DIGITAL IN-HUMANITIES: reciprocal closure as the bookish become MOOCish

I have “contributed” to the Modes of Existence site associated with Bruno Latour’s new book, but I find its protocol far too constraining, and there is no interactivity –  neither between contributors and the AIME team nor between contributors. So I find the whole enterprise quite frustrating; I have been blogging about it here, in terms of a deficit of democracy. But there is no interlocutor to whom to address such complaints. Latour’s latest keynote speech just dismissed such critiques with an amused reference to the “terrible things that happen on blogs”, and a hymn to his 4 year experiment in close reading. I translate this as an experiment in digitally assisted teamwork, and I find nothing revolutionary except the scale (thanks to his financement).

Latour limited himself to describing the marvel of this experiment, but gave no concrete example of the discoveries it has led to as far as the philosophical content of the book is concerned, which confirms my suspicion that the platform itself is the message. Latour explicitly declares that he wants neither critique nor commentary, and told one questioner (a woman who complained about the inhumanity of the project in his presentation in contrast to his own very engaging humanity in presenting it): contribute, don’t comment. I fear this is a model of digital humanities as an array of mutually exclusive closed societies, juxtaposed without interacting (as interaction would be mere commentary).

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One Response to DIGITAL IN-HUMANITIES: reciprocal closure as the bookish become MOOCish

  1. The DH2014 keynote left me feeling similarly.

    Although I have not contributed to the AIME project, I have been following it with interest in part because of my own digital book project ( Socratic and Platonic Political Philosophy) and in part because of my own interest in Latour’s work.

    My digital work has been increasingly concerned with cultivating the habits of online digital scholarship, and that requires the hard work of cultivating public communities. After hearing the DH2014 plenary from Latour, I am more concerned than ever about the sort of closed community Latour’s project is constructing – I say “constructing” here because it seems firmly controlled and managed, whereas cultivation is about responding actively to and with those with whom one works.

    We need models for this, and I hope that is what the Public Philosophy Journal will ultimately become. In that project too, however, the hardest work will be in cultivating an open, safe, and robust community of interested interlocutors.


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