Reflecting on Digital Labor and Academic Work

Flanders reflects on the early development of digital humanities work, and the relationship between academics and technical experts. She emphasizes the liminality of digital humanities work, with often temporal and disparate funding based around various projects and departments, as well as the para-academic professionals that often exist outside the bounds of the “traditional” academic imaginary. In a broad sense, she argues for the insight that considering knowledge work materially offers in the contrast that these alternative forms of work provide through frameworks of productivity, expertise, and skill. Namely, she suggests such an enterprise emphasizes the importance of valuing of alternative careers in the humanities outside strictly academic positions and a healthier sense of collaborative production necessary to complete the kind of digital projects in the field. It is the latter emphasis that provides the most insight for our own projects this semester. It begs the question: what counts as authorship in a digital or technical project?


First and foremost, this necessitates a better consideration for how “authorship” is recognized in the context of these projects. When I completed my assessment of VirtualMLK last week, I found myself reflecting much longer than expected on the presence and absence of technical labor on the website. Perhaps one of the more interesting, but less obvious aspects of many of the extra-textual objects that we discussed is to what degree they emphasize the technical labor (and laborers) as part of the process. This project has a space for key researchers, but more vague references to technical experts in audio production necessary for even just the recording stage of the process.


In “traditional” academic products, the relationship between an idea, its execution in research practices, and the final written product are often at least theoretically a singular process. Particularly coming from a discipline in which multiple authored texts are much less prominent measuring contribution becomes especially difficult. Flanders suggests “Our expectations of what work should be like are strongly colored by the cultural value and professional allure of research, and we expect to be valued for our individual contributions and expertise, not for our ability to contribute a seamless module to a work product.” In other words, academic paradigms around authorship do not adequately account for the materiality of such work, or the role of technical expertise and consultation in these projects at a more fundamental level. In contrast, Flanders argues for the “structural” role of technical experts in digital humanities work that is often excluded.


At the same time, another significant aspect of Flander’s work is the ways that technical processes necessary from faculty or graduate students to participate in such projects become just another part of the amorphous labor practices that must get done without reflection on how they fit into job expectations. I remember thinking a lot about this when I was doing work with integrating digital projects into my teaching. Namely, in addition to expertise in my field, and in pedagogy (hopefully), I also had to cultivate additional knowledge of technical production and even more significantly how best to teach it. Flanders argues that it is precisely for this reason that work like this offers valuable insight into our own labor practices more generally.

The Transborder Immigrant Tool Project: revisiting its materiality

Johanna Drucker in her article “Performative Materiality and theoretical Approaches to Interface” addresses the gap created in the study of systems and technologies from their materiality, specifically she focus on how digital technology has been described as immaterial medium. She also looks at what is lost in terms of critical theory when a digital device is understood as disembodied, as fungible. Druker’s article specifically address three issues: 1) “The desire to shift discussions of materiality towards a performative model” 2) “a recuperation into digital humanities of mainstream principles of critical theory on which this model is based” 3) and she also offers “some thoughts on how we might move toward integrating this model and critical principles into a model of humanistic interface design”

In Drucker’s article the author argues that materiality is an essential operation and identity of digital media and that materiality “is has to be understood in terms of what it does, how it works within machinic, systemic, and cultural domains”. This description moves beyond “forensic materiality” which focuses on the study of the evidence of a technology, such as physical traces (e.g. ink, fingerprints) or the “formal elements” of it, such as the organization of the layout, and also it moves forward from a perspective of “distributed materiality”, which puts emphasis in the different layers of interdependence of a system which restrict the understanding of a technology and its singularities.

For Drucker, performative materiality “shifts the emphasis from acknowledgement of an attention to material conditions and structures toward analysis of the production of a text, program, or other interpretative even”. To understand materiality as a performative act pushes us to think of what is produced through the technology in relation to the use of it. It assumes that there is a creative process that is singular in relation to the user/counterparty and its interpretation is based on singular contexts. Therefore, the materiality of a digital technology produces one of a kind result that might be in the range of electrical responses to the production of emotions. This also pushes us to think that the interpretive process is based on “inter-relations, dependencies, contingencies, and circumstances” which brings back the historical context of technologies and its politics as central to the understanding of its performance. By looking at the materiality we are force to look at its politics, while the analysis of a disembodied technology allows it to be innocuous and politically disconnected.

In the case of the “Transborder immigrant tool project” (TBITP) that we discussed last week, there were some interesting points made regarding its agenda and the effects of it, questions like if this was a project that was meant to be an artistic performance or an intervention in the field-through the immigration path in the border between the U.S. and Mexico, place on the table issues of materiality that Drucker address in her article.

The first time I learned about the TBITP it was in San Diego at the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego, there in the middle of a room there was a Motorola i455 and a small description of what it did. After that encounter I started to do some research about the artifact that lead me to understand the phone as a political tool of resistance, humanitarian action and until certain point bizarre sense of humor in the context of immigration in the US. The materiality of the project in my case was performed by means of my knowledge and personal context that helped me to understand immigration issues in a very different context than an immigration officer or a migrant who uses Mexico as its entry point. The design of the software or the look of the application was something I didn’t have access to, but still was something that I considered, though at that point the political load of the artifact made me forget about part of its design. As well as, I don’t think that I ever thought of this tool as a piece of performative art, but I always focused on the artifact and its technological development. Having Drucker’s perspective in mind, I think it helps me to look at the artifact in a broader context, but at the same time to reflect of the personal performance between the artifact and my own personal context, and how meaning, relevance, artistic value gets added or lost in the translation process (interaction with the technology).

Hacking Digital Humanities

I also looked at Elizabeth Losh’s article “Hacktivism and the Humanities: Programming Protest in the Era of the Digital University.” Losh notes the institutional dynamics of digital humanities work that challenges the distinction between activism and scholarship. Digital projects such as the undocumented immigrant mapping project seem to make this line especially problematic, as they “create slippage in delineating the difference between ‘personal views’ and professional expertise and also raise questions about what constitutes a ‘criminal act’ when computer algorithms perform their unit operations automatically and highly efficient digital distribution systems produce cascading effects not possible to execute from a single computer.”

What seems to be notable in cases like Dominguez’s project is the way in which university IT policies could be used as authorizing discourses for university administrators seeking to challenge these kinds of radical digital projects. They can be used as cudgels against claims of academic freedom by associating academic work with disruptive “hacktivism” and improper use of university resources. In addition to the usual challenges associated with digital humanities work stemming from with lack of recognition by tenure and promotion boards, collective authorship, and securing funding for digital work, the politics of digital activism through university technological resources poses another challenge for humanities scholars engaging in these kinds of extra-textual projects. In addition, the public nature of this work makes digital interventions easy targets for controversy and Fox News “liberal academic” bashing. As Losh notes, when scholars move into the arena of digital activism, “the attention goes to the programmer’s identity as a hacker, rather than as a member of the academy, even though such conduct may be both socially useful and morally justified and thus fully in keeping with the university’s mission to serve the public.”

One extra-textual project that has similarly created public controversy is FemTechNet’s Wikistorming Project. As many of us already know, the Wikistorming project was designed to work with students to edit Wikipedia in order to make “certain women and their contributions to culture are remembered and acknowledged in the digital landscape.”

 The project utilized Wikipedia as a pedagogical tool by enabling students to act as Wikipedia contributors. By intervening in the collective knowledge base of Wikipedia, FemTechNet worked to make visible the contributions of women and feminist scholarship. However, the project sparked intense public controversy when it was featured on Fox News as an example of injecting “bias” into the “factual” information on Wikipedia. By critiquing FemTechNet’s Wikistorming as feminist bias, Fox News delegitimized the pedagogical project as a politically-motivated assault on technical reason.

These projects show us the challenges and politics of digital humanities work that blurs the line between scholarship and activism. Losh’s article brings to light the institutional, epistemological, and political challenges of digital humanities work.

hacktivist digital humanities and bots of conviction

Hi all– I’m writing at the tail end of a 14 hour day, so I hope you’ll forgive any incoherence!

This week I took a look at Elizabeth Losh’s Debates in the Digital Humanities chapter on “Hacktivism and the Humanities.” In it, Losh makes a distinction between mainstream, seemingly apolitical digital humanities (focused on hacking) and digital projects, like the Transborder Immigrant Tool, that put politics front and center (the hacktivist digital humanities). Her discussion foregrounds the often precariously position of activist digital scholarship within institutions (as well as its importance). [Of course, with the firing of Prof. Salaita, this is something we’re quite familiar with on our own campus.]  A key question that Losh’s piece brings up for me is: To what extent is it possible situate activist practices within institutions like the modern university? To what extent is it possible to really operate outside of institutionalized power relations? (Roderick Ferguson’s The Reorder of Things strikes me as incredibly relevant to this line of thinking about hacktivist dh.)

Thinking back on last week, I was reminded of some of Mark Sample’s writing (which I mentioned briefly last week) on building protest bots and was struck by some of the parallels with Losh’s article. Like Losh, Sample draws a distinction between mainstream bots – those that are becoming part of a ‘bot canon’ are often those that are “are surreal, absurd, purposeless for the sake of purposelessness” (i.e. @Horse_ebooks). Contrast that with protest bots, which he also refers to as “bots of conviction” and which often have an expressly political motivation (i.e. @ClearCongress). (These bots supposed to be social critics, expressly engaged in politics in a way that demands that observers also engage these issues.)  Like the hacktivist digital humanities that occupy oft-precarious institutional spaces, Sample argues that these bots are likely to be left out of the canon.

To finish (on a slightly different note), I want to highlight a line from Losh’s conclusion (emphasis mine).

In considering the need for supporting a truly hacktivist digital humanities, perhaps we can imagine the forms of activism that they both could undertake and the publics who might respond to their collaborations.

This question of “potentially responsive publics,” of audience, is something that has already come up several times in our discussions. As we discussed in class last week, often times the fact that an object is digital all to easily lends itself to the assumption that it is intended for the broadest possible audience. Indeed, most discussion around the value of the Internet and how it operates (including various discourses around memes and openness) is framed around an audience that is similarly presumed to be universal.

Although a lot of digital humanities projects describe themselves in similar terms –especially when it comes to openness– many of them actually function primarily for a specific audience, whether it is highly localized in space or providing a resource for a really specialized community of scholars. It is likely that in some cases, the true audience for a project is very small – perhaps composed only of the person(s) working on it. For example, in the case of a “conventional” Twitter bot, a case could be made that a lot of its value comes in the process of building it. [I’m reminded here of the video presentation by Matt Ratto about the Critical Making Lab that we looked at on Day 1, in which he stresses the importance of process over end product in the work they do.] In my opinion, that all of those alternatives are OK. However, in undertaking projects of our own, it is important that we consider our own potential audience rather than allowing the digitality of the objects we create assume one for us.

One more thing – sometimes the audience for this work is rather unexpected & digital humanities, especially where it overlaps with other ‘big data’ enterprises often occupies an ambiguous space. To that end, Bethany Nowviskie has an interesting piece on her blog this week where she reflects on co-authoring a chapter in a textbook on big data for national security, presented here without much additional comment except to say that the question of “to what extent” seems especially pertinent here as well.

Till (very) soon!  – Sveta

“Beginning from the Marginalized Subject”

In her essay “Standing With and Speaking as Faith: A Feminist-Indigenous Approach to Inquiry” Kim Tallbear writes of her scholarly struggle “to share goals and desires while staying engaged in critical conversation and producing new knowledge and insights.” Working through this question, she cites Gautam Bhan’s notion of “continuous and multiple engagements with communities and sites of research rather than a frame of giving back.” A problem with ethnographic research, she suggests, is the ever-present necessity of the goal to “give back” to research subjects. To address this, the author proposes shifting the research process into a relationship-building process with colleagues (instead of subjects) so that data gathering might instead look more like information sharing. Using Harding, she writes that we must create “hypotheses, research questions, methods, and valued outputs, including historical accounts, sociological analyses, and textual interpretations” which “begin from the lives, experiences, and interpretations of marginalized subjects”. For Tallbear, placing ethics and positionality first becomes a methodology for knowledge production.

It occurs to me that Michael Rakowitz’ project paraSITES might function well within the terms of Tallbear’s ethical methodologies while also raising some questions for me about the process through which I hope to approach my ‘extratextual’ project. In the late 90s, Rakowitz began constructing lightweight, inflatable living spaces for homeless people. These paraSITES fed on warm air from exterior ventilation ducts on buildings to function as heated habitats for the homeless.


The artist worked with homeless people when creating custom dwelling spaces based on the needs and wants of folks in his local community. He spoke with the homeless, allowing them to craft their own living spaces; letting the project develop from the experience of the subject. Rakowitz aims to provide shelter for his ‘subjects’ by producing custom, warm, cheap, and lightweight sleeping sites.


Although I think the work is important, I wonder about some of the ethical issues that Tallbear brings up. An important part of Tallbear’s methodology is eliminating insider/outsider binaries. But how can an artist or scholar, like Rakowitz or myself, ever begin to legitimately claim insider status within a homeless community. Tallbear’s essay is inspiring on many levels for the ways in which it calls for a more (inter)active researching role and seeks to reposition relations between subject and object. However, I am still left unsure about the ethics of my varying projects in relation to ethnographic studies of homelessness. It seems that mixing Bhan’s call for “continuous and multiple engagements” with subject communities and Tallbear’s proposal to “begin from the lives, experiences, and interpretations of marginalized subjects” might function together as a more accessible method as I approach homelessness in my work.

On a cold afternoon

Dani Pavlic, Ann Wu and Fabian Prieto

On a cold afternoon, at Dani’s studio, we talked about the previous projects that we’ve reviewed in class, the ones we are working on, and the ones that we can imagine. Our conversation started flowing as we mentioned the projects we’ve reviewed in class, and how our research interests related to these projects. We also shared our insights of what we had in mind in terms of this extra-textual project, and we started with discussions on form. We felt that we didn’t exactly have a concrete topic, but as artists we often function better with the material limitations set out in front of us. This discussion of form acted as a springboard for project ideas, and we documented them here.

“Standing with” and “speaking as”

Kim Tallbear’s discussion on conducting participatory research from the standpoint of speaking as and standing with the population that we are researching, or that we are researching together, resonated strongly with us. Instead of imagining creating a system, platform, pedagogy, or interface that acted as “giving back” or “doing for,” we are going to facilitate democratic knowledge production. It is not that we completely reject hierarchy, but rather we are interested in creating self-sustaining systems that allow for situated knowledge to arise and spread. Participatory in the sense of collective inquiry and sharing.

Various existing projects exemplifies this idea of participatory practices as democratic knowledge production. FemTechNet has created a situated knowledge map that facilitates the documentation of memories related to our gender socialization. It kind of acts like a Wikipedia, where anyone from anywhere can add to this existing body of knowledge by providing the bits and pieces that you know. But instead of expecting the participants to act objectively and neutrally, this Feminist knowledge map encourages experiences that are personal and in ways subjective. The theoretical framework of Situated Knowledges rejects the understanding that there can be an objective position to stand, and that all of our interaction is filtered and biased in ways that shape our subjectivity. Only after recognizing and embracing this condition, we can move forward in any intellectual inquiry.

Thus, how can we create a system that enable us to speak as a collective but recognize our different positionalities and subjectivities? We considered this question as one key aspect of our discussion about form. Operating under this condition, we imagine our project to be a way to facilitate the unraveling of digital stories. Digital in the sense that it is mediated through computational structures, and stories in the sense that is subjective and personal. As individuals who participate in the project are coming in with a series of stories already woven with other individuals’ stories, this project aims to start a new story thread that unravel this complicated relationship.

This affects you

We discussed how the audience/participants are important in developing the form of this project. We concluded graduate students could be our potential audience/participants. It was important for to realize the scope of the project terms of development, and considered local stories within our community here at UIUC. We have all had the experience of trying something new in a new place, with no strong affiliations with either the community or the location, which was a recipe for failure. With all of this in mind, our idea is to affiliate this project with the GEO, and initially target this project for graduate students. Julia Flanders address the various positions of labor within Universities that are not faculty positions. This aspect is important to be aware of as we begin to locate this project within a single division of the labor. We discussed the possibility of this project being something that starts at with the graduate union and can slowly be woven into other student bodies and position of labor within UIUC.

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Flanders addressed in her essay how she spent her time as a graduate student. She remarks on how the role of the University in overlapping her professional and personal spaces. This idea is interesting to me in having had experienced a similar situation, where the expectations of me professionally were not contained in terms of time and space. I bring this up because, as a group, we discussed the potential for this project to address this academic/personal space through the means of shared/ongoing stories.

Measuring qualitative and quantitative scholarly work, is an issue Flanders addresses, an issue that we indirectly discussed in our meeting. She describes how the evaluation of quantifying scholarly work is built into the framework of the University. The project we are proposing would possibly facilitate a discussion that would assist in the production of quality scholarship.

How to platform such ideas?

We considered how “institutional” could be our project. Will be use orange and blue? Will be address images of our diversity? Will we write it in HTML? After reading Johanna Drucker text, I reinterpreted some of our first approaches to design. I believe that we agree in how the materiality of any interface could encourage the performative act of interpretation. However, our achievements are modest. We don’t look for a perfect semiotic machine, with the only politics of been interpreted by any subject (by the way a cultivated subject).

Our starting point conceives this deconstruction of dominant histories of design for creating new conditions for new histories embedded in interfaces. To translate, as Laura Marks stresses, the knowledges of the body, in­cluding the unrecordable memories of the senses. We already discuss “ imperfect cinema”, hacking practices, nonproductive platforms.

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Our interface will be informed by a work that evoke memories both individual and cultural. We want to consider an appeal to “non-visual knowledge, embodied knowledge, and experiences of the senses, such as touch, smell, and taste” in a dialog with the visual tools and objects for promoting narration. Be want to materialize reciprocity in these travel objects. Caring will be the performative act that our interface will encourage. Our notions of communication, especially if we think of a Mail Art project, will derive from metaphors of weaving and its roots on solidarity and communication.

No title, no theme… just a trickle of thoughts

Our charge for the first assignment was to explore an extra-textual resource.  I want to take up a category of suggested extra-textual type that hasn’t been addressed so much in the examples brought forward by the class thus far,  namely rubrics and standards.  This category was sort of assigned to me, and although I had (and still have) no intention of pursuing the creation of one for the class, I now appreciate how adept the association was.  In reading a number of the articles assigned for this week, my thoughts kept returning to my project on OAIS (an ISO standard) and I was drawn to Julia Flander’s mentions of FRBR.

For those of you outside the LIS fields, FRBR (pronounced fur-burr) is a conceptual model that treats bibliographic entities through sets of relationships.  Below is a foundational diagram, see Wikipedia for a quick description (

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What I want is a materiality analysis of this model— someone to treat this object by enquiring of it in the ways that Drucker suggests in the latter portion of her article.  What are the forensic materialities of this?  How can we utilize this modeling in a more opaque fashion?  In this instance, I am applying my own usage of the term ‘opacity’ to Drucker’s description of more humanistic forms of interface design, and not simply as a binary to her mention of the term transparency:

In such an approach, the formal, graphical materiality of the interface might register the performative dimensions as well as support them. Such approaches would be fundamentally distinct from those in the HCI community. In place of transparency and clarity, they would foreground ambiguity and uncertainty, unresolvable multiplicities in place of singularities and certainties. Sustained interpretative engagement, not efficient completion of tasks, would be the desired outcome. Grounded in principles of interpretation and a theory of subjectivity, such an approach to design has yet to be developed. But it would expose the process of thinking rather than display fixed results of intellectual activity as if they were products.”

Can FRBR be construed as a platform in Bogost and Montfort’s sense? Can we operationalize media archaeology as a method for investigating this standard or rubric as an information object (or event) (Drucker, Parikka)?  I use the term ‘media archaeology’ here with some trepidation because I confess that I don’t understand it very well, but I also think that it comes closer to the type of investigatory method that Drucker seeks in her article than they ways in which she characterizes it there.  In this case, I refer specifically to Jonathan Stern’s article “MP3 as Cultural Artifact”, which Ernst cites as a most adept example of what he wants media archaeology to look like when performed (Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive, 2012).  Understanding the underpinnings of a standard like FRBR is crucial; as Jussi Parikka says in the introduction to Ernst’s book, we live not so much in an information society but an information management society.  FRBR, like OAIS and the other standards, are part of the privileged invisible labour that creates systems which we use without thinking much about them.  To echo Drucker’s summary of post-structural critiques, these models are often decentered.  When using a bibliographic database like Scopus or JSTOR or Google Scholar, we don’t think about the undergirding models like FRBR, let alone the materiality of them, even though we often question the underlying algorithms.  This particular breed of performance, standards, is hidden, but its very decentered centrality should act as impetus for further investigation.  Sadly it hasn’t happened yet— when trying to find a good article even beginning this work into the subject of FRBR for my students last semester, I came up empty handed.  I know it probably seems like a cop out not to make more concrete ties between FRBR and the kind of work Drucker wants to see right here, but I think it would be doing a disservice to both projects to attempt that in such a short space and time.

Understanding the materiality of this type of labour is also essential, as Flanders describes, in seeking to ‘demystify knowledge work.’  If one of the concerns has been with the value of alternative, extra-textual products of intellectual labour, like the MediaCommons projects I reviewed last week, then perhaps understanding the performative materiality of this labour is part of what is needed in understanding how to accredit it.  In LIS work, the invisibility of this type of labour, like the work that Julia often does, cuts both ways in that it is simultaneously privileged and in danger of being overlooked.  Working in invisible domains allows a relative measure of impunity while working: apply or employ models as you choose, since this work is not visible to users in a direct sense.  On the other hand, since the encoding that is done is not often seen by the users, it can be taken for granted.  When thinking about funding arrangements for these types of endeavors, the latter type of invisibility can be quite costly.  Julia’s example about her text encoding work is doubly interesting to me— I have often wanted to look more closely at the implications of an object like FRBR and what it means for catalogers or books merchants to map discrete physical and digital objects onto FRBR entities, but she is also talking more broadly about the shift in labour types when we move from text-based forms of scholarship to treating editorial work as a process of information modeling.  This kind of move fits within what I see this class as exploring, as this latter type of work is the type of project we seek to do here.

A final note: this point about funding is particularly germane when you consider it in light of the concerns raised in Elizabeth Losh’s article.  She speaks to requirements by grant-funding institutions like the NEH (one also mentioned by name by Julia) for recipients to maintain ‘neutrality’ in their deliverables and grant outcomes.  Without trivializing the long history of scholarship surrounding that word, Losh’s mention of neutrality brought to mind the same conference presentation I mentioned in last week’s post, this time a slide by Sarah Roberts:


This word signifies particular things in LIS, and we have a tendency to misappropriate it as an excuse of depoliticization without understanding what this might represent more powerfully in an information management society.  The idea that work needs to be ‘neutral’ in order to be funded calls to my mind more of what Sarah describes, but in the era of Dominguez and Salaita, I fear large funding bodies take a different approach.  Yet here I wanted to point this out, because I wanted to stake a claim for the idea of ‘neutrality’ does not need to connote something negative, nor should it in theory proscribe funding for projects like Dominguez’.

uprooting indigeneity

ind logo

Kim TallBear speaks to “studying across” in contrast to the traditional mode of “studying down,” or even the anti-colonialist turn of “studying up.” For her, this means locating oneself in the overlapping space between the researcher and the object of study. She is personally able to do this by studying indigenous researchers. In doing so, she is able to generate authentic investment in/with her subjects, at the same time she engaged in studying the “colonizers rather than the colonized.” But of course she IS studying the colonized, just not exclusively. Her gaze remains pointed at an indigenous population, but one who has been able to attain object position within the domain of academia.

One thing that interests me about Tallbear’s approach is that she is studying groups with whom she shares membership. Though she doesn’t mention it, this seems to be a defining characteristic of her proposal to “study across.” Without membership, a research cannot help but be “studying down” (or at least “studying at,” depending on their positionality.) Tallbear has the unique position of membership within both a target and agent group (researchers and North American indigenous people). It seems that having this duality represented in project leadership is key to being able to maintain and balance both insider and outsider perspectives. While it might seem ideal in one sense to have dual identity located in one person, it may actually be more powerful to have the identity spread across the group, allowing for greater embodiment, activation, and reflection/dialogue about the relations between these roles both within the research group and between the research group and those they encounter through their study (as long as the leadership group is able to actively address the inevitable power/status dynamics inherited through their respective memberships).

Tallbear alludes to the intertwined leadership of community-based participatory research. In Indigeneity in the Contemporary World: Performance, Politics, Belonging, a project which “explores how indigeneity is expressed and understood in our complex, globalising world,” a level of investment in the target community seems clear, but the level of involvement of the target group is not apparent, aside from the multi-identified members of the research team, many of whom are performers.

To what degree do the staff have dual membership such that they can study across the issue? And with regard to the products of their research (especially the public events) how can readers be invented to “observe across” rather than “observing down”? Given the publication-orientation of research, products and artifacts are distributed beyond their collaborators, and potentially beyond the necessary context to ensure that representations can maintain the sovereignty of their subjects. If we can’t protect their integrity, should we consider not making it such products accessible?

Indigeneity in the Contemporary World: Performance, Politics, Belonging “explores how indigeneity is expressed and understood in our complex, globalising world.”

“As well as developing their own research, core team members host yearly symposia and conference events and will collectively prepare an educational DVD as well as a public exhibition. Visiting research fellows and practitioners have been invited to contribute to the project over the five-year period.”


Riparian City as Performative Interface

In her article “Performative Materiality and Theoretical Approaches to Interface,” Johanna Drucker writes: “The critical design of interpretive interface means that we understand the task not just as an arrangement of things or a structure for the organization of behaviors and actions, but as a mobilization of a critical network that exposes, calls to attention, its made-ness – and by extenstion, the constructed-ness of knowledge, its interpretative dimensions.”  In some ways, Ryan Griffis’ website for his project Riparian City functions as this type of critical interface, exposing the constructed nature of not only itself, but also the typical ways in which we categorize and create the natural world and its resources.

Drucker emphasizes a focus on the performative qualities of interface design and interrogation because, she states, “knowledge creates the object of its discourses, it does not ‘discover’ them.”  While this type of criticism of knowledge is certainly not new (Foucault, Mitchell, etc.) interpretations of the creation of knowledge from such a critical standpoint are often lacking when it comes to discourses about the natural world, natural history, and the hard sciences in general.  These are also spaces of knowledge that mix with discourses from the digital humanities infrequently.  Facts from nature are often only read as data sets, directly linked with truth claims.

By using a website as a part of his physical performance, Ryan shifts and puts into question our understanding of the materiality of the Doan Watershed.  He begins by directly questioning the accepted history of the area with statements such as: “The rattlesnakes, wolves, chestnut trees, salamanders and other riparian city (800x426)once thriving human and non-human inhabitants surely knew it by other names long before Nathaniel Doan arrived here in the late 18th century.”  This idea of fluid boundaries and naming is pushed even further, however, with the mapping project that defines the digital existence of the Doan Watershed.

While the Doan Watershed no doubt exists in the material world, its representation digitally, as both a community map, falsified history, and fictitious political entity asks us to begin to think about physical space in much more abstract ways while also addressing the pure materiality of the water and land and the way that those objects (and places) interact with the animals and humans that encounter them.

The Riparian City interactive map is, in this respects, a critical, performative interface, demonstrating the ways in which “material forms [the map itself, the land, the water, etc.] are only the site of potential for meaning production, not for transfer.” (Drucker) The map, as it is built up by users who define the space and place of the Doan Watershed in limitless ways, are not creating a set of definitive facts, rather they are compiling a set of experiences, memories, or interpretations. In this way, the map, by revealing itself as part of a fanciful city and travel office, creates itself as a real object that allows user to begin to interrogate how we define fact, reality, and history.

Interference Archive


During our very first systems fellowship meeting, I remember getting into groups to discuss our goals and aspirations. I chose to be in the ‘making’ group and brought up an archive collective in New York, Interference Archive. I had never really explored the archive in depth but it occurs to me now that it is an ‘extratextual’ project. The Interference Archive is located in Gowanus, Brooklyn and functions to preserve and exhibit the (often ephemeral) cultural products of social movements and political unrest. Opened in 2011, the space consists of a variety of objects, including posters, flyers, publications, books, t-shirts, buttons, film media, and audio recordings. The objective of the archive is to preserve histories and material culture that is often marginalized in more mainstream institutions. Their mission states,

As an archive from below, we are a collectively run space that is people powered, with open stacks and accessibility for all. We work in collaboration with like-minded projects, and encourage critical as well as creative engagement with our own histories and current struggles.

Interference Archive was created by a core group of four artists, activists, and scholars, Kevin Caplicki, Molly Fair, Dara Greenwald, and Josh MacPhee. It is completely volunteer-run, free, and open-access. The original set of objects grew out of MacPhee and Greenwald’s personal collections but has now expanded through acquisitions and donations. The physical space functions as an archive but also works as an exhibition space, a research space, and a social event center for education and outreach; talks, courses, film screenings, performances, and workshops, utilizing primary source materials located in the archive, take place regularly in the space. It also caters to artists and scholars as the archive publishes booklet and prints posters. Because it is free and open to all, the archive serves a board audience of activists, artists, scholars, and community members.

Since 2011, Interference Archive has expanded its core collective to ten primary organizers. The creators might measure their successes as linked to community outreach and accessibility. Of most importance to the group’s mission is the collection and preservation of otherwise overlooked (ephemeral and therefore consciously forgotten?) objects, histories, and artifacts. The project might offer a repeatable cultural technique in that it shows that archives do not need to be privatized. It allows us to think through the possibility of an open archive. It also allows a reframing of the ephemeral. The bulk of the artifacts in the Interference Archive (otherwise disposable remnants of social movement history) are objects that are often unlikely to be preserved. The archive revalues these objects. The project also seeks to center stories often marginalized in traditional narratives of American history. The field of art history can benefit from these techniques because they celebrate a broadening of the traditional processes of collection and preservation and also reposition ephemeral objects as valuable artifacts.