Guest blogger: Nishant Shah

Dr. Nishant Shah is the co-founder and Director-Research at the Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore, India. He is also an International Tandem Partner at the Centre for Digital Cultures, Leuphana University, Germany and a Knowledge Partner with the Hivos Knowledge Programme, The Netherlands. Recently Dr. Nishant Shah visited HUMlab to participate in the conference “Digital gender: Theory, Methodology and Practice” (http://www.humlab.umu.se/digitalgender).

“When I was first invited to be a part of the Digital Gender conference curated by Anna Foka at the HUMlab in Umea, Sweden, there were many things that I had expected to find there: Historical approaches to understanding the relationship between digital technologies and practices and construction of gender, multi-modal and multi-disciplinary frameworks that examine the intersections of gender and the digital; Material and discursive descriptions of how we understand gender in contemporary realms. And indeed, I found it all there, and more, as a great collection of people, came together in dialogues of scholarly rigour, critical inquiry and political solidarity and empathy, to learn, to teach, to exchange research and scholarship. Given my past experiences of being at HUMlab and the incredible range of scholarship that was curated there, this came as no surprise.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADr. Nishant Shah in HUMlab

However, the one thing that stood out for me was an incredible session on Game Making conducted by Carl-Eric Engqvist. When I first saw it in the programme, I was apprehensive. What can Game Making have to do with digital gender? What would we learn from trying to design a game? I have been in ‘doing workshops’ before where things don’t always go as planned. Especially with the new ‘maker culture’ movements and DIY hipster phases, I have often found myself disappointed with workshops that focus too much on the technological and the interface. And I was in two minds about this – surely, we could have spent the time in more traditional academic experiences – round tables, discussion groups, or even just increased time for the participants to present their work. And so when the workshop began, I was waiting for it to make sense – to see what the game making’ workshop could have in store for the motley group of people that had assembled there.

Engqvist started off by showing us three games that have inspired him the most and what he wanted us to take as our points of thought and from that moment on, I knew we were in safe hands. Engqvist was not interested in games for gaming. He was interested in games as artefacts, as ways of thinking, as modes of engagement into exploring, reifying and concretizing many of the questions around power and empathy. And more than anything else, he presented with us the idea that games can be pedagogic,  they can be learning tools; and though they might be designed for young players, they can be ways by which we translate our academic knowledge and research into practice.

What emerged in the subsequent two hours, was a great exercise in feminist methods and knowledge meeting new pedagogy and discussions. The group divided into two teams and set out to make a game that would be suitable for 8-10 year olds, and questions ideas of power and imbalance in their lives. Here are some things that I learned from the conversations:

  1. The nature of true power: One of the most interesting discussions that emerged was where the power resides. Scripted games often give us the illusion of power by making the power of the script writer invisible. While games are often open to creative interpretation and negotiation, these are only within the context of the constraints of the game. How do we design games that are then transparent about their own limitations? Can we think of a game that is about building the game rather than playing a game? Can we think of game outside of structures of competition and winning, closer to the designs of the Theatre of the Oppressed?
  2. Collective Empathy: The most dramatic revelation in the game making exercise was the engineering of empathy. There were many different suggestions on how to build empathy. One of the ideas was to put the players in simulations of real-life crises, asking them to take up different roles as antagonists and protagonists within the conflict, along with by-standers who can choose to be allies. However, drawing from legal narratives of rape, that demand that the rape victim be not subjected to re-living the experience through testimonies in court, we decided that it might be not fruitful to make participants re-live real-life trauma in the course of the game. Eventually, we decided that the way to escape this would be to let the participants be in control of their own simulations, and offer them ways of establishing trust and empathy.
  3. The power of narratives: In designing the narrative of the game, what came out was our own personal narratives of why we believe in the things that we do. How do we devise a game that has narratives of the everyday that can eventually transcend into becoming special? How does the playing of the game itself lead to repeated narratives, each customised to the situation? How do we create conditions and infrastructure that encourages users to iterate, repeat, remix and remediate ideas so that they become rich and layered narratives? And most importantly, how do we take something that is traumatic or troublesome, something that scares or angers us, and get the help of our fellow players, to reappropriate it, diffuse its hostile edge, and make it more amenable and something that we can cope with?
  4. DIY experiences: We recognised as a group, that we were more interested in a game that was about crafting experiences rather than designing learning goals. Or in other words, we wanted something so simple that it triggers something at the most visceral level, allowing the players to dig deeper into their own selves and come up with ideas that could resonate with the others. The ambition also was to have the gamers be in control of the intensity and thus define the parameters of their own gaming experience rather than be put into conditions or situations that might lead to further trauma.
  5. Teaching versus Learning: The largest chunk of our discussions pivoted around these two concepts. When designing a pedagogic game, how do we locate ourselves and the players? Do we assume the role of pedagogues who have specific messages to deliver, or do we assume the role of co-learners who will build a set of rules that create new conditions of playing every time? How do we further ensure that the games will have a feminist pedagogy of recursive and self-reflexive criticality along with a clear message of empathy, collaboration and togetherness?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPresentation of the game ‘Drawing It Out’

What emerged through these five learning principles was a simple game that we called ‘Drawing It Out’. Here are the rules of the game, followed by some pictures that emerged as we played the game ourselves in the group.

Game: Drawing It Out.

Players: 3-6.

Age: 8 and above

Materials: A number dice, a dice with different emotion words written on it: Shame, Anger, Frustration, Love, Fear, Hope.  A tea-timer of 3 minutes. Sheets of blank paper, different coloured pens and pencils.

Instructions:

  1. Each member in the group rolls the number dice. The person with the highest roll gets to roll the emotion dice.
  2. The emotion dice lands on any one of the emotions. For example: Fear.
  3. The tea-timer is turned, and each player, sitting in a circle, gets three minutes to draw the one thing that they are afraid of.
  4. When the time is over, each player gets to talk about the thing that they are afraid of.
  5. Once everybody has explained their fear, they pass their sheet of paper to the person on the right. The tea-timer is turned. The next person draws something else on the sheet of paper – adding, remixing, morphing, changing the original drawing – to show how they can help in overcoming the particular fear. In the case of hopeful words like Love and Hope, the players add how they would increase and share in the feeling.
  6. Each time the tea-timer runs out, the paper moves on to the next person in the circle. The process is repeated till the sheet of paper reaches the person who had first drawn on it.
  7. At the end, each person looks at the sheet of paper they had begun with and the others talk about the ways in which they have added to the original drawing.
  8. The participants roll the number dice again and repeat the process. Participants are not allowed to draw the same thing if the emotion is repeated. The game can be played till there is interest or time to play it.
  9. The players get to take the sheets of remixed papers home with them as artefacts and signs of the trust established within the game.”

 

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Indian ambassador Her Excellency Banashri Bose Harrison in HUMlab-X

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn February 13, HUMlab was happy to welcome Her Excellency Banashri Bose Harrison, Ambassador of India.

The Ambassador was very interested in HUMlab and the Digital Industry of the Umeå-Region. After visiting HUMlab-X, the HUMlab student ambassadors gave her a tour of the Arts Campus. During her visit she also met with representatives from Dohi Sweden and Algoryx Simulation!

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Hybrid harmonium, folk dance and potluck fika at HUMlab-X

Yesterday evening HUMlab-X was filled with people eager to learn how to dance swedish folk dance, join in on the potluck fika and find out more about the Hybrid harmonium project – a former church harmonium that through physical computing has been transformed into a player harmonium – a project developed by the artist Anna Neander with support from HUMlab.

During the evening you could also explore our interactive floor screen…and people did!

A big thank you to Umeå folkmusikförening for a great collaboration! And also to the workshop leaders, musicians and all the dancers. This was awesome!

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SDHO – Friday, Critical Making session

Just realised I’m supposed to be blogging.
Excellent fun, but I’m sceptical to the uniqueness ascribed to digital making with respect to any form of making. All material objects have creation processes and intrinsic hidden or visible attributes, and rely on technology in some form (perhaps with the exception of singing and dancing?). These along with their spatial dissociation contribute to any copy of any object being unique in any number of ways, but in the digital world we may, although not always, have more easy access to the accompanying metadata.

The differences between cave painting and digital image production could be considered as purely a matter of scale and complexity. To assume the digital is unique is to underestimate the complexity of human actions and technologies in the past. Creating charcoal and paints requires knowledge, experience and technology – just as the creation of physical and software digital tools does. Admittedly, the copy paste action in a computer simplifies image reproduction, reduces the probability of visual variation between copy and original. But so does the camera, the forger or that frame thing from the 1980′s that allowed you to copy drawings. “…the image on the screen is not even identical to itself.” (Drucker, Speclab, 139) – what does that really mean? Admittedly I’m quoting out of context, but there appears to be a tendency to mystify DH through the use of obtuse and ambiguous expressions. Does the uncritical reader perhaps may assume that if something is difficult to understand then it is of necessity true?

Post by guest blogger:
Dr Philip I Buckland
Senior lecturer in Environmental Archaeology
Director of the SEAD infrastructure
Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society
Dept. Historical, Philosophical & Religious Studies, Umeå University

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The Digital Humanities as a revivalist movement?

We are coming close to the end of the first day of the “Sorting the Digital Humanities Out Workshop”. One of the aims of the workshop is to focus on the intermediate future of the field, and some of the good and interesting discussions are centered on what constitutes Digital Humanities.

As Church historian, previously focusing on Christian revivalist movements in the 19th century, it is not difficult to see some parallels between revivalist movements and the discussion that took place today (and of course before today as well).

The aim of a revivalist movement is to revive Christianity among people. In a Swedish (and a European) 19th century context revivalist movements were either about revitalizing the Swedish state church, or to break away from it to start a free church. The need for reform came out a critique of the current state of the Church. And while state churches are based upon geography, revivalist movements emphasized the community among (true) believers – ecclesiolae in ecclesia. This could go in two ways – they either tried to revive the mother church (and thereby to be confessional), or separate itself from the established Church and initiate free churches.

The confessional revivalist movement had to struggle with their legitimacy toward the mother church, trying to revive it from the inside out of a critique toward it. The free churches could run their own business. I will not go into further parallels regarding charismatic meeting, activity of their preachers, media to spread the Word, and so on.

Is there a lesson to learn? I do not know. However, historical examples give us tools to reason about what is happening in contemporary society. Personally I like the idea of being part of a movement with the aim to revive the field of Humanities, but as many of us can testify – it is not easy. The other (easier?) way is to establish Digital Humanities as a separate field.

What way should the Digital Humanities take? Maybe we will have an answer tomorrow.

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Sorting the Six Minutes Presentation Out

Is it possible to make a six minutes research presentation? Looking at the program for the workshop this morning I thought that this setup might pose some challenges to the speakers. How to boil down your area of interest to a couple of minutes? However, the first set of six speakers managed to, in a very short time, offer a variety of topics, ranging from Intra-face – Rethinking anatomical simulators to Transparence and Open Access. The blend of disciplinary queries also sprawled different aspects of the field of Digital Humanities.

In the short discussion afterwards questions specifically regarding Open Access and Open Internet emerged. Drawing on the presentation of Lindsay Thomson, the participants discussed how the act of making data public does not actually make it public, but rather privatizes it. Focus was also directed to the relation between the digital and the material. These are not to be seen as oppositions but as mutually affecting each other: intra-acting, as Ericka Johnson, drawing on the work of Karen Barad, had it. The participants were presented to questions as diverse as ‘how can the digital encompass different aspects of the material’ and ‘what are the alternatives to Open Access’? Naturally, the only question that received a clear answer was ‘can you make a six minutes presentation’.

Yes!

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3 x upcoming HUMlab seminars

The next couple of weeks in HUMlab will be exciting. Let me start with the seminars. We will do three seminars in about a week, starting this coming Friday. We expect all seminars to be streamed at http://live.humlab.umu.se/. The seminars will take place in HUMlab on the main campus (below the University Library). Everyone welcome!

I have heard all these speakers talk about their work in the last couple of month, and was very impressed with the quality of their work and delivery. Highly recommended, and some of the most interesting presentations I have attended recently. Not be missed!

[November 29, 1:15 pm CET]

Crusaders, Arabs, or Phoenicians?: Transmediated Cultural Memory and the Genographic Project’s Genetic Ancestry Research in Lebanon
Brian Johnsrud, Stanford University

James Wertsch argues that cultural memory is distributed between active agents and the cultural tools they employ, making cultural memory fundamentally mediated. The more we employ multiple culturally mediated platforms (e.g. Wikipedia, online history forums) to recall and engage with the past, I argue, the more our memory becomes cultural and transmediated. While Henry Jenkins’ limits his focus on transmedia storytelling to franchises, the notion is helpful for characterizing the diverse, multi-mediated terrain of representations of the past.

Through my ethnographic fieldwork on the popular reception of National Geographic’s Genographic Project genetic ancestry studies, I question how transnational relations interact with new media as transcultural tools to accept, negotiate, or contest local and global identity politics. The Phoenician and Crusader pasts were employed to justify sectarian violence during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-90), and afterward many of these histories were officially censored in a work of national amnesia. That is, they remained silenced until The Genographic Project created a scientific narrative that resurrected the contemporary significance of these controversial pasts through multiple, transmediated platforms.

After three years of intermittent participant observation in Genographic labs in Lebanon, I conducted 30 in-depth interviews with Lebanese individuals who received genetic ancestry results that marked them as patrilineal descendants of Phoenicians, Arabs, or medieval European Crusaders. The interviews focused on participants’ reception and interpretation of their genetic results and the kinship networks and print, digital, or online media they employed to interpret, negotiate, or creatively remediate their newfound relationship with the past.

This paper emphasizes the effectiveness of comparative, multi-sited ethnography and semi-structured, case study interviewing. These methods are particularly useful for exploring the transnational co-construction of the past in new realms like ancestry genetics and their transmediated representations in scientific reports, online communities, and international news coverage. My findings reorient cultural memory studies and our notion of the public or private “archive” by attending to to audience reception and socially mediated engagements with the past.

[December 4, 1:15 pm CET]
Objectivity and Evidence in Digital Humanities: The Case of the Missing Palaeographer Seminar
Peter Stokes, King’s College London.

Digital Humanities has sometimes been described as a ‘metadiscipline’, insofar as it involves methods, approaches and issues which apply directly to many different research areas in the Humanities. For example, bringing computers to the Humanities has raised questions such as the nature of evidence in Humanities arguments, the desirability or otherwise of quantitative methods in this, and the role (if any) of objectivity. Certainly these questions are not new – they have been discussed actively for decades or even centuries – but they have reemerged with new urgency in recent years partly because of technological developments.

A good example of this is palaeography, where a long-standing debate over whether the field should or can be ‘scientific’ has been reignited in part due to the widespread advent of digital images and the computing power to process them. The resulting burst of work in ‘computational’ palaeography has found very limited acceptance in the field, raising the question where the ‘traditional’ palaeographer is in this new field of ‘digital palaeography’. In this seminar I will therefore focus on these questions, looking at how they have been addressed in the DigiPal project and how they apply them to Digital Humanities more generally. These will include quantitative and qualitative approaches and the desire for objectivity, but also questions regarding what Humanities scholars might want from computers, a possible disjunction between computational ‘answers’ and the humanists’ need for meaning, and even what it means to digitize content at all.

[December 4, 3:00 pm CET]
The authority of the live: The on-stage redeployment of journalistic authority
Christine Larson, Stanford University

Live publishing—the production of editorially driven live events and spin-off content by media companies—has become a significant media platform for many of America’s largest newspapers and business magazines.This article draws on interviews with executives at ten media companies involved in live publishing, and on participant-observation at two conferences produced by The Wall Street Journal, America’s largest newspaper. Contrary to narratives positing the decline of journalistic authority, this research presents live publishing as a site where journalists deploy traditional discourses of authority and expertise to establish their position as conveners of intersecting networks of sources, audience members and sponsors. In this way, they extract value from the immaterial networks of sources and readers that underlie their work. Taken more broadly, live publishing demonstrates how workers and organizations in cultural industries transform and redeploy authority into new systems of networked power.

 

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