Forthcoming seminar: ‘Network analytic approaches to the production and propagation of literary and artistic value’

I’ve just received details of my forthcoming seminar, ‘Network analytic approaches to the production and propagation of literary and artistic value’, at the Centre for e-Research (CeRch) at King’s College London. It will take place at 6.15pm on Tuesday 1 October in the Anatomy Museum Space on the 6th floor of the King’s Building at the main KCL campus on the Strand. As you can see from the abstract, the focus will be on methodology and its theoretical implications (my approach emerges from Bourdieu’s sociology but employs social network analysis: two things that are often assumed to be in opposition). However, I’ll be illustrating everything with details from my empirical research on interactive fiction and a couple of other ongoing projects where I also look at relationships between cultural producers (early 20th century authors probably; contemporary visual artists possibly; maybe also something on electronic musicians). I may find time to talk about the specific digital tools that I’ve been using (for those who care about such things: Python 2.7, NetworkX, PyGraphviz).

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Twitter conversations, and why it’s just nicer to use the ‘reply’ and ‘retweet’ buttons

Replying, retweeting, and the acknowledgement of other people’s contributions to a conversation

I recently got involved in a discussion about the best way to acknowledge other people’s tweets while interacting on Twitter. It turned out that neither I nor the person I was talking to was absolutely sure of the implications of each of the various options available, and that while guidelines were available from Twitter itself (short version: use the buttons we made for you!), no-one seemed to have written an explanation of what each option might do to help or hinder a Twitter user in understanding and joining in a conversation that hasn’t involved him or her from the beginning. There are guides that recommend the opposite of what I – having looked into this weighty matter – consider to be the best approach, but I have no time for a flamewar right now (does anybody ever have time for a flamewar?), so I will just go ahead and explain what I think is right without attempting to refute the arguments of unnamed people who have (in my humblest of opinions) got it all wrong. The nub of the matter is twofold: the question of whether it is better to reply to a tweet by clicking the ‘Reply’ button or to reply to it by cleverly typing the tweeter’s screen name at the start of a new tweet, and the related question of whether it is better to re-distribute another person’s tweet to one’s followers by clicking the ‘Retweet’ button or by cleverly typing the letters ‘RT’ or ‘MT’ into a new tweet, adding the screen name of the original tweeter, and then copy-pasting the text of the tweet (or at least some of it) into whatever’s left of your 140-character allowance. There is then the secondary question of what difference it makes to add an additional character (conventionally a dot) to the beginning of a tweet before a person’s screen name, and whether it makes the same difference to do so after clicking ‘Reply’.

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Corpus linguistics. Distant reading. Available abstract.

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.

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Thanks to all the spam…

…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.


Reading in conflict: an interdisciplinary seminar

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.

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Now it seems…

…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.

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The automation of intellectual labour: creative or otherwise, we’re all just workers in the end

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.

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The autonomous model of digital literacy?

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.

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The time has come…

…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.

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The managerial humanities; or, Why the digital humanities don’t exist

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’.

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