Evan Selinger (@evan_selinger) led wonderful lunch discussion and gave a fabulous evening presentation at UF yesterday. In part of the lunch conversation, I found myself thinking of Josh Honn’s brilliant writing “Never Neutral: Critical Approaches to Digital Tools & Culture in the Humanities.” I’d love to see this particular piece as mandatory reading for all graduate students, especially for graduate students in the humanities, because, to me, this speaks to what we’re doing with the Digital Humanities, and the ever-critical importance of the community and collaboration.
The whole piece is very much worth reading, and here are a few excerpts from it, with the heart of the argument as I see it being the (bold-added) text:
as digital technologies proliferate and penetrate, privacy concerns are obscured and eroded, tech discourse dominates everything from our daily lives to popular politics, and as disciplines in the humanities struggle to discuss, engage, use, and critique digital tools.
As early as 1995, Richard Barbrook and Andy Cameron were critiquing what they called “the Californian Ideology,” “a mix of cybernetics, free market economics, and counterculture libertarianism;” an ideology powered by technological determinism and the seemingly Leftist belief in technoutopianism. (And if you object to that description, just know that Barbrook and Cameron call it “a digital nirvana inhabited solely by liberal psychopaths.”) What in 1995 was being described by its most vociferous critics as “an emerging global orthodoxy,” has since come to a the leading ideology of a hegemonic Western culture. And it’s a privileged, neoliberal, cyberlibertarian ideology that continues to mostly remain hostile to the race, gender, and class experiences of those outside the hegemonic white, wealthy, and vastly powerful Venture Capitalist class that supports it; its alt-capitol, Silicon Valley, home of Government 2.0.
Since at least the 1960s, the rise of this venture capital-funded deterministic technocracy has been accepted, funded, actively promoted and further developed by research universities and academic libraries, as administrators and researchers implement what Evgeny Morozov has dubbed “solutionism,” the belief that supposedly novel digital technologies will, through quick, unthinking application, solve pressing social, economic and political problems that may or may not even be problems in the first place. With calls for “innovation” and “disruption” bountifully buzzing about—often as if utterance alone could bring about change—the solutionism affecting higher education is really no more than the Californian Ideology made manifest through austerity measures, best exemplified, of course, by MOOCs.
what helps is the interdisciplinary discussions, collaborations and relationships I have with faculty and students around digital tools and technology, as multiple kinds of cultural, economic, sociopolitical, technical and scholarly experiences and expertise are needed to go beyond creating mere lists and repositories of existing digital artifacts, and to perform critical acts of curation that take into consideration the multiplicities of human acts, meanings, and ideologies that we embed into our digital tools. That said, such a praxis, when combined with interdisciplinary interventions in the digital humanities, can deepen our confrontations with technology, our skepticism of and engagements with digital tools, and enable us to proceed with the everessential work of cultural criticism.
In his 1997 essay “Cyberlibertarian Myths and the Prospect for Community,” Langdon Winner wrote, “The pressing challenge now is … Offering a vision of an electronic future that specifies humane, democratic alternatives to the peculiar obsessions of the cyberlibertarian position.” And in relation to digital humanities, this kind of work most certainly has been and is happening, and its up to us to further support, promote, critique, apply and build from it. From work already mentioned such as Mukurtu and the #transformDH collective, to work so often and unfortunately overlooked in DH’s literature, like those found through the Ethnos Project Resources Database, or in Kathi Inman Berens’ DH 2013 talk “Judy Malloy’s Seat at the (Database) Table: A Feminist Reception History.”
I remembered reading Josh Honn’s wonderful essay because UF showcased its awesomeness yesterday with folks from a dozen or so fields at the lunch meeting, and even more at the evening presentation, with all actively and supportively engaging in discussion. I firmly agree with Josh Honn’s statement, a wee bit decontextualized here with the excerpts, about the value and importance of “interdisciplinary discussions, collaborations and relationships.” Yesterday was another great reminder of the value, positiveness, productivity, and great fun that can be had as we engage together in our work.