Estrato or Stratum?


On Domenico Fiormonte’s Toward a Cultural Critique of Digital Humanities

The first page of this text highlights exactly what I wanted to in my first reflection for DHSS. It critiques the “indisputable Anglo-American hegemony in the academic research field”. As I stated in my first reflection there are very few developing countries that have strong research. This is due to a ton of intertwining reasons from lack of funding to lack of research based colleges, but is inevitable a problem in the academic world. If all the things people are studying comes from the US then there is a lack of perspective in the research community. This is precisely why I wanted to do my project on somewhere outside of the US; it’s the reason I chose Colombia. Furthermore, there seems to be this perceived idea that developing countries need a lot of help and that the only way to ‘fix’ them is through the lens of already developed countries. This is simply not true! “Peripheral cultures do not need any revenge or, worse, any seat at the winner’s table.” As I wrote in my first post, why can’t Latin America succeed through different methods and dissimilar conditions?

The next set of questions the author asks can also be related to my project. Throughout the process, I’ve asked myself how I would be able to relay this information to scholars back home since it’s all in Spanish. There’s no doubt that the language of research is English. There’s no doubt that the language of computing, or at least digital tools, is also English. This leaves a very small space for those cultures and languages that want to make it in the big leagues but aren’t Anglo-American. What’s worse, there really isn’t a push for other languages to be promoted. But the real problem is that these tools are created out of a specific context. Technology is not neutral to its context. Clear examples of this are the inaccessibility of things like accent marks and the .edu domain to colleges and institutions outside of the United States.

The crux of what we’ve been debating so far in class can be seen in this quote: “it appears that digital humanities is the victim of a continuous paradox; demonstrating an ability to keep up with technologies (and with their owners and gatekeepers) and, at the same time, not to become subject to them.” Here we combine what we’ve been saying during the first two weeks about the rift between the humanities and it’s digitalization with an even more complex layer: the control of digital methods.

But the author doesn’t only stop with language. He goes on to explain that even desktop icons are also a form of cyber-colonization. That being said I wish he would’ve explained in greater detail the full effects that this could have, as he did with language. A second critique of this reading is when the author overlaps two maps; one with linguistic diversity and another with World GDP. He argues that “cultural richness does not necessarily match material wealth”. While I do agree that this is true, I do not think this is a correct way to prove it. “Cultural richness” is much more than linguistic diversity.


On Roopika Risam’s Beyond the Margins: Intersectionality and the Digital Humanities

This second reading is a bit harder to pull apart. The author starts by suggesting a division between theory and practice. This involves questioning how the Digital Humanities represents each. However, the author goes further by asking who is really involved in the construction of these projects and who are they for, just as the reading explained above.

The main argument, though, is based on intersectionality. Intersectionality is the “look beyond the race-class-gender triad described… [to include] additional axes of difference including sexuality and ability”. Similar to the previous reading, the author looks at why having the tools used in Digital Humanities in another language creates a barrier. If we truly want to understand the works of “black, women, [and] third world” scholars we need to be able to adopt their language and discuss in their own terms or else we limit the true expression of these scholars. Once again, my project is an example of this. There is no ‘real’ word that describes estratos in English. The closest approximation is Stratum or its plural, strata. Yet, that doesn’t really describe the full cultural connotations of the word. For example, it wouldn’t make sense to call someone ‘strata 1’- in English it is not a description of a person, but of a set of physical locations. In Colombian Spanish, socioeconomic zoning has made it relate to more than just a place- it is also an indicator (socially) of wealth, income, etc.

Another interesting argument Risam makes is about the way difference is portrayed online. Although cultural representation has been around for a long time, it is only with the internet that it has been able to gather widespread acceptance. As such, many different bodies, both public and private, have started using this to their advantage.

The racial makeup of coding is a good example of representation in the Digital Humanities. It is mostly white middle-class men who have the most access to coding. Who codes is just as important as what is being coded. But it isn’t enough to just give a minority a computer a say “code”. We must understand that the coding process itself is in between racial and gendered lines.

From what is being said in the reading, there doesn’t seem to be much backlash to this idea of diversification of DH. Scholars do want both (maybe I should say all) sides to be engaged, but they aren’t giving anyone the tools necessary to engage. That is the heart of the problem. It takes a lot of willpower to give up privilege, especially in something like technology.

I want to end with the same way the reading ends: “There is no single way of being “intersectional” – instead, intersectionality privileges exploration and innovation in feminist praxis. And aren’t exploration and innovation at the very heart of digital humanities?

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