Week 4. Earhart Q3: Decline, DIY and Activism
  • Earhart importantly historicizes the emphasis on building things in DH work and its alignment with an activist imperative to recover and provide space for marginalized populations. She also notes with concern the decent decline in scholars interested in producing this type of work. What factors might have lead to this decline, and how might we attempt to reassert the validity and importance of such work?
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  • While the interest and passion are surely there, lack of funding for DIY and activist DH work will never be sustainable. We're living in economic times in which we're stretched out quite thinly in areas - such as academia and its periphery (academic blogs and DIY websites) - where that interest and passion lie. Love isn't enough. Perhaps those who are working in DH on marginalised groups are also not properly rewarded.
  • I also think we need to think about "what counts" (Sorry, I know I keep going back to this point) - in this environment, as pointed out, it is sometimes a simple cost-benefit analysis: What will get me admissions/grant/tt-position/tenure? 

    Also, as pointed out in the article, much of the early work was done by graduate students who then went on to - what? TT positions? Contingency? Left Academia altogether? It's a question I can't answer (although I imagine a google search could). 

    Many of the people, I think, who are interested in the recovery projects are probably in precarious positions themselves. While there are DH tools being created every day with the goal of making this work "easier" to a certain extent, it still takes time to learn, to collect, to digitize, etc (as we all know). But there is also the idea that simply "using" the tools isn't good enough. So, there's that pressure, too. And, how does an adjunct teaching at multiple institutions, or a graduate student who has already been marginalized by the department, work on these passion projects?
  • @Alzharuddin and @ReadyWriting, you've both gestured toward some really critical material realities that I agree probably limit the ability of many academics to be involved in DIY projects.

    I also wonder, specifically with regards to the decline in DIY recovery-type projects that so concerns Earhart, if there might be a way in which the alignment of DH with neoliberal emphasis on production/promotion of the self might have something to do with it as well? That is, a lot of young scholars (including myself) dealing with the precarity of the job market do make time for certain forms of digital production (writing blogs, using social media for scholarly work, etc.) Is it simply that the scale and time investment required for this type of work is comparatively smaller than undertaking recovery projects? Or does the competitiveness of the contemporary job market encourage us to focus on the production of ourselves online at the expense of recovering the work of others?

    I don't think this is an either/or, question, of course, and in a way I think I'm working through some very personal motivations that have led me in the past to choose RA/TA positions not associated with large-scale recovery projects. But Earhart's work does make consider why recovery as a form of digital activist scholarship has become less popular while other forms have flourished.
  • I am reacting to the line "there is also the idea that simply 'using' the tools isn't good enough" but I also see this as continuing a conversation about Hack vs. Yack and the the question of whether it's necessary for DHers to code. 

    I'm a professional computer programmer who became a journalist, and I now practice and teach at the intersection. My instinct has long been that being able to code is important in some way for people working in this new space. Most of my argument for this is 1) code is how computers work, so it's an advantage to be able to read and write their texts directly and 2) you need to code to be able to build tools.

    But why should every DHer be a tool builder as well as a tool user? Some have made the argument that we don't insist this of, say, computational linguistics where merely 'doing linguistics' with a computer -- say, analyzing a text corpus to gain insight into language evolution -- seems to still count as computational linguistics. 

    I think I finally have an answer to this question, an insight about why a fluency with code and building might be important. It's this: no, it's not necessary for every DHer to build new tools. But it's necessary for them to participate in the building of tools. My sense is that we are at a point where the tools will continue to evolve rapidly for some time. Shutting oneself off from participation in that may be a limiting choice. 
  • Some of you might be familiar with the Electronic Disturbance Theater http://digitalarts.lmc.gatech.edu/unesco/internet/artists/int_a_edtheater.html
    that had, about two years ago, been involved in the Transborder
    Immigrant Tool Project that attempt to equip each undocumented migrants
    from Mexico crossing into the southern borders of the US South West with
    an inexpensive disposable mobile unit that has a GPS tracking unit that
    will lead them to water sources and safe havens (and also won them of
    impending barriers to their safe

    Sometime last year, one of the founders of the EDT, Ricardo
    Dominguez, got into trouble with the UC for enacting the DoS as a form
    of collective hack and collective voice of protest. It was meant to be a
    form of performance art, but was considered a security violation by the
    officials. Dominguez is no stranger to all forms of controversy as a
    result of his interventions in electronic art


    Many artists and hacktivists are campaigning for the use of open
    source platforms to make computing tools more available to activists and
    those engaged in non-profit ventures.

    While one might consider English to be the hegemonic language for
    documenting some of these tools and materials, these very same tools
    have given voice to those without one, and without necessarily the
    English language fluency to also be participant in their mobilization. I
    think DH’s very location outside the canons set by the imperial
    dictates of academy is what makes it threatening to those who could not
    imagine the possibility of rigorous intercourse outside the outlines of
    such canons.

    The problem with postcolonial discourse is that there is a lot of
    resistance to the hegemonic discourse, but no solid alternatives are
    provided to counter or re-engineer that discourse. So, one has to
    imagine what exactly is that intervention or transgression that one
    claims to be doing. EDT attempts that within the confines of a developed
    world…and other artists from around the world are working to mold the
    tools, as well as critique the tools, they are using for creating their
    media art as political intervention. I am thinking about the transmedia
    art, like honfablab.org in Jogjakarta, who had also participated in the
    Berlin Transmediale festival http://www.transmediale.de/

  • I think it is really time to think simple, and simple in that, how do you use what you already have to create something ingenius. This is important for any form of DIY projects, such as DIY digital projects, and to begin with the simplest tools available to get us there. I think the kids at the recent Google Science Fair has a lot to show us in that sense, if we were just to look at some of their projects. Some of the most complex web projects are created just by knowing simple combination of html, css, and minimal javascripting, by working first with templates that are already available. As a former teenaged geek, I can claim that many of my friends, myself included, actually learnt how to code by hacking around with freewares, sharewares, and open sources. It is similar to picking up a foreign language or learning mathematics. Once we overcome that learning curve, then it is time to move up the ladder of skills. Besides, your digital project will only make sense if it has a meaning for a digital life. One may also try to work in collaboration with someone with the resources and skills, but this also means learning to work outside the language of our disciplines
  • @jonathanstray, I really like the distinction you pose here between building and participating in building. As someone who currently has very limited knowledge of coding practices, for instance, I find this really appealing. Would you be able to speak more about what these forms of participation might look like, or have looked like, in your experience?

    @clarissalee: I love Electronic Disturbance Theatre's work! Your having raised them as an example is making me think about the connection between DIY activist recovery work and another question I posed this week about non-textual recovery, as well. Perhaps one way to make DIY recovery scholarship both more appealing, scalable, and/or approachable for young scholars and more focused on recovery beyond the text is to emphasize projects dealing, as EDT does, with a type of hybrid recovery of both digital and 'non-digital' (for lack of a better term) spaces, bodies, and narratives. These approaches (which are used, too,  in a lot of ARG type of games, for instance) don't always require the type of technologically complex digital infrastructure that often better suits larger, centralized projects; yet they seem very connected to, perhaps even important extensions of, the benefits of recovery that Earhart describes.

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