Epistemology and research methods

I almost have to post this, because I went on a rant in IRC about the breakdown of research methods across disciplines leading to reinventing the wheel. I am just going to paste the logs because oh god, why not. I changed two usernames because I’m weird and care about privacy on the internet, sometimes. I also fixed one typo, though it was in no way a meaningful typo.

12:26:59 AM <redacted1>: morbidflight: coding?
12:27:11 AM morbidflight: qualitative data, not programming
12:27:12 AM morbidflight: like
12:27:23 AM <redacted2>: night
12:27:24 AM morbidflight: creating a theoretical framework within which to analyze said messy qual data
12:27:27 AM morbidflight: night <redacted2>
12:27:38 AM morbidflight: but doing it from a bunch of reading and categorizing
12:27:46 AM morbidflight: it’s honestly a pretty similar task to classification in general
12:28:21 AM morbidflight: although, and we’ve talked about this before, qualitative researchers don’t tend to talk to the kinds of people who are trained in classification and so that task gets seen as bitch work while coding and qualitative analysis in general is seen as this high-level thing
12:28:40 AM morbidflight: anyway i have a grudge against that because any ontological construct is high-level work and should be recognized as such
12:28:59 AM morbidflight: and understanding the similarities in said work can help ethnographers et al. learn to manage their task in a different way
12:29:00 AM morbidflight: etc
12:29:31 AM morbidflight: yet another example of the segmentation of academic work leading to breakdowns in potential communication and collaboration
12:29:48 AM morbidflight: i mean imagine if you had a hardcore taxonomist on every anthropological team that worked with qual data
12:29:51 AM morbidflight: that’d be pretty swanky
12:30:05 AM morbidflight: i mean you’d have to argue with them about the fundamental principles of organizing knowledge but hey
12:30:14 AM morbidflight: epistemology amirite
12:30:40 AM morbidflight: itt: i care too much about research methods

A long-standing issue of mine is that I see a lot of great theoretical work being done in libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural heritage institutions, and by the people who study them. This work often engages with larger topical debates, such as the entire field of digital humanities (I mean seriously, who other than an information professional are you going to talk to about creating an accessible web-based database of digitized texts?), and yet these larger debates treat this work as “infrastructure” or “the help.” NOT TO MENTION the often gendered breakdown of this labor. I didn’t use the term “bitch work” lightly, above.

On that note, have a look at this article from a few weeks ago that I tweeted on June 6. Infrastructure is what makes it all possible.

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Random thoughts

Archives are a set of materialities whose practices are reproduced, negotiated, and reconstituted through everyday use—in sum, a technology. (In line with the Suchman definition of technology from “Working Relations of Technology Production and Use,” which I quoted in this post.)

Also—nothing is natural in the sense of emerging de novo—what is natural is the process of trying a thing, and continuing to adapt it until it fits the situation or context. In short, evolution is natural. The ways that people use technologies are natural. The inscription of certain practices as “the way things are” is not natural.

Nothing is what it was meant to be.

Scraps written in the back of Life on the Screen because I didn’t have a notebook on hand.

On Digital Humanities and community

A funny thing about Digital Humanities is that whenever two or more DH people (I know the accepted phrasing is Digital Humanist but like, lol no) get together, they have to agree on what DH means for them. Quite often it’s a strategic term, deployed more to establish an in-group and an out-group, than a real marker of a community of practice.

Although, that’s an interesting digression: understanding DH as a Wengerian Community of Practice, with peripheral identities and marginal identities and trajectories of participation. But as interesting as that path is to follow, I think I’ll wait a bit to pursue it.

Returning to the main topic of discussion: “DH.” The construction of DH as a discipline is quite strange to me, because of this phenomenon. I talked about fields and disciplines earlier on this blog, but I’d argue that DH isn’t really a field either. If disciplines are identified by shared methods and fields identified by shared objects of study, DH is identified by…a social network. There is a set of people who use the term in describing what they do, and this set of people meets in a variety of venues. DH is a particularly patchwork network, moreover, so these venues don’t necessarily overlap. I’ve been to a few DH conferences/events/thingamajigs in my time, and while there are certain people I’ve seen repeatedly, the vast majority travel in their little packs that don’t necessarily overlap with my pack (which for two years was the Boston-area DH group, based out of my home lab).

In sixth grade there was a system for class changes: the administration assigned each student to a “pod” of 4-6 people with an identical schedule. At this stage in my education history, there wasn’t anything too complex so scheduling this was not a problem. It helped us get used to our schedules, and also helped us feel a sense of stability when, for the first time, we were moving rooms every class period.

The DH community is kind of like this: there are pods based around projects and places, and these pods move through the currents of the community.

I’ve had the fortune, or the misfortune, to leap away from my pod and find myself in a new place with new projects and people. So, going to the first gathering of the Texas Digital Humanities Consortium was an enlightening experience. I’ll write more about that another day (no promises), but suffice it to say I met people and learned about projects, and I’m looking forward to see where this pod is going.