Recognitions

I usually agree with Natalia Cecire, and today was no exception. The Scholars’ Lab, one of my spiritual homes, recently announced Speaking in Code, a summit to tease out the “tacit knowledge” built into the craft of DH software development.

On the summit’s site they emphasize their desire to welcome you:

However, because software development—even in the more intellectually diverse and welcoming digital humanities—is a predominantly white and male profession, we are particularly committed to amplifying the voices of developers who are women, people of color, queer/LGBT, or otherwise under-represented among programmers, and to creating a friendly and respectful environment for collaboration at this event.

Natalia took them to task for populating the leadership with white cis males in spite of their best intentions, and pointed out this is NOT an ideal model of inclusivity. I agree. Now what?

I still hope minority developers do sign up, and that they contribute with their words and bodies. I’m going to reach the folks I know and do my best to convince them to apply to be participants, especially for that second day, where the goal is “to foster grassroots leadership among participants and seed collaborative projects that may be technical or social in nature.” You should too. The organizers are clearly allies, actively seeking to build a diverse community for DH software development while engaging in the difficult battle of defending the professional standing, precarious labor conditions and intellectual worth of DH developers. Fighting on two fronts is not easy, especially considering the situation on the ground.

Yes, while software development is a source of prestige in the world today and in DH, those two are not symmetrical. Software developers in DH work below market rates, they are not as hirable for admin or faculty positions as easy as the very vocal non-developers among us and they are usually on soft money. The usual setup is folks–mostly white males–work in libraries for a range of faculty who don’t understand technology very well. They build DH projects without getting much credit and oftentimes curving their creative potential in deference to the crappy ideas coming from the top. It is a good thing that DH is fighting for their prestige given these labor and intellectual conditions. The ideological reversal can cut both ways here.

The long term goal, a fight we should all be involved in, is to bridge the gap between faculty and library, between developer and researcher, so that we can get rid of this nasty service situation. Digital + Humanities. Simultaneously, our second fight: To build diverse spaces for developers at our institutions and beyond (we probably won’t get rid of middle class norms in the near future, but I’ll be happy if we tackle gender, race, disability and sexuality).

Without a doubt, this social mess—the result of histories in need of scribes—comes with a learning curve for everyone involved, but onward. We can only learn from each other, and in order to do that we need to BE with each other. Now that the message is registered that a next event should have inclusivity built into the section leads, let’s not wait for the one we really want and help make this one a success form the bottom up. Leaders can come in and out of here without having been leads that first day. No need to wait, we have work to do.

No revolution can happen without self-critique or courage. I would not wait for the next event, with the right set up at the top, precisely because of the question of tacit knowledge. Don’t we have our own tacit knowledges to tease out as well?

Pa’ lante, #guerilladh. Pa’ lante!

 

 

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One comment on “Recognitions

  1. […] so — rather than cut too much — I’m publishing it here. Alex Gil has also shared some thoughts, which I find very […]

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