In case anyone’s interested, the abstract is now available for Ann Hewings’s and my paper in the Digital Humanities in Practice series, ‘Corpus linguistics as distant reading?’ We’ll be presenting it to the Digital Humanities Thematic Research Network at the Open University in Milton Keynes, from 12.00 on 4 July. The event goes on until 14.00, but that’s including lunch. Thanks to Francesca Benatti for inviting us and organising everything! Neither Ann nor I is a digital humanist, but Francesca assuredly is, so I shall trust her judgement that this is a good idea and look forward to some interesting discussion.
…I have decided to start closing comments on posts that are more than about a month old. I do this with some regret, as real comments continued to be added to one of my articles well over a month after I originally posted it. But the volume of spam this blog attracts has become unmanageable, especially at a time of year when I am supposed to be finishing a book manuscript and dealing with exam-related admin.
If anyone wants to comment on a post over a month old, I hope that he or she will email me to ask for comments to be opened again. I am not doing this to close down discussion – just to get rid of all those pesky Tramadol adverts.
The Open University, Milton Keynes
Christodoulou Meeting Room 01
24th June 2013
The commonplace understanding of reading as an essentially private activity is challenged not only by the very vocal kinds of reading carried out in classrooms, literary festivals, or reading groups (book clubs) but also by the important role it has played in social and political conflict.
…that the furore over my ‘Managerial humanities’ blog article has blown over (on the subject of which: a big thank you to Digital Humanities Now for making it their Editors’ Choice for the week of 30 April-6 May, to The New Inquiry for including it on the Sunday Reading List for 19 May, and to the Cyborgology people at The Society Pages for featuring it in an In Their Words list for 19 May), I am glad to report that I can at last get back to speaking to people face-to-face instead of endlessly arguing on the internet.
In a recent blog post, Tom Campbell (2013) pondered the end of what has come to be known, since Richard Florida (2002), as the ‘creative class’ (or as Florida himself might prefer, the ‘Creative Class’). For those of you that don’t know, this social group is supposed to consist of ‘people who add economic value through their creativity’, including various kinds of ‘knowledge workers, symbolic analysts, and professional and technical workers’ who ‘engage in work whose function is to “create meaningful new forms”.’ (Florida, 2002, p. 68). Florida suggests that this class cannot be associated with the bourgeoisie of classical Marxist analysis because it is not defined by possession of property as Marx would have understood it: ‘Most members of the Creative Class [sic] do not own and control any significant property in the physical sense. Their property… is an intangible because it is literally in their heads.’ (ibid.) The latter statement seems remarkable only if one takes a superficial reading of Marx to be the last word on class. In fact, it describes a general characteristic of skilled non-manual workers, including members of the old professions: people whose income derives not from capital they possess but from work they perform, yet whose work commands a relatively high price on the labour market because its performance depends upon scarce forms of expertise. This describes the cool, smart, and quite possibly collar-less white collar workers Florida lauds no more nor less than it does doctors and accountants – and teachers too, whose work is precisely to develop expertise in others. These people belong to what Tony Bennett and colleagues (2009) prosaically call the ‘professional-managerial class’, which is – after the distant elite of politicians, high-ranking executives, celebrities, and the super-rich – the most dominant group in western societies today.
On 20 March this year, I joined my head of department, Ann Hewings, in contributing to a cross-faculty staff seminar on using e-learning and large datasets for digital literacy development with undergraduate students. Unsurprisingly, there was discussion of digital humanities resources: in particular, the online Old Bailey Proceedings, 1674-1913, introduced by Francesca Benatti, and the Open University’s own Reading Experience Database, discussed by its director, Shafquat Towheed. Two librarian colleagues, Katharine Reedy and Sam Thomas, also spoke, explaining the Open University’s award-winning Digital and Information Literacy framework – in effect, a cross-disciplinary, skills-based curriculum to be studied by every Open University student alongside the knowledge- and skills-based curricula associated with each qualification pathway – and arguing that literacy training of this sort is most effective when integrated with substantive course content. Sam was kind enough to illustrate this point mainly with online activities that she and I had developed together for U214 Worlds of English – the mid-level undergraduate module that Ann and I were scheduled to speak about. (Ann was the chair of the team that produced U214; I played various roles on the team, including co-ordinating the online activities.) However, from my point of view, the most interesting presentation was the long opening talk by Robin Goodfellow of the Open University’s Institute of Educational Technology. Robin’s ESRC-funded Literacy in the Digital University seminar series has provided valuable insights into the conceptual and ideological basis of digital literacy and digital literacy training, and I’ll cover his talk last because it serves to problematise what the rest of us were talking about.
…to connect this website to the web. Up until now, I’ve been adding pages and posts to get into the swing of things, but without creating a single inward link from anywhere else. Now I’ve changed all that. This means that search engine web crawlers can at last begin to creep their way in and index what I’ve written. Which in turn means that – before long – somebody’s going to end up reading this stuff. It also means that spambots will start trying to post links to dating sites and other online garbage, but I haven’t made it particularly easy to leave comments yet, so that’s less of an issue now than it might have been.
As we all know, the digital humanities are the next big thing. A couple of years ago, I gave a presentation at a digital humanities colloquium, explaining what I saw as the major reasons for this (Allington, 2011). We are working within an economic system in which owners of capital (funders) invest in research speculatively purchased in advance from the owners of the means of knowledge production (universities), with permanent employees of the latter (what North Americans call ‘faculty’) playing the role of brokers between the two (both as writers and as reviewers of grant applications) and managing the precariously-employed sellers of labour (junior academics and support staff on temporary contracts) who actually get things done. Humanities research is traditionally cheap, which is bad from at least two points of view: funders want to save money by administering fewer, larger, grants, while universities want to see every department generating research income on a par with that pulled in by STEM centres. The digital humanities come to the rescue by being so conveniently expensive: they appear not merely to profit from but to require such costly things as computer hardware, server space, and specialised technical support staff who – in a further benefit from the point of view of the ethically-indifferent university – can be employed on fixed-term contracts, instantly disposed of when the period of funding comes to an end, and almost as instantly replaced once the next grant is landed. It didn’t have to be like this: computers can as easily reduce as increase the size of a research project. In the funding game, however, the goal is not quality, nor even efficiency, but only bigger and bigger contracts. This is the context within which the digital humanities have fashioned themselves from their less tiresomely glamorous predecessor, ‘humanities computing’.
By and large, ‘theory’ enters into literary studies as a body of texts to be related to the texts that constitute ‘literature’. This process of relating is typically carried out through the production of ‘readings’ of specific works – unsurprisingly, since such production has (since the New Criticism) been enshrined as the central form of specifically literary research. There is little enthusiasm, on the whole, for asking whether a theory is coherent, or whether it is adequately supported by evidence, or whether it is consistent with other things that are known, or whether it explains observable facts more parsimoniously than other available theories. Asking these questions would not amount to a recognised form of literary research; persistent askers might even be accused of philosophy. Implicit in this system is the conception of a good theory as one that enables its user to produce a publishable reading. ‘Good theories’, in this sense, have been found just about everywhere, from linguistics to psychoanalysis and the speculative margins of cognitive science. As Jonathan Culler – one of the most prominent literary theorists to challenge this orthodoxy – argues, Continue reading “On literary theory”
…I have decided to create my own website. I am conceiving it firstly as a means by which to show how my various publications and other projects fit together into a body of work (hence the static pages), and secondly as a platform on which to publish shorter pieces of writing that don’t fit into my publication schedule (hence this blog).