#MLA16 Panel Proposal: Affect, Emotion and Digital Scholarly Publics

The following is a special session panel proposal for the 2016 MLA meeting that I wrote and organized.

#MLA16 Panel Proposal: Affect, Emotion and Digital Scholarly Publics

Adeline Koh, Associate Professor, Stockton University
Howard Rambsy, Associate Professor, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville
Cathy Schlund-Vials, Associate Professor, University of Connecticut (Storrs)
Edmond Chang, Assistant Professor, Drew University
Jesse Stommel, Assistant Professor University of Wisconsin-Madison

Presiding: Dorothy Kim, Vassar College

This panel explores the affective economy that has gone into the establishment of the digital humanities as a public scholarly field. The panelists will discuss how a discourse of disembodied rationality is used within the digital public sphere to deny the politics of bodily identification and to relegate racialized, gendered and disabled bodies to the margins of the field.

Detailed Event Description:
While the formation of intellectual disciplinary fields has been widely studied according to economic and cultural capital (Bourdieu, Guillory), in the vein of biopolitics and governance (Foucault), with respect to nationalisms and colonialisms (Said) and in relation to the development of academic cultures (Lamont), there has been little work devoted to exploring the ways in which emotions and affect come to frame academic debates, cultures and fields. In some ways this is unsurprising due to the traditional role emotions have played in the western philosophical tradition, wherein they are constructed as counterpoints to reason, as red herrings which distract scholars from the quest for knowledge. Yet, recent critics who have studied the importance of emotion and sexuality argue that both are often embodied in the structures of social, political and ideological power (Ahmed, Butler, Berlant, Grossberg, Lutz).

This panel seeks to address this gap by exploring the “affective economy” that has gone into the establishment of the digital humanities as a public scholarly field. As the Digital Humanities was rising to increased institutional significance in the early 2010s, scholars identified as luminaries of the field began blogging about their vision of scholars in the field as being a largely inclusive group, who were well aware of the politics of elitism and their pitfalls (Kirschenbaum, “The (DH) Stars Come Out in LA,” Nowviskie, “Eternal September of the Digital Humanities” Sinclair, “DH Stardom.”) Yet, criticism by Smith, Golumbia, Grusin, Koh and Risam among others, have since drawn attention to the continued exclusivity and gatekeeping that takes place within the field. This panel suggests that these writings all constitute an “affective economy” whereby relationships, alliances and divisions are sown. This approach has been well-established by scholars in sexuality studies (Rubin, Butler, Sedgewick, Lorde, Ahmed, Halberstam, Holland), all of whom have critically argued that emotions and affect are powerful forces that lead to identification and community creation. The panelists will discuss how a discourse of disembodied rationality is consistently used within the digital humanities to deny the politics of bodily identification that places racialized, gendered and disabled bodies at the center, and used instead to relegate them to the margins of the field.

This roundtable brings together a group of senior and junior scholars from a variety of institutions and subfields to discuss the role of affective cultures in constructing the digital humanities. Each scholar will be limited to five minutes of remarks, the goal of which are to stimulate conversation between the audience and the roundtable. The bulk of the session (45 mins) is reserved for discussion.

Koh will discuss the affective landscape of the public digital humanities, discussing examples of what figures, tropes and narratives become “sticky” at different points and the ideological work this does. Next, noting the affective turn in comparative ethnic studies and identifying the troubling model minoritization of Asian American studies within the higher education landscape, Schlund-Vials considers the ways in which the problematic institutionalization of Asian American studies coheres with teleological registers of present-day digital humanities initiatives. Chang will address the “technonormativity” of code and digital texts, particularly exploring the inclusion (and exclusion) of queerness in mainstream video games. Stommel will discuss the affective ways our pedagogies manifest in networked spaces. He will specifically open a conversation about the negative emotions expressed by teachers in the digital public sphere and how those emotions can deliberately silence marginal student voices. Rambsy will discuss how hip hop, activism, black pride and identity, social justice, and other gripping topics for African American scholars are often seemingly at odds with the interests of major DH funding agencies such as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Council of Learned Societies.

This work is urgent because it seeks to reveal some of the overlooked aspects in the formation of a field that has been ushered in as the “savior” of many a humanities department. Affect and emotions can often function to obscure power relations and make them seem natural in everyday life, and this reification can be readily demonstrated in ways the current history of the digital humanities has been written. As such, this panel attempts to make visible how power enters the emotional domain, how it goes into structuring fields and industries, and the possible use of affect as a way to recenter marginalized bodies so that the priority of the digital humanities will be the “humanities” rather than the “digital.”

Panelist Biography
Adeline Koh is director of DH@Stockton and associate professor of literature at Stockton University. She works on the intersections of race, postcolonial studies, postcolonial theory and the digital humanities. She directs Digitizing ‘Chinese Englishmen,’ a digital archival project on 19th century ‘Asian Victorians’ in Southeast Asia, and The Stockton Postcolonial Studies Project, an online magazine of postcolonial studies. She is the designer of Trading Races, an elaborate historical role playing game designed to teach race consciousness in the undergraduate classroom, and co-runs the postcolonial digital humanities website. She is currently working on a monograph on critical histories of the digital humanities, under contract with Northwestern University Press, and an edited collection on alternative origin narratives of the digital humanities, under contract with Punctum Books.

Howard Rambsy is Associate Professor of English at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville where he teaches African American and American literature. He is the author of The Black Arts Enterprise and the Production of African American Poetry. He has published articles on literary history and black expressive culture, and he has curated mixed media exhibits concentrating on African American poetry.

Cathy Schlund-Vials is Associate Professor of English and Asian/Asian American Studies at the University of Connecticut (Storrs); she is also the director of the UConn Asian and Asian American Studies Institute and president-elect of the Association for Asian American Studies (AAAS). She is author of two monographs: Modeling Citizenship: Jewish and Asian American Writing (Temple UP 2011) and War, Genocide, and Justice: Cambodian American Memory Work (University of Minnesota Press 2012). In addition to numerous book chapters, articles, and review essays, Schlund-Vials is series editor for Temple University Press’s Asian American History and Culture initiative and has co-edited the following: Disability, Human Rights, and the Limits of Humanitarianism (Ashgate 2014), Keywords for Asian American Studies (New York University Press 2015), a special issue of The Journal of Human Rights (concentrated on perpetratorhood), a special issue of Asian American Literary Review (focused on the legacies of the Second Indochina War), and Asian America: A Primary Source Reader (forthcoming Yale UP).

Edmond Chang is an Assistant Professor of English at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. His areas of interest include technoculture, gender and sexuality, cultural studies, video games, popular culture, and contemporary American literature. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Washington and his dissertation is entitled “Technoqueer: Re/con/figuring Posthuman Narratives.” He has published an article “Gaming as Writing, Or, World of Warcraft as World of Wordcraft” in Computers & Composition Online and an essay on queerness and celebrity studies called “Gay for Brad” in _Deconstructing Brad Pitt. Two essays on queer game studies are forthcoming: “A Game Chooses, A Player Obeys: BioShock, Posthumanism, and the Limits of Queerness” in Identity Matters: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Video Game Studies and “Love is in the Air: Queer (Im)Possibility and Straightwashing in FrontierVille and World of Warcraft” in QED. He is also part of MLA Books’ forthcoming Digital Pedagogy in the Humanities: Concepts, Models, and Experiments authoring the keyword entry “queer.”

Jesse Stommel is Assistant Professor of Digital Humanities in the Department of Liberal Arts and Applied Studies at University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also Founder and Director of Hybrid Pedagogy: a digital journal of learning, teaching, and technology. Jesse is an advocate for lifelong learning and the public digital humanities. He teaches courses about digital pedagogy, digital storytelling, horror film, and Shakespeare. He experiments relentlessly with learning interfaces, both digital and analog, and works in his research and teaching to emphasize new forms of collaboration. His scholarship explores the sometimes wondrous, sometimes horrifying relationship between bodies and technology. His essay, “Toward a Zombie Pedagogy,” recently appeared in the collection Zombies in the Academy: Living Death in Higher Education. He is co-editing Disrupting the Digital Humanities, a collection forthcoming from Punctum Books, with Dorothy Kim. He can be found on Twitter @Jessifer.

Dorothy Kim
Dorothy Kim is an Assistant Professor of English at Vassar College. She has been a Frankel Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, co-project director in the NEH-funded Scholarly Editions and Translations project An Archive of Early Middle English, winner of multiple faculty fellowships from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and is editing a volume with Jesse Stommel (University of Wisconsin, Madison) on Disrupting the Digital Humanities (under contract, punctum books) that discusses the marginal methodologies and critical diversities in the Digital Humanities. Her monograph is currently under review, and evaluates how Ancrene Wisse rewrites the rise of English vernacularity in conjunction with the history of Jewish/Christian relations that moves beyond antisemitism, philosemitism and allosemitism.

Tags: , , , ,