other things for tenure instead. But Roopika Risam, Mimi Thi Nguyen also raise the problem of labor and scope creep in demanding such an activist agenda.

    What are your thoughts on #guerillaDH and the role of activism in both traditional postcolonial studies, and the postcolonial digital humanities?
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  • This might be a bit of an aside, but some thought has been given to the role of digital spaces making literal space for liberation in the Arab Spring. When events began to accelerate, Anonymous was instrumental in providing proxies to activists on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites (and we can definitely see problems with such odd allegiances) when they were blockaded. I wrote a bit about this in a post about the digital divide. The strength of this form of activism is its facelessness and the erasure of its footprint, which shapes a very different activist than one who rallies support around highly visible interventions.

    But what really fascinates me is that the nature and form that the support took. I think that the networked, decentralized model of contemporary activism is one that we might study. But even more interesting was the logistical support. Just as flesh-and-blood activists receive food, blankets, advice for avoiding injuries from tear-gas and pepper-spray, and instructions for protecting their rights while under arrest, the IRCs and message boards lit up with instructions for proxies and other resources to keep channels of communication open and to organize mass actions. Flesh-and-blood black bloc was replaced by LOICs and targeted assaults on government and corporate websites.

    I think that activism is an imperative for the postcolonial digital humanities. What shape this might take is something I'm still thinking about, but it certainly extends beyond providing web access to remote communities (as useful as that might be in certain contexts). Does it mean supporting the University of the People? Does it mean providing safe havens for activist groups to collaborate? Does it mean providing space for virtual performance pieces to raise awareness? I guess the upshot is that activism is as scaleable online as it is irl--if you get out there in the streets and get your hands dirty as an individual, then this can translate into a specific project that is just as critical in its way as a large-scale, well-funded, multi-institutional effort.
  • Delores, thanks so much for your comment--really thoughtful. I think what you're pointing out is fantastic; the simple need to provide an open, free infrastructure to allow activists safe havens and to collaborate. I wonder how we at postcolonial digital humanities can start to undertake providing such an infrastructure. Is this a Kickstarter project? Is state funding suspect? Who should be a hosting provider? What are the politics of hosting providers?
  • I would say DHPoco at minimum must be available and response to activists groups.  I'm forever annoyed by academics who write jargon-laden articles about activism (and have gotten in many a twitter argument over whether this is "necessary" to succeed in academia <- depends on how you define success I guess).    

    Documenting activism is an important skill academics have and we have resources that we should use.  I ranted a bit about the media strategy amnesia of activism of late.  

    This looks to be a pretty FAB project at the Digital Studio for Public Humanities As a historian who overlaps with public history I see that as an excellent model working with rather than on activist groups

    Interface is an extremely interesting journal that publishes on these topics
  • Great resources Michelle! Question--could you explain the nature of those Twitter arguments? What are the terms of discussion? What are people saying against activism to "succeed" in academia, and what counterarguments have you heard of? Inquiring minds. :)
  • As for making it count toward tenure for those of us who are not DH proper: is it facile of me to say that everything can be theorized so write write write? An article becomes a book project based around digital activism pretty quickly. The conventional avenues are closing up, 'tis true; but the relevance of such a project speaks for itself with a rather loud voice.
  • lAs someone who came to history via a desire to change the world (no really) I intended all along to write women back in to history.  It seemed absurd to me that this history would be un-readable to them (Remember I'm older than many people in DH, came of age at the height of posmodernism when everything was hegemony this, phallogocentrism that).  I am still found shaking my head when I read articles replete with academic language about grassroots activist groups.  

    I can't ven remember what I read that led to me to tweet (OK I found the tweets (thank you twitterscribe, but they are too long for here See  http://historyinthecity.blogspot.com/2013/07/for-dhpocoss-digital-humanities-and.html

    As you can see, Professor///Scholar///Teacher///
    Associate Dean of the Consortium for Social Transformation at the University of Texas at San Antonio disagreed with me, arguing that "
    if jargon gets u published in academic venues—do what u gotta’ do!"

    I hear this argument frequently and it smacks to me of the worst sort of ethical expediency. My work is often made possible only by the kindness and generosity of activists. It would seem extremely wrong to use them to justify my ends. I suppose some sort of utilitarian argument could be made to defend this approach, but I can't find my way to it.


    Pretty quickly @Ghettointellectual jumped in to point out that "african american scholarship has historically been more public and activist + du bois was impeccable scholar but jargon free. the scholarly horizon looks more open and public + the jargon will, hopefully, die a natural death" which was FAB and the original respondent after noting " However most academics seeking tenure must publish in “certain” types of venues or they will be gone quick" pretty much had to agree if Dubois could do it, it could still be done today.

    As you can see the original tweet got three re tweet and a favorite, which is kind of small. So perhaps others didn't agree

  • Hm. I think we are talking about two different things here. Thinking about postcolonial digital activism and publishing about it in academic venues doesn't necessarily require the jargon-heavy linguistic contortion that such activity implies, and it doesn't have to negate the activist effort or separate it from access by the public. For me, it's a question of audience.

    I am also seeing the collapse in African-American Studies between the academic and the public intellectual. James Braxton-Peterson and Melissa Harris Perry are key examples for me--they engage high octane theoretical issues in ways that everyone can understand because they *are* issues that everyone understands. Wouldn't it be great to position ourselves in relevant debates about global digital spaces in the same way? :D
  • hmmm yes true, this conversation came via twitter so there do seem to be two topics interwoven here (not necessarily a bad thing) or actually three because I think Ben actualyl tweeted at me something from another thread, oh no four because then Adeline mentioned something Alex had said last week!

    I think tho that audience is not sufficient.  I write about feminist academics in the late 1970s and 1980s whose connections with activism caused huge problems in reception of their work
  • Do it if you can, if the spirit moves you, and where you will be most useful. Wouldn't want a revolution without dancing personally. In many ways my activism is not worthy of that honorable name. Given my current position, know-how and ethical disposition, I am most useful fighting the battle for the redesign of and open access to certain traditions of thought and art. This fight against the financial juggernauts is elsewhere from the public spaces, and I do little to collaborate with those who occupy them (other than show up once in a while to break bread). I fight in the archive, real and virtual, where an important chunk of our collective memories are in danger of disappearing or await patiently. The fight consists of advocacy most of the time, but sometimes, and this is the fun part, building playgrounds on the margins of the law. My heart definitely lurks in bushy hills above the legal gothic where I am forced to make a living, hence the guerrilla in #guerrilladh. 

    The whole thing started when I noticed that the pirate libraries were not the only shadow libraries out there. Over the past two decades we have built our own shadow libraries consisting of email chains, where many a PDF has been passed to the minds who needed it. Great for articles, but what about DH? This week I'm passing some Wordpress plugins to a friend who needs them over email because she can't get them otherwise. DH on a stick was a great idea at the time and one that I'm reviving this year for THATCampCuba. But what about digital humanities projects that never get off the ground because of copyright issues. Some folks in DH can work quite well within the confines of non-consumptive research. Heck, they thrive in it. Some of us are more into the small data, the not-that-distant reading. #dhpoco cannot be locked out of 1923 A©. While the archive prior to 1923 holds innumerable riches, what happens after is quite the turn of the screw. 

    Long live #guerilladh, I say. Use those DH skills in clever ways, don't get yourself in trouble and do get that tenure if you followed that path. Needless to say, shadow libraries are not part of any T&P guidelines. Do it—whatever your IT is—if you can, if the spirit moves you, and where you will be most useful.
  • Responding to Adeline's question "What is/should be the role of activism in DHPoco?"

    This strikes me as a curious
    question. Do we ask this of other disciplines? What is the role of
    activism in Literary Studies? There are some who use their platform(s) for
    activism, some who create literature as activism, and some who study -
    using literary-critical theory - the activism of others.

    I think there should be no 'should' to delimit the possible roles of DHPoco.
  • @amandastarlinggould makes a good point: to whom does the burden of "activism" fall? That's the kind of question that postcolonial, ethnic, African American, Latino(a), Native American, etc. studies have to answer in a way that medievalists or 19th C Americanists don't. In the same way, it's a question that #dhpoco has to answer in a way that I don't think DH writ large has to. 

    To my mind, DH functions a lot like canonical fields within literary studies, in the sense that it doesn't necessarily *have* to foreground gender, race, class, etc. because they're not constructed as central or essential to the field. (That's not to say there aren't people who are!) An example that I bandy about to @adelinekoh a lot is of the American literature survey that could, conceivably be taught without ANY African American lit or other ethnic minority literatures simply because for so long it wasn't - or if you want to go learn about Other American literature, people are teaching classes in it. Or an American literature list for a comprehensive exam that consists of Dead White Men + Emily Dickinson and maybe Anne Bradstreet if we're feeling lucky. 

    Conversely, something like #dhpoco or the work that Jessica Johnson is doing (http://diasporahypertext.com/) or the work @elotroalex is doing - or any of the other people engaged in what I guess we could call non-canonical DH or people doing DH work outside the US, particularly in the Global South, doesn't have the luxury to not address these issues in some respects, whether it's through mediations of language, power, nationality, race, etc. "Should" or not...... it's not a choice.   
  • This activism make think about what some authors (Olivier Blondeau and Laurence Allard) called here as « militant Internet ». I have a differents approach of this concept in one of my articles: I call this as « citizenship on line ».
    These concepts really takes shape with mailing lists on Web. Internet gives the possibility to those who do not belong or do not want to belong to labor unions to give a scale to their claimings. We traversing, lots of riots in different parts of the world. This period of activism's development shapes new committed behavior allowing in of numerous to get free of organizations.
    I’m speaking about micro-mobilizations, not to testify of their low broadcasting, but to indicate that they can, deploy to party of the people’s action. In France, the militant Internet built itself around individualities, around very minority activists and around radicals stemming from the culture libertarian.
    I think #dhpoco as @rrisam says, is constructing something new : a new engagement with this uses. I think that #guerillaDh sounds perfectly for what we are doing here…creating new spaces of discussions and new forms of #DHactivism

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