Snippets from a Larger Project

I’ve decided to begin posting some snippets from a larger project, but one that will also (hopefully!) motivate an article titled something like “Digital Humanities as Critical University Studies.” I’ll post of a few of these in the coming weeks.

In her 2011 article, “All the Digital Humanists are White, All the Nerds are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave,” Moya Z. Bailey unearths a kind of radical, unrealized potential in the Digital Humanities that few have made explicit since its articulation: a practice of the digital humanities that is also a practice of critical university studies. I cite Bailey here in full:

“In blog posts, Miriam Posner and Bethany Nowviskie have both addressed the structures that impede women from connecting to digital humanities. The increase of women in higher level positions within universities have led to changes in the infrastructure, with child care and nursing nests cropping up on campuses across the country. Similarly, people of color have been engaging in critical university studies long before the 1990s when the field is said to have emerged. By demanding space as students and faculty, in addition to advocating for rights as the laborers that built and maintain these institutions, people of color have organized through concerted effort to bring about changes in institutional culture and structure.”

The question of diversity and inclusion that opens this chapter is intimately linked to a concept of the digital humanities as a form of critical university studies, but it also evidences clear tensions in its logic and application. With the rise of the for-profit university and the precaritization of intellectual labor that results in fewer tenure track jobs, low adjunct wages, and a glut of applicants on the job market, the economic pillaging of the university is undeniable. It is also undeniable that the digital humanities emerged as a contemporary force for disciplinary transformation during this precise historical shift. Matthew K. Gold states this matter of factly in his introduction to the 2012 Debates in the Digital Humanities anthology, “The Digital Humanities Moment”:

“At a time when many academic institutions are facing austerity budgets, department closings, and staffing shortages, the digital humanities experienced a banner year that saw cluster hires at multiple universities, the establishment of new digital humanities centers and initiatives across the globe, and multimillion-dollar grants distributed by federal agencies and charitable foundations.”

The financial boon DH received in the wake of 2008 has led many to equate the digital humanities with the wholesale neoliberalization of the university, transforming critically focused humanistic inquiry into a skills-based mercantile regime. This is not news to anyone in DH, but it does bear repeating, for there is a necessary but vacant link between DH’s radical, unrealized potential and critical arguments that address contemporary institutional decline. The question that follows is therefore clear: how do the “stronger and sounder” effects of inclusivity proclaimed by DH confront the institutional stresses of corporate management?

Facts like those that Gold lists have been and continue to be a primary source of hostility toward DH at the same time that DH scholar-practitioners have staged their most significant debates concerning diversity and inclusion. Indeed, the radical potential inherent to DH’s intense focus on diversity and inclusion often gets lost when the digital humanities is situated as neoliberalization’s disciplinary equivalent. Precisely how “people of color have organized through concerted effort to bring about changes in institutional culture and structure” as it extends from critical university studies is all but ignored in DH praxis. The answer for this is simple. Objectivity in tool-use overshadows the subjects who deploy them in this critique. Further, it overshadows a diversity of political concepts and tactics. When production “creates an object for the subject, but also a subject for the object” on this view, it is only ever thought to be negative, part and parcel of capital’s extension into “the myriad ways in which actions, habits, and language produce effects,” including capital’s “effects on subjectivity, ways of perceiving, understanding, and relating to the world” (Read 114).

Read, Jason. “The Production of Subjectivity: From Transindividuality to the Commons.” New Formations. 70 (2010): 113-131.

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