Culture Magazine

Nowviskie on Why DH is Not a Neoliberal Con Job

By Bbenzon @bbenzon
Melissa Dinsman interviews Beverly Nowviskie in LARB. Here's one bit:
So how can we reconcile the digital humanities benefit outside the academy with critiques of the field that connect the emergence of DH to the increased “neoliberalization and corporatization of higher education”? (I am quoting media scholar Richard Grusin here from his C21 post “The Dark Side of the Digital Humanities.”) Do you think such a comparison has merit? Is there something about the digital humanities’s desire to produce that creates an alignment with neoliberal thinking?
Well, sure, DH is complicit in the modern university in the same way that every other practice and part of the humanities that succumbs to certain logics and economies of production and consumption is complicit. So, part of that struggle to enter the mainstream academy I was telling you about succeeded insofar as we, too, in DH now participate in screwed-up metrics and systems of scholarly communication along with everybody else. I’m talking here about how almost everyone in the academic humanities is caught up in the provision of free labor and content to monopolistic, private journal and database providers that then sell us our own content back to us at exorbitant prices. And I’m also thinking of humanities scholars’ general complicity with mismatched demands between what we know might really benefit scholarship and open inquiry and the public good versus what our disciplines ask early-career scholars to produce — and of how parochially we measure their output and impact. In many ways, I think you could turn around and look to the digital humanities not as a sign of the apocalypse but for paths out of this mess. Here’s a field that has been working for years on open access research and publication platforms, on ways to articulate and valorize work done outside of narrow, elite channels, and on how to value scholarship that’s collaborative and interdisciplinary — instead of done solo, individualistically, and only made legible and accessible to fellow academics in little subdisciplines, which is still the M. O. of the broader field. And on a conceptual level, the data- and text-analysis and visualization strand of digital humanities is pretty much all about finding ways to nuance mechanistic quantification and turn it on its head — to better value and appreciate and elevate the ineffable, not in spite of numbers and measures but through them. I mean, that’s our research field.
On that last point I would note purely discursive thinking tends toward binary factoring into black and white while appropriate quantification allows for nuance by supporting shades of gray, lots of them. 

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