October 5th, 2013
The Politics of DH Professionalization
While the digital sphere has often been understood as a disembodied site of engagement, scholars within DH are increasingly challenging the field to examine its own universalizing tendencies that privilege the white, male producer. As Moya Bailey suggests[i], the increasing visibility of the field calls for an increasing reflexiveness about its own politics: “The move ‘from margin to center’ offers the opportunity to engage new sets of theoretical questions that expose implicit assumptions about what and who counts in digital humanities as well as exposes structural limitations that are the inevitable result of an unexamined identity politics of whiteness, masculinity, and ablebodiness.” The question of “what and who counts” as DH scholarship includes an inherent ability bias, as well as a reclamation of masculinities often labeled “geek” or “nerd.”
As a self-proclaimed “big-tent” field, DH proposes an engaging model of scholarship that embraces interdisciplinary, collaborative approaches that challenge the field and period-specific approaches of many traditional humanities departments. But are those claims valid if the field isn’t aware of its own politics of privileging certain types of users and scholarship? Can we read certain texts, such as the DH Manifesto, as endorsing certain modes of engagement while excluding others? What are the challenges to making the field more engaged with its own biases? What are the possibilities of addressing these politics before the borders of the field become solidified?
The stakes of such questions become apparent with even a quick reading of the last two MLA JIL. While Roopika Risam laments the drop in DH jobs this year, the wide array of posts seeking DH skills as either a primary or secondary specialty suggest the continued appeal of the field. Given the discussion of the possible politics of the field, what does it mean to market yourself as a DH scholar? Even more importantly, what is at stake for young scholars, particularly job seekers, to offer alternative forms of DH scholarship? What would those forms look like and what do they offer that is currently missing? Are there institutional politics that determine the types of DH scholarship or skills privileged? Are there already important reparative politics within DH that need to be recognized? Does the skill bias within the field limit the types of scholars and scholarship possible within DH? Is it possible to be both a DH scholar and a cultural/historical/literary critic and what are the sites of enrichment and tension between these practices? How do you understand your own position within the field as a young scholar and how do these questions emerge in your own research? Are these important questions to consider or is there another, similarly important agenda that DH is advancing?
[i] Bailey, Moya Z. “All the Digital Humanists are White, All the Nerds Are Men, but Some of Us Are Brave.” Journal of Digital Humanities 1: 1 (Winter 2011) n.p. Web.