Communities of Practice: Toward a Local and Global Digital Humanities

This special collection will explore the potential impact of information technology and digital media on humanities research communities.

The editors encourage a wide range of novel and interdisciplinary approaches to this theme.

We seek submissions dedicated to describing community formation and collaboration while accounting for global research partners and local knowledge stakeholders.

We welcome research articles, critical essays, and review articles representing a variety of approaches, including but not limited to:

Digital Literature Studies
Book History & Publishing
Electronic Literature & Creative Coding
Pedagogical Practice & Curriculum Development
Visual & Material Culture
Cultural Heritage & History

I just saw a reference to the Environmental Humanities. In recent years, I’ve begun to encounter the Medical Humanities and Digital Humanities with great frequency as part of my normal working life. I assume there are other X Humanities which I haven’t encountered yet. As someone fascinated by the tendency towards X Studies and the proliferation of Turns within the social sciences, I’d like to understand this restructuring of the humanities much more than I do. Anyone know of a good analysis of the trend which I could read?

While ideas of this kind appear just that little bit too neat and symmetrical to be entirely convincing, this so-called ‘scientific turn’ in the humanities has been attributed by some to a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis regarded as having been brought about, if not by the lack of credibility of the humanities’ metanarratives of legitimation exactly, then at least in part by the ‘imperious attitude’ of the sciences. This attitude has led the latter to colonize the humanists’ space in the form of biomedicine, neuroscience, theories of cognition and so on.  Is the turn toward computing just the latest manifestation of, and response to, this crisis of confidence in the humanities?

Can we go even further and ask: is it evidence that certain parts of the humanities are attempting to increase their connection to society; and to the instrumentality and functionality of society especially? Can it merely be a coincidence that such a turn toward computing is gaining momentum at a time when the likes of the UK government is emphasizing the importance of the STMs and withdrawing support and funding for the humanities? Or is one of the reasons all this is happening now because the humanities, like the sciences themselves, are under pressure from government, business, management, industry and increasingly the media to prove they provide value for money in instrumental, functional, performative terms? (Is the interest in computing a strategic decision on the part of some of those in the humanities? As the project of Cohen and Gibb shows, one can get funding from the likes of Google.  In fact, ‘last summer Google awarded $1 million to professors doing digital humanities research’.)

To what extent, then, is the take up of practical techniques and approaches from computing science providing some areas of the humanities with a means of defending themselves in an era of global economic crisis and severe cuts to higher education, through the transformation of their knowledge and learning into quantities of information – deliverables? Following Federica Frabetti, can we even position the computational turn as an event created precisely to justify such a move on the part of certain elements within the humanities?  And does this mean that, if we don’t simply want to go along with the current movement away from what remains resistant to a general culture of measurement and calculation, and toward a concern to legitimate power and control by optimizing the system’s efficiency, we would be better off using a different term other than ‘digital humanities’? After all, as Frabetti points out, the idea of a computational turn implies that the humanities, thanks to the development of a new generation of powerful computers and digital tools, have somehow become digital, or are in the process of becoming digital, or at least coming to terms with the digital and computing.  Yet what I am attempting to show here by drawing on the philosophy of Lyotard and others, is that the digital is not something that can now be added to the humanities – for the simple reason that the (supposedly pre-digital) humanities can be seen to have had an understanding of, and engagement with, computing and the digital for some time now.

(HT Daniel Allington)

Daniel Allington, The Open University
1 October 2013
Centre for e-Research
Anatomy Museum Space
King’s Building (6th Floor)
King’s College London
The Strand

According to Bourdieu, the value of art, literature, etc is a form of belief that is produced within the cultural field and then propagated outwards into wider society through public-facing cultural institutions – as in the case of the ‘writer’s writer’ who is initially read only by his or her peers, but who becomes ‘consecrated’ (i.e. canonised) thanks to peer esteem and eventually finds a mass readership through school or university syllabi. In this talk, I shall lay out two innovative methodologies for studying these processes through social network analysis. This is potentially controversial because of Bourdieu’s much-discussed preference for Multiple Correspondence Analysis. However, I shall argue that, just as the abstract mathematical space of Multiple Correspondence Analysis forms a useful analogue for Bourdieu’s conception of field, the no-less abstract structure of a directed graph forms a useful analogue for his understanding of the production of value within a field, and of its subsequent propagation beyond that field.

The first of the methodologies I shall present focuses on the production of value. It has already been trialled through a case study of interactive fiction, with results of this investigation to appear in my monograph, Literature in the Digital Economy (forthcoming from Palgrave, 2014), and elsewhere. As I will argue by reference to ongoing research, the same methodology can potentially yield important insights when applied to other cultural forms.

The second of these methodologies focuses on the propagation of value, and thus provides a possible approach to the study of the impact of the arts on wider society, as well as a bridge between the two major strands of research in the sociology of culture, i.e. study of cultural producers and study of cultural consumers. It builds on the first methodology but presents arguably greater difficulties with regard to data collection and the interpretation of findings. However, these difficulties are instructive because they raise deep questions about the use of social network analysis in cultural research, both in the humanities and in the social sciences.