Thoughts on Digital Research

The end of term mania started well and truly this week here. I have not had time to be in HUMlab so much but everybody seems to be very busy when I have been in the lab. In my home department (Modern Languages) tired looking lecturers are eating lunch in their rooms or heating something in a microwave while (a) student/s wait nearby for a meeting. Student parties are appearing all over campus. This weekend the student housing area that I live in is hosting the biggest party for the end of term. Trees are going green and the sun is gaining strength. Summer is upon us.

I did however manage to get to the seminar of fellow HUMlab doctoral candidate Stephanie yesterday. Linguistics is not my strong point (ask anyone) but I did feel comfortable with the web based subject of Stephanie’s presentation. Looking at the possibilities for gendered language use in a defined corpus of blog entries Steph is in the process of developing an interesting method that looks like it could have results. What motivates me to write here on this is not so much the content of Steph’s research (which I struggle to really understand outside the literary frames I am myself developing) but rather the reactions that her work got in the seminar. These reactions seemed to me very similar to what my own work meets with in the context of a mostly traditional literature department. This is interesting.

The basis for research in digital subjects seems to be able to benefit from the larger/older/tested body of knowledge that has been built up over the long history of say linguistics, literature, sociology, and so on. We are not reinventing the wheel here and many of the things that happen online have been happening offline for a longer time. So we the digital researchers have to be familiar with the predigital, slower, more static ‘old’ stuff.

BUT

Then there is digital discourse. In yesterday’s seminar words like fluid, changing, temporary, network, community, link, representation, status, genre, effect, and communicative bounced round the room. In my own work I had a long chat this week with another HUMlab digital literature researcher concerning materiality, response, depth, form, conventions of use, subjectivity and embodiment. In all these exchanges there is the feeling of creating or adapting new systems for explaining and contextualising the subjects we deal with. The older (and much larger) body of knowledge is completely indispensable but it does not accommodate the evidence we are finding in digital subjects. Contact across disciplines is a great way to get a bearing on how others are profiting from the dynamic relations of digital research.

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One Response to Thoughts on Digital Research

  1. Patrik says:

    This tension is partly the foundation on which HUMlab was built as well as the belief that engaging with the ‘traditional’ disciplines is worthwhile. It is about respect, I think, and willingness to engage in dialogue. It is also about acknowledging both roots/history/acumulative knowledge AND ongoing processes that may not be totally revolutionary, but which do require more than identifying new study objects. Also, in my view, we have to look at the ‘digital’ and information technology in many different ways – as study object, tool, medium and activist venue.

    Katherine Hayles’ recent talk on literature department and electronic literature is relevant here: http://blog.humlab.umu.se/?p=512.

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