My new paper in Convergence

My new open access article has been published in the Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies. Based on the ethnography of King’s Digital Lab, I analyse Feasibility documents and propose a theoretical and methodological approach towards the study of documents in digital research production. The full article is available here.

Abstract:

Documents have been increasingly recognised as important objects of investigation in Science and Technology Studies (STS); however, so far, much less attention has been given to the study of documents produced in Digital Humanities. The author proposes therefore to use the method of the ‘STS of documents’ and analyse Feasibility documents that aim to assess technical and design requirements based on research questions and to organise a project workflow. Drawing on the ethnography of King’s Digital Lab, the article investigates Feasibility documents produced by the lab within the Agile-based Software Development Lifecycle framework. The article aims to show that Feasibility documents (1) inform ethnographic work about lab workflow and management and in doing so, are able to capture the interconnectedness of work layers and practices; (2) enable an empirical analysis of digital research projects and the process of translation from research questions, to methods, to technical solutions; (3) are critical structuring objects that structure the research process and relationships between involved actors and are structured by local institutional strategies and decisions. The author conducts a ‘feasibility analysis’ that reveals the project management and development stages: the analytical process (the translation of research questions into technical solutions); the production process (the move from technical and design practices to research answers) and the infrastructure and management process (project workflow and sustainability solutions). Drawing on Agre’s critical technical practice and Digital Humanities’ theories of critical production, the article seeks to shift attention from end-product digital artefacts towards the complex process of their creation, which can unpack a range of social, technological and management issues. In doing so, it also aims to provide a methodological framework for the analysis of documents produced in Digital Humanities that have the potential to unearth new questions about the socio-technical nature of digital production.

My new piece in THE

I’m excited to share that my new piece, “Digital humanities needs equality between humanists and technicians”, has been published in Times Higher Education. It is about labour issues and recognition that are becoming increasingly salient in digital humanities labs. As I argue, introducing a fair publication policy, such as the one recently published by King’s, is a step towards assuring that the work performed by research technicians and technology and skills specialists is acknowledged in research outputs. Recognition of contribution is a prerequisite for research production. Check it out here

My article reposted in DHLib

Great to see that my article “The Laboratory Turn: Exploring Discourses, Landscapes, and Models of Humanities Labs” (Digital Humanities Quarterly, 2021:14.3) has been reposted on the Digital Humanities Program of Tsinghua University website. The team of this program established the first digital humanities journal (Journal of Digital Humanities, 《数字人文》, quarterly ) in the mainland of China in 2019. Here is the link.

Critical Studies of a Tech Stack

In case you missed it, I published a new post on my research website, dhinfra.org, about critical studies of a tech stack based on the network visualisation method. It presents my forthcoming work co-authored with members of King’s Digital Lab which offers a contribution towards an understanding of the role of technologies in informing and shaping a lab culture. It aims to conceptualise and investigate a tech stack as a relational network of actors (universities, for-profit companies, non-profit organisations, communities, and individuals, e.g., research software engineers) engaged in mutual relationships and tensions – concerning open vs closed systems, the domination of corporate platforms, and local institutional policy. This in turn influences labs’ organisational decisions and socio-cultural settings. We intend to decode the complex relational assemblage of technologies, organisations, and cultures. In doing so, it aims to show how this network of associations configures the life and identity of digital humanities labs compromising across technological pragmatism – informed by stability and sustainability – and – ethos – driven by open and independent values. You can find the essay here.

Digital Humanities Laboratories: Recording

The recording of the “Digital Humanities Laboratories: Communities of/in practice” panel discussion has been published online. It was a great conversation about a sense of DH lab community and actions towards gender and racial equity and diversity in DH labs. I chaired the discussion together with Dr Christopher Thomson (University of Canterbury) at the DHA2021, Australasian Association for Digital Humanities Conference “Ka Renarena Te Taukaea | Creating Communities” host by Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | the University of Canterbury in Aotearoa New Zealand (22-25 November, 2021). 

Check it out here:

Digital Humanities Laboratories: Communities of/in practice

I’m organising and chairing a panel discussion “Digital Humanities Laboratories: Communities of/in practice” together with Dr Christopher Thomson (University of Canterbury) at the DHA2021, Australasian Association for Digital Humanities Conference “Ka Renarena Te Taukaea | Creating Communities” host by Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | the University of Canterbury in Aotearoa New Zealand (22-25 November, 2021). You can find out more about the conference programme here

Here, you can register for the conference and join our panel discussion that will be held on Tuesday, 23rd November 2021 at 6.00 pm New Zealand Daylight Time.

The goal of this panel is to discuss the role of laboratories in producing digital knowledge, building the digital humanities community and contributing to work towards greater racial and gender equity and diversity in the field. This conversation is the topic of my forthcoming book collection edited together with Christopher Thomson (Digital Humanities Laboratories: Perspectives on Knowledge, Infrastructure and Culture, Routledge, 2022). We invited therefore five speakers who are also contributors to that volume: Jacquelyne Thoni Howard (Newcomb Institute of Tulane University, US), Itay Marienberg-Milikowsky (Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel), James Smithies (King’s College London, UK), Tyne Daile Sumner (University of Melbourne, Australia), Brandon Walsh (University of Virginia Library, US).

Please see the full description of the panel discussion and abstracts on the conference website here.

CFP: Critical Infrastructure Studies & Digital Humanities

I’m excited to edit the Critical Infrastructure Studies & Digital Humanities book together with Prof. Alan Liu (University of California, Santa Barbara) and Prof. James Smithies (King’s College London) for the Debates in the Digital Humanities Series (University of Minnesota Press). Call for Papers is open for submissions! Deadline: December 15, 2021.

Please see the full CFP and timeline on the Debates in the Digital Humanities Series website: https://dhdebates.gc.cuny.edu/page/cfp-critical-infrastructure-studies-digital-humanities 

Critical Infrastructure Studies & Digital Humanities aims to direct the attention of digital humanists to the wider area of infrastructure studies, and deploy perspectives gained from that wider infrastructuralism to better understand the infrastructures of DH. It will bring infrastructural approaches front and center as an area where DH is uniquely equipped to lead the humanities in thought and practice, using its own infrastructural legacy as inspiration and mirror. The aim is to understand how infrastructure underpins and influences DH, and how DH in turn can influence infrastructure design, development, and maintenance. The volume will promote understanding of critical infrastructure studies as a field of writing and practice, and open dialogues between DH and cognate infrastructural fields.

Please consider contributing a work for Critical Infrastructure Studies & Digital Humanities that might fit into one of the following three categories:

1. Critical Infrastructure Studies from the Perspective of DH: Argumentative essays (preferably in the range of 6,000 words) that explore issues and debates around historical or contemporary infrastructures, or infrastructuralism at large, but with attention to (or through the lens of) their digital platforms, technologies, data, media, and other features of interest to DH. 

2. Digital Humanities from the Perspective of Critical Infrastructure Studies: Argumentative essays (preferably in the range of 6,000 words) that explore debates, histories, and theories of the infrastructures of DH itself, and of its institutions and practices, in ways that exceed a narrow disciplinary focus or a “this is my project” mode. Essays would ideally draw DH into wider vistas that will interest humanists in general or scholars in other fields. 

3. (Re)Envisioning DH Infrastructure: Briefer textual or multimedia (e.g., digital arts, graphic novel, filmic, musical), interactive, data-modeled, documentary, creative, or other works that help envision or reenvision infrastructures and are represented by a critical statement. (Contributions for this category can include materials in digital form to be embedded or linked from the open-access, online version of the volume that will appear on the Manifold platform three months after the publication of the print book. But there must be a standalone critical statement for the print book.)

To ensure that the volume includes diverse viewpoints, the editors encourage contributions from scholars, scholar-activists, practitioners, artists, designers, engineers, and others from different racial, ethnic, and indigenous backgrounds, from the LGBTQ community, from around the world, from different disciplines and kinds of institutions, and from those at all levels and stages in their profession. (Contributions must be in English, though translations in other languages provided by authors may be included in the post-print, open-access version of the volume.) 

A distinctive feature of Critical Infrastructure Studies & Digital Humanities is that each essay or other contribution will include a brief “infrastructure manifest” that declares the principal infrastructures underlying its creation—e.g., natural resources, unceded indigenous land, and major platforms, networks, tools, and institutional or other structures providing sources, storage, processing and workflow (including writing, visualizing, communicating, and collaborating), and labor and expertise—along with any key ethical considerations.

We invite proposals by December 15, 2021. Please submit 500-word abstracts and a short bio to ayliu@english.ucsb.edu, urszula.pawlicka-deger@kcl.ac.uk, and james.smithies@kcl.ac.uk. (Please address all three editors.)

If you have questions, please contact us at the email addresses above. 

New article in DSH

I’m excited that my new article “Infrastructuring digital humanities: On relational infrastructure and global reconfiguration of the field” has been published in Digital Scholarship in the Humanities (17 September 2021, Oxford University Press). It is open access so you can read and download it for free here.

Abstract:

How do the power dynamics of actors in digital knowledge production define the contours of global science and humanities? Where are scholars now in their efforts to improve a networked, global academic system based on the values of equal access to resources, inclusive participation, and the diversity of epistemologies? This article intervenes in these questions by discussing social dimensions of global knowledge infrastructure—connection, standardization, and access—to understand the specification and materialization of global digital humanities (DH). As digital practices expand across the world, the DH community struggles to ensure inclusive participation and equal opportunities in developing the field. This article shows that discrepancies in global DH lie at the root of existing infrastructure inequalities. Drawing on science and technology studies, it then argues that in order to overcome these imbalances, the academic community can seek the ‘infrastructuring’ of DH. Infrastructuring is an analytical concept that shifts attention from ‘structure’ to ‘process’ of co-creation in the vein of participatory design that foregrounds public engagement, shared interest, and long-term relationships with stakeholders to create networks from which equal opportunities and new forms of connections can emerge. This would involve building an inclusive network of unique nodes of local communities on top of the global knowledge infrastructure.

Interrogating Global Traces of Infrastructure

I’m pleased to announce the second workshop in the Digital Humanities & Critical Infrastructure Studies Workshop Series, “Interrogating Global Traces of Infrastructure”. The event is organised by King’s Digital Lab, King’s College Department of Digital Humanities, and Critical Infrastructures Studies Initiative (cistudies.org). The workshop brings together leading thinkers in Digital Humanities, Social Sciences, Digital Media, and Information Studies to discuss practices of interrogating global topographies of knowledge, data, and IT infrastructures and their influence on local social, economic, and research conditions. The meeting will take place on 18 November 2021 on the Microsoft Teams platform. Please register now through the Eventbrite.

The first workshop in June 2021 explored the fragility and faultiness of infrastructures that require scholarly intervention at individual, social, and planetary scales. However, interventions at local levels require an awareness of the relationship of infrastructure to global political and economic dynamics. A good example is Google’s plan to build a new underwater cable between the U.S. and Argentina to augment the company’s existing cable investments in the region and call it the Firmina cable (named after Brazilian abolitionist and author Maria Firmina dos Reis). Every day brings new reminders about how we are all part of a larger political and economic infrastructural system. The Covid-19 pandemic has explicitly shown how the concepts of globality and locality are two sides of the same coin. It recalls the famous words by Susan Leigh Star that “One person’s infrastructure is another’s topic or difficulty.”

In this second workshop, we seek to discuss the global dimensions of infrastructure – scale, flow, accessibility, durability, and transparency – and their impact on localized socio-technical practices. This complex topic touches on many aspects of Critical Infrastructure Studies as a practice, including platformisation, global supply chains, public infrastructures, distributed labor, automatization, cloud computing, environment, and the politics of archives. These pressing issues are nontrivial methodologically. Some of the difficulties of studying infrastructure from a global perspective are suggested by the following questions: How can we reveal the global traces of infrastructures in our daily work? How can local case studies be scaled up? What does it mean to study infrastructures at a distance? What is the best practice to obtain and process large quantities of data? How can we identify the “infrastructural endpoints” – the geographical, social, and economic points of disintegration of the global socio-technical system? And, perhaps most important: How can we contest something that happens at a global scale? What can scholars as individuals do to interrogate and envision better global infrastructures?

This workshop is part of my MSCA research project and I’m excited to be the lead organiser of this event. We have a wonderful line-up of speakers! Please check the full program on CIStudies.org and my research website dhinfra.org.

On the Method of the “STS of Documents” in Digital Humanities

I’ve published a new blog post ‘On the Method of the “STS of Documents” in Digital Humanities‘ on my research website dhinfra.org. In that post, I outline my ongoing ethnographic research at King’s Digital Lab and study of documents produced by the lab. Based on the analysis of 40 ‘Feasibility documents’, I have aimed to understand how they inform the lab management work and how they contribute to structuring the digital research process. To this end, I apply the method of the ‘STS of documents’ and analyse Feasibility documents in a manner similar to STS-based studies of scientific labs’ protocols and kits. The outcome of my analysis will be published in the Convergence special issue ‘Critical Technical Practice(s) in Digital Research‘. In the forthcoming article, I intend to show that documents can be studied as ethnographic objects that can help to reveal critical and socio-technical practices entangled with operational methods and local requirements. In the blog post, in turn, I reflect on the lab management and workflow by referring to a research project conducted in collaboration with King’s Digital Lab. You can find the essay here.