Preliminary Thoughts On the Joining of “Hack” and “Yack”

Addition, January 8, 2014: After thinking about the reaction to the comic below further, I am sorry that the comic led people to be genuinely hurt. That was not my intention, and I hope the post below–where I gesture at some of the problems I see in some types of critical making–makes that clear. The comic below was not intended to refer to the upcoming #MLA14 sessions (I had a discussion on Twitter with the generous Matt Ratto on Twitter, who organized the workshop the comic actually critiques). I can see how this would have been a common and possible misreading though, and I apologize for any hurt feelings that I caused. I sincerely hope that the point I raised–that as theory can’t be “added like butter” (thanks Noel Jackson for the paraphrase) to making for critical making to work will be of use to the digital humanities community. Thank you for reading. 

The “hack”/”yack” divide is now a hackneyed question within the field of the digital humanities. The overall consensus is that it is perfectly reasonable not to separate both fields, but that there is considerable “yacking” in “hacking,” or theoretical and political implications in the making or building. This I think is perfectly fair, and I see great potential for broadening the humanities implication in #DH in this. A good example of creative joining of “hacking” and “yacking” I see demonstrated in Bethany Nowviskie’s “Speaking in Code” workshop, which I look forward to hearing more of.

What I am more cautious of is a sense of “hacking” and “yacking” which simply applies the “yack” as a layer on to the building/making portion, as I gesture at the in #DHPoco comic above. For a critical making to work well, it is imperative that the theoretical aspect of the making not exist as a superficial layer on top of the technology, but one which is actively explored in the entire process of creation. In other words, thinking about snippets of theory while actually making something is not “critical making.” To critically make something, we should address questions such as the following: When we which agents do we give agency to in a project and why? Who are the voices that are allowed to speak, and who are heard? Which components act, and which components act upon?

Questions like these I think can be fruitfully explored by efforts at critical making, and I encourage us to move beyond appending the “yack” as a superficial layer on the “hack.” If we think we can quickly replace the theoretical by simply attaching some quotes and questions onto our process we aren’t really “critical making,” we’re just making.

NB: The comic above is based on a DH event I attended in 2013. 


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Preliminary Thoughts On the Joining of “Hack” and “Yack”

One Response

  1. Adeline, I think we all agree at this point that hack and yack aren’t as separate as they’ve rhetorically been placed in the past, but I do take some issue with your framing of critical making. It sounds as though you are suggesting that making cannot be critical unless it addresses topics related to those you enumerated (who are the voices allowed to speak, which components act, etc.) This sounds like an unnatural barrier of exclusivity for criticality, defining what is in and what is out, when (at least to me) there are many more forms critical making might take. I did not attend the workshop you based this post on, of course, but following these sorts of workshops from afar, it seems they raise some good points that are worth addressing.

    Scott B. Weingart January 7, 2014 at 10:46 pm #