Researching and Archiving Personal/Public Online Material

I’d like to talk about the ethics and practices surrounding research on and archiving of personal online material. By personal online material I mean personal sites, blogs, and other publicly available, user-generated online materials, as well as the networks or platforms that connect individual nodes (e.g., message boards or Tumblr reblogs). I’m a digital archivist and think a lot about the preservation of online communities and cybercultural heritage, but I’ve recently been seeing some conversations (like this post on transartorialism and this reply on karaj) that have made me feel more strongly about developing a feminist methodology for online research and Web archiving. I’m lumping research and archiving together because I’m interested in both and I think the processes speak to one another: both involve a selection and re-contextualization of materials, both typically come from places of institutional power, and both share similar concerns about the ephemerality and rhizomatic nature of the materials.

It would be great to talk about the liminal space between public and private where these materials reside and the way that power and privilege are negotiated between the researcher or archivist and the subject. What are the practical and ethical differences between researching pro-ana blogs of minors and archiving a commercially successful mommy blogger’s site? What kind practices and infrastructure (e.g., IRB, asking for consent to archive) should be in place to make researchers and archivists accountable for online materials they use?

Some folks I’ve been reading: Heidi McKee and James PorterNatasha Whiteman, and Elizabeth Buchanan.


Originally from McKee and Porter, The Ethics of Internet Research (via)


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Linguistic Analysis with Digital Tools

Tools in the digital humanities, each time I write “tool” I think “who is going to write that analysis of phallogocentric language in DH?”  However using the master’s tools has been necessary over the past year as I attempted  to figure out how to digitally analyze women’s movement periodicals.  Based on the interest of the participants, this workshop could explore any combination of  four tools, Stéfan Sinclair & Geoffrey Rockwell’s text visualization and analysis suite of tools Voyant  Jon Goodwin’s mallet based topic modeling tool that uses Jstor word frequency data, David Newman’s Mallet  based topic modeling tool that can be used with any txt file, and Laurence Anthony’s AntConc, a freeware concordancer software program.

Participants will get the most out of this workshop if they have a laptop to play along with me.  Down loading tools before hand will also facilitate participation [note voyant requires no downloading].

session notes



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Emotion work, cognitive capitalism, and digital labor

In The Managed Heart (1983), Arlie Russell Hochschild detailed situations in which smiling, welcoming, and genuinely caring are part of a job. Taking Delta flight attendants as her case study, Hochschild showed how this gendered but increasingly common demand in the marketplace should be understood as emotion work. In Empire and Multitude, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri build on Hochschild’s feminist sociology to suggest that what they call “immaterial labor” has become “hegemonic,” which is not to say the numerically dominant mode of labor but rather the mode that now most greatly influences policy. Feminist theorists like Antonella Corsani and, more recently, Nina Power have described this as a rising “feminization of labor,” in which labor in general increasingly approaches the conditions that have always characterized women’s labor under capitalism: unpaid or paid little, interstitial, precarious, and often dependent on “soft” skills (communication, care, emotion work).

Importantly, the feminization of labor depends heavily on networked infrastructure and digital technology (whether call centers in India or freelancers with laptops in San Francisco cafés).* Moreover, as Jodi Dean and others have argued, the internet is one of the key sites where immaterial labor is performed and the feminization of labor is realized, via (variously) “communicative capitalism,” “cognitive capitalism,” or “the information economy.”

The use of technology in humanistic teaching and research (themselves both gendered and increasingly un(der)paid forms of labor!) is thus, in this moment, a pressing feminist issue. If collaborative teams, flextime, telecommuting, and women in the (paid) workplace once seemed like radical labor innovations, today they are capitalism’s preferred modus operandi, often facilitated by digital technologies and often used to shift overhead to the worker, reduce hours and benefits, and make workers as fungible (and thus fireable) as possible. The distinctions between consumption and production, work and leisure become difficult to discern.

When we consider that in some circles, it is an orthodoxy that the use of “big data”** requires the use of piecemeal labor structures like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, it is important to question the labor implications of the use of digital techniques in the humanities. Likewise, it seems illuminating that many of the metaphors currently used to describe digital humanities work allude to masculine-coded manual labor decidedly associated with the old spirit of capitalism: “tools,” “digging into data,” the “DiRT wiki,” the rhetoric of the “hands-on.” Such terms seem tailor-made to suggest that this work is anything but immaterial.

What feminist interventions might be made into current digital labor structures? How much emotion work is involved in digital projects, and to what degree is it recognized or effaced? Can feminist critique help to explain why digital humanities fetishizes “building tools,” whereas the use of pre-existing platforms in virtuoso displays of emotion work (Tumblr, Pinterest, Facebook, moderating forums, and, in an earlier moment, Livejournal) is not only questioned as work but generally declared not digital and certainly outside the realm of “digital humanities”? In what ways is digital humanities by default complicit with the “new spirit of capitalism,” and how might such defaults be reset?

*As Andrew Ross has argued (in Scholz, ed.), one of those infrastructures is hidden hypertaylorism in the factories that produce the material substrate of the digital world, usually involving women—think Foxconn.

**As I believe Ted Underwood has pointed out, almost no humanities projects involve truly “big” data, so this injunction is largely hypothetical.


Boltanski, Luc, and Eve Chiapello. The New Spirit of Capitalism. New York, NY: Verso, 2005.

Corsani, A. (Antonella). “Beyond the Myth of Woman: The Becoming-Transfeminist of (Post-)Marxism.” Translated by Timothy S. Murphy. SubStance 36, no. 1 (2007): 107–138.

Federici, Silvia. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation. New York: Autonomedia, 2004.

Grant, Melissa Gira. “Girl Geeks and Boy Kings.” Dissent: A Quarterly of Politics and Culture, Winter 2013.

Hardt, Michael, and Antonio Negri. Empire. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2000.

———. Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. New York: Penguin, 2004.

Hochschild, Arlie Russell. The Commercialization of Intimate Life: Notes from Home and Work. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

———. The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. 20th anniversary ed. Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press, 2003.

Horning, Rob. “Facebook and Living Labor.” The New Inquiry. 17 May 2012.

———. “Facebook in the Age of Facebook.” The New Inquiry. 19 April 2012.

Moulier Boutang, Yann. Cognitive Capitalism. Translated by Ed Emery. Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2011.

Power, Nina. One-dimensional Woman. Winchester, UK ; Washington, USA: 0 [Zero] Books, 2009.

Schwartz, Madeleine. “Opportunity Costs: The True Price of Internships.” Dissent: A Quarterly of Politics and Culture, Winter 2013.


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Could we perhaps have a conversation about feminist ways of thinking and doing (or also maybe undoing) aesthetics, in various digital media/fields/projects?  I am wondering about: concepts of the beautiful, looking/gazing relationships and power, embodiment, ephemerality, iconography, taste, value, utility, accessibility, and more. What aspects of feminist digital culture might illuminate the political and the social in the aesthetic? How do we all make design decisions, and what informs these decisions (or are they being decided for us?) These are just some questions to consider.

Some readings:

Gharavi, Maryam Monalisa. “Repeating Faces.” The New Inquiry, 7 March 2013. Accessed 3/15/13.

Ngai, Sianne. “Zany, Cute, Interesting: Sianne Ngai on Our Aesthetic Categories.” The Margins. Asian American Writers Workshop, 7 February 2013. Accessed 3/15/13.

Russell, Legacy. “Digital Dualism and the Glitch Feminism Manifesto.” Cyborgology, 10 December 2012. Accessed 3/15/13.


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THATCamp Feminisms Tweets

As many of you know, THATCamp Feminisms East is happening simultaneously with THATCamp Feminisms West at Scripps College and THATCamp Feminisms South at Emory University. We are very excited about the opportunity to follow and connect with these sister events in the twittersphere using the following hashtags:

THATCamp Feminisms East:  #tcfe

THATCamp Feminisms West:  #tcfw

THATCamp Feminisms South: #tcfso

THATCamp Feminisms (All): #tcfem

How you use the hashtags is up to you, but all tweets attached to a hashtag will be archived and made accessible to participants post-camp.

Want to follow other campers at THATCamp Feminisms East? Check out the THATCamp Feminisms East list.

Want to participate in the conversation, but don’t have an account? Create one! Then check out some useful tips here, and let us know if you’d like a brief orientation to Twitter.

Happy tweeting!!

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Building and Cultivating Online Communities for College Students

Many of us are part of strong, online communities that help us in our personal and professional lives. As a participant–and grateful beneficiary–of several online networks, I’m motivated to try to build and cultivate online communities for two new projects I’ll be part of next year:

  1. Courses in gay and lesbian literature (one fully online, one hybrid section–but both covering the same material, so potentially sharing the same online space)
  2. The entering class of a new, all-online BA degree program in English at UMass Lowell.

Guessing that other THATCampers also have experience in/interest in building and cultivating online communities (and some specifically with student populations, maybe?), I’m proposing a session to share information about pros and cons of possible platforms and also strategies for community cultivation once students start to use the spaces.

Although I’d love to hear from anybody with any related experience, I’m especially curious to hear from other teachers because faculty-run communities for students have some specific privacy requirements as well as a vibe that differs from communities that are perhaps (or not?) organic, voluntary, and egalitarian than the ones started, essentially, by authority figures in institutional contexts.

That said, if the teacherly, geekier side of this proposal (talking about building community platforms) isn’t interesting to people, I’m perfectly okay shifting this session to focus on the second part: how to best cultivate an online community once it exists. My guess is that topic may have more far-reaching interest to this group, as I can see an intersection with the already posted proposal about silence and race. Particularly with my upcoming class on gay and lesbian literature, I know I’ll be encountering some issues around who does/doesn’t fell authorized to participate.


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Session Proposal: Speaking Silence: Race, Racism, and Feminism in the Academy

Michelle Moravec and I are interested in a discussion of the risks of speaking and silence when race, racism, and feminism are the topics of conversations.  The starting point for this conversation will be a few blog posts that exemplify both ends of the spectrum–the silence and the speaking.  In May 2012, I wrote a blog post titled Of Clicks and Cliques: White Women, Women of Color, Diversity and Tension. Michelle Moravec wrote a response (because hard questions deserve answers), and we hoped for a dialogue around the recurring tensions between white women and women of color in the academy. The posts were met with silence. Although my post generated 130 visits to my blog in just a few hours and remains the most visited post on the blog, very few women responded, and of those who did (mostly via e-mail), Michelle was the only white woman to respond. Almost a year later we both watched as Tressie McMillan Cottom asked what seemed the most mild of questions about the silence surrounding “The Onion’s” slur against little Quvenzhané Willis: Did White Feminists Ignore Attacks on Quvenzhané Wallis? That’s An Empirical Question. The backlash didn’t just come from defensive white women on twitter but, as McMillan Cottom recounts in a follow-up post (On White Women’s Anger), from Women’s Studies faculty enraged by her question.

We are interested in a discussion that aims to get underneath both the silence and the speaking (and the shouting). If, as so many have argued, social media and digital communities can be a space for open dialogue, why the silence? Why the shouting? And what do we do with the fact that when a white feminist wrote on the same subject (On Quvenzhané Wallis ) she got a very different response?


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Session Proposal: Activism as Collaborative Cross-Genre Artistic Output

I would like to facilitate a session on collaborative cross-genre activism.  A potential output would be an exhibition, film screening, performance, installation, website.  I curate if you’d like to see potential examples of collaborative cross-genre work.


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Crowdfunding Projects

I could help facilitate a session on crowdfunding for projects in the humanities–this month I’ve been running a Kickstarter campaign for my oral history project on African American AIDS activism. The link is here:

I would like to be able to do a session from my own experience about how to do this successfully, so if y’all could share with friends and pledge something if you can, that would be really helpful. In any case, I’d be happy to share and to talk about things like promoting through social media, making an introductory video, and any of the technical aspects of setting up a Kickstarter campaign. If anyone has used other platforms like Indiegogo maybe we could pair up and lead a session together.

PS There’s also a video update that might be of particular interest to y’all, since it’s a clip from an interview with one of the founding members of the U.S. Women’s Positive Network:


Categories: Crowdsourcing, Funding, Project Management, Session Proposals, Social Media | 1 Comment

Modeling Activist Networks

Lately I’ve become interested in the idea of building a platform for crowdsourcing information about activist affiliations that could be used to generate an open access database that would a) be available for research and b) also power web-based visualizations. So more concretely, I work on AIDS activism, and I know that a lot of people I’ve encountered in the archive participated in different organizations in different capacities. I want to model these relationships, but I would also like to have others contribute to the database, so that it’s not just based on what’s available in archives. As a group, maybe we could think about some of the technical database and visualization issues, as well as concerns about privacy and legality, or more theoretical concerns that I haven’t thought of.


Categories: Crowdsourcing, Data Mining, Mapping, Research Methods, Session Proposals, Visualization | 5 Comments