Designing the Digital Humanites I. Mutual respect

I will use this blog space to discuss a few design parameters that I am currently writing about in my fourth (and final) article in my article series on the digital humanities. The article in question is entitled “Envisioning the Digital Humanities”. The design parameters are part of my own vision of the digital humanities (and hence related to HUMlab) – they do not project a singular vision, nor a set of visions or issues, but rather a grounded visionary space. I will not prodvide full references etc. – all this will naturally be part of the final article. Also, this is just provisional writing. Feedback welcome!

Design parameter: Mutual respect

Respect is a basic and possibly taken for granted quality, and it may be argued that it need not be explicated as respect can be seen as a ‘default’, if culturally variable, property. However, exactly because of its fundamental quality and its importance for interdisciplinary endeavors such as digital humanities, it serves as an appropriate starting point for this discussion. Indeed, the importance of respect is sometimes pointed out in research on interdisciplinary practice (cf. e.g Repko 2008:44). In any enterprise where you facilitate meetings across traditional boundaries – whether it be across disciplines, across parts of the university, between the university and the outside world, between faculty and technical staff or between faculty and students – explicit respect making can help making that boundary crossing easier and more productive. This does not mean, however, that discussions should not have intellectual edge, that there should not be tension or that everyone has to be ‘nice’ all the time, but rather that there is basic level respect that is fundamental to the operation.

For instance, this respect should extend to traditional disciplines and the accumulative work done in these disciplines as well as the work carried out by new formations. Even when faced with rather provocative issues, such as the future existence of one’s own discipline, many scholars are willing engage in discussions. As a general rule, however, it helps not to be unnecessarily provocative. For instance, cursory dismissal of existing disciplines or work practices is not recommended.

Respect entails being interested in other people’s research and practice, acknowledging different epistemic traditions, engaging in dialogue regardless of someone’s position in the university hierarchy or other structures, but also respecting more ‘monastic’ work processes, and temporary unwillingness to be dialogic. An institutional space – whether physical, digital, hybrid or virtual – can support both individual, disciplinary practice and collaborative, trading zones (Galison 1999). Here, translucence can be an important design principle to allow multiple zones at the same time (cf. Svensson forthcoming b), hence making respectful work and rich collaboration easier.

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One Response to Designing the Digital Humanites I. Mutual respect

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